Connected: The stroke of a computer key changed a life.
As a caregiver full of despair and loneliness, Rose Lamatt enters a chat room on the Internet for the first time. She finds a different world than the one she's used to.
Just a Word
Night after night, she signs into the same chat room, meeting people who listen to her, people who are passionate, loving, and at times just as depressed as she is. At times she lives her life through these online friends. They save her from the everyday trials of caregiving. They are there each night keeping her connected to someone, something, not feeling alone and empty. For more than ten years, Rose shares a friendship with these souls, living their hopes and dreams, sharing their heartaches and happiness. Support from these friends, inspired Rose to write this story. This could be called a memoir, all but for one thing.
At ten to eight, VEGAS appeared on my screen. “Hi there, how was your day?”
“Good,” I lied. The day was long and old.
“So what’s the weather like?” Val asked.
“Oh, it’s hot, hit eighty-five this afternoon. I even turned on the air conditioner.”
“You poor girl. It must be a hundred and twenty here. I’ve never seen it this hot. I guess the earth is doing its warming thing. So tell me, did you enjoy meeting Ruth last night?”
“Yes … very much. We talked for a while after you left.”
“She sure is a sweet gal. We met a couple of months ago and became telephone buddies. She has a wonderful southern accent. I like to hear what people sound like after I meet them online. How about giving me your number?”
Call me? Was she crazy? I didn’t even know this person. “Maybe another time,” I wrote. “Not right now,” hoping she’d move on to something else.
“Why not?” she wrote.
God knows what time she’d call. She lives in Vegas, it could be three in the morning. Why should I give her my number anyway? Thought after thought crowded my mind, and then I answered, “I’m not crazy about giving my number out.”
“Rosie … you’re not giving it to just anyone. You don’t have to worry I won’t call unless you say I can.”
Without thinking more, I gave my number.
“Thanks, Rosie. I can’t wait to hear that New York accent.”
Was I crazy? I’d read in newspapers people got into trouble on the Internet, and here I was giving my number out to someone I didn’t know. I tried to explain, “Val? Please don’t call me tonight. Okay?”
“No, I wouldn’t do that. You tell me when and that’s when I’ll call you.”
“Thanks. Maybe you could give me yours?”
“Sure,” without hesitation Val sent her number. I was copying it on a piece of paper when I heard the sound of a squeaking door, and Ruth’s name popped up on my buddy list.
“Well, look who’s here,” Val wrote. “Ruth’s on line. I’ll see if she wants to get a private room like last night. Hang on a minute, Rosie.”
I sat back watching words jump across the screen, thinking, boy these girls type fast. Val wrote she had a private room, and in seconds I was there with them. This was exciting, not like other nights.
Val wrote she’d been to the doctor and waited forty-five minutes in his office. She said she had a weight problem, diabetes, and needed to take a lot of medication. She spoke of the health problems she was going through, which lit a fire in me. For years I had been dealing with Carol’s illness, nursing homes, and my heart condition. I had given health care another name—Industry. I chimed in.
“Me too, Val. I take pills morning and evening. The thing that gets me is the price you pay for medication. I’m still on my ex-husband’s health plan, but I pay a $500 deductible, then on top of that, there’s co-pay. My meds cost over $100 a month, and I see the doctor every three months for cholesterol checks.”
My health had started to decline around 1989. I woke one night with a fast erratic heartbeat, and Carol wanted to take me to the ER. I had said, no, thinking it was another panic attack, like ones I’d had with Ed. But it felt different. The attacks continued for almost a year, until the doctor diagnosed Ventricle Tachycardia, and placed me on medication controlling the arrhythmia. I remember how happy I was. Finally, a reason for the skipped beats I’d had since age sixteen sick with the flu. The flu had damaged cells in my heart.
“Okay, enough depressing thoughts for now,” Ruth wrote and I guessed she was healthy.
“Let’s play some pool,” Val said.
I figured I’d lost them by talking about health and asked, “Pool? How do you play pool on a computer?”
“Just follow my directions, Rosie. I’ll find a pool room we can get into, and be right back.”
