I’m sure you must have seen him
I know you must have heard it all
I know you used to be him
Did anybody care at all? – Face to Face, “I Won’t Lie Down”
It was a throwaway sentence, really. Nothing truly important. I don’t know why I felt the need to add it to the email I sent, but I did. I certainly didn’t expect a personal response. Or what would come after.
It was 1997. My life was at a bit of a crossroads; I was in my early twenties, in a stalled and failing relationship, with no real direction in my life. My boyfriend of five years had just cheated on me; he’d been apologetic at first but as time wore on, he became less and less embarrassed by what he had done. In some instances, he all but blamed me; somehow, it was my fault that he decided to be intimate with another woman.
I still don’t know how that works.
Life was in a state of flux. The only thing that kept me somewhat sane and grounded was this newish thing called the internet; I had just recently discovered that there were other people out there who remembered the same things I did. There were those out there who, like I, had been fans of things such as Star Trek and Transformers and they, like I, waxed nostalgic about such.
I fell into online fandom fairly quickly, using it to make some new friends and plug some gaps that I didn’t know I had in my Transformers collection. There were Bumblebees out there that I didn’t know about and others I did; I had managed, thanks to an email list known as the Cybertronian Conference, to track down one that I had needed.
He was an Action Master Bumblebee. The very moment I saw him, I knew I had to have him. I had been trying to find him for years. Now, thanks to the internet, I had finally found him.
He didn’t transform, but he was show accurate. In other words, he looked exactly like the plucky little yellow Autobot that I had fallen in love with when I was nine. I needed him in my life at that moment. Every one else was seemingly abandoning me and I needed a friend. I bought him from a now defunct online store and eagerly awaited his arrival.
When I got the package, I carefully freed him from his cardboard backer and gave him a place of honor on my desk. He stood sentinel, watching over me during the night. It was the perfect spot for him.
Well, it was until I decided to rummage around in my desk one afternoon.
When I had to shove one of my drawers closed, the motion jarred poor little Bumblebee and he took a tumble off my desk. The moment I noticed he was missing, I panicked, then found him behind the desk, none the worse for wear. I scooped him up, gave him a few kisses as an apology, then kicked the desk out of anger before placing him back where he belonged.
The next day, while tapping out a reply to a message on the Cybertronian Conference, I mentioned what had happened. I didn’t think much about it, really.
A couple of days later, I got a personal reply. From a member known as Prime.
“It’s that top heavy thing, isn’t it?” the email began. Apparently, Prime had a few display issues with his Action Master Bumblebee and commiserated with me.
I replied in kind, of course, but I didn’t think much about it. However, I did wonder if I might have been lucky enough to be making a new friend. I could use as many of those as possible; my best friend from high school was now living out of town and didn’t call. I think she may have blamed me for the breakup. The friends I had made through my boyfriend were evaporating, along with the friends I had made in the years following. Whether I wanted to admit it or not, I was alone. Chatting with someone, even through something as vast and nebulous as the world wide web, was comforting. I didn’t feel quite so lonely anymore.
Time wore on. Prime and I emailed each other, talking about the shows we liked and watched, the sometimes slim Beast Wars pickings in our areas, our jobs, things like that. His responses were well thought out and more often than not, absolutely hilarious; I’d read and reread his emails, all the while wiping mirthful tears from the corners of my eyes. Prime’s humor struck me as dry and sarcastic, which I not only liked but appreciated. The emails, Prime’s reponses, were a small ray of sunshine in my otherwise dreary existence.
At that time, I was in the throes of what I called “the Year of Hell”. My relationship with my boyfriend was over but I hadn’t quite come to terms with that. I still had hope; I had forgiven him and I was working to try and make things right between us. However, he wanted nothing to do with that. I was still hurting, but my boyfriend seemingly didn’t care. I was still under the impression that we were trying to work things out, but my newly minted ex was more than happy to attempt to kiss my best friend from high school. He actively persued other women and refused to tell me, then acted betrayed and hurt when I confronted him about it. He didn’t admit to actually cheating on me to our friends; instead, he claimed that he and I were “only friends” when he had slept with the other girl.
He even said that the one lesson he had learned from his indiscretion was that he should never be honest with me about it ever again.
My life wasn’t a life anymore. It was pretty clearly wreckage. But I was too naïve, too blind to really see it. I was drowning in depression, my ex acting as the anchor, pulling me downwards and I saw no way of freeing myself.
Then, in the latter half of 1998, the bottom dropped out.
We’d just been through a hurricane. I did my usual call arounds, checking up on everyone to make sure they were safe. It was during the call to my ex that I asked about his oldest friend and he curtly answered that he had no idea how he was doing, as they weren’t friends anymore. He’d already isolated himself from everyone else, but this was the final nail in the coffin.
My life skidded to a halt. I stopped calling my ex–a healthy response–and I took a sabbatical from the internet–not so healthy. I all but dropped off the CybCon. I didn’t go out on any Transformer hunts. I barely bought any figures. I fell into a pattern: eat, sleep, shit, go to work. It wasn’t until October that I was able to pull myself out of the spiral.
It was Depth Charge who yanked me back to reality. But that’s a story for another day.
In late October, and thanks to a throwaway phrase that I uttered during Depth Charge’s unboxing, I managed to pull myself out of the sadness and get my life back together. I asked for a computer for Christmas that year, which my parents actually bought. (It was a shitty Compaq Presario that loved to reboot itself and froze up at the worst possible moments but at least it got me on the internet.) With the new computer, I jumped back into the internet and plunged back into the CybCon.
I also emailed Prime. But I was afraid. And I hated myself.
I hadn’t meant to drop contact with Prime. He had been the one person who seemingly understood how I felt. His messages were one of the few things that brightened my day. But the depression had me in its hold and it was the only thing that won out during that period. I couldn’t apologize to him enough, really. I could only hope he understood, that he wouldn’t be angry or upset