In minutes a message came up, ‘You’re invited to Mike’s Pool Hall.’ Val IM’d me, “Rosie click yes. We’re waiting for you.”
I clicked yes, and a pool table opened with names down the right side of the screen. I saw Val and Ruth’s names in red, while others showed in black. (Red were my friends) The table looked real, and I wondered how you pull the cue stick back. Val read my thoughts, and in seconds she was giving me instructions on how to play. It took awhile but soon the three of us were playing pool and writing at the same time on the bottom of the screen, “Good shot.” Or, “Oh, too bad you missed that one.”
“You’re tough, Rosie. I see you’ve played this game before,” wrote Val.
“Yes, I played with my husband, years ago. But this is a first, on the computer.”
After two games, me winning one and Ruth winning the other, she wrote she was asking another gal to join us.
Boy, these gals sure know a lot of people, I thought. Val IM’d me, asking how I was doing.
“Oh, I’m good. A little nervous, but I got the hang of it after awhile.”
“You sure did.”
“Who’s the gal Ruth’s inviting?” I asked.
“Got me. But I’m getting tired.”
“Hey girls, I want you to meet Charlie,” Ruth wrote.
Charlie’s screen name read, GENEVA.
“Welcome, Charlie,” Val said.
I wrote, “Hi, Charlie.”
“Happy to meet you both,” Charlie wrote.
“Okay, let’s have a partner match,” Val suggested.
How can you do that on a computer? I thought. But after Val’s explanation, we were playing partners, Ruth and I, against Charlie and Val. The game lasted half an hour when Ruth wrote, she had to get to ‘dee bed’, work came early, and she’d need to sell a lot of screwdrivers.
“Y’all have a good night. Bye.”
We wrote our good-byes and I heard the slamming of a door, and her name left my buddy list.
Three names stared at me. Val I knew. What do I say to Charlie? Then found I didn’t have to say anything.
“So, Rosie, what do you think of that? Charlie and I beat your tails off,” said Val.
“Yep, you sure did. Charlie you’re a good pool player. I’m glad Ruth introduced us.”
“Me too. Ruth says you live in Florida?”
“Yes, in Jupiter.”
“I’m just north of you about two and a half hours, in Geneva.”
“Really? I don’t know Geneva.”
“Most people don’t. It’s near Orlando, Disney World.”
Disney World. Carol had taken me there a year after we’d moved to Jupiter. She had said she needed a vacation, and I said we are on vacation all the time. But she wanted to get away, see something else, and I had mentioned Disney. “Don’t you think I’m a little old for that?” She’d said. And I laughed when she rode the Tea Cups enjoying every moment.
“Okay, you two have something in common so I’m leaving,” Val wrote. “Have a great night. Bye-bye.*”
“Bye, Val, thanks for being my partner,” Charlie wrote, and another door slammed, leaving Charlie and me.
“Were you born in Florida?” I asked.
“No. Born in Virginia. I taught at the same school Ruth went to. A friend of mine taught her. I moved to Florida when I got married. What about you?”
“I moved from New York.”
Charlie told me she’d raised two children and I didn’t explain my divorce. It would have taken forever being it lasted ten years. I think what amazed me most was Internet people just opened up to one another, telling all their hidden past lives. After awhile I told her that I was tired and was signing off. She said the same, and the screen became empty. It wasn’t that I didn’t have anything to talk about, because I did. But to strangers? What would they think?
Closing down the computer, I saw it was eleven o’clock. Now, what? In the kitchen, I fixed a bowl of cholcalotta ice cream. Lonely or depressed it seemed to do the trick. At this rate, I was going to reach 150 pounds easily. What happened to the 110 pound twenty year old, who married Ed? I headed for the balcony. The fresh night air after a hot day felt calming. I heard the waves hitting shore, knowing the tide was on its way in. What a beautiful sound. Soon though, the disconnection came, as I went back in time. Thoughts of the past came one by one. I caressed them, not wanting to let go. Times of happiness, times of compassion, and then times of anger at a disease no one understood. A disease that hurt my health, when I wasn’t the one with Alzheimer’s. I knew in my mind I had to stop this day after day going back to the past. But how does one stop remembering? After all, isn’t the past your present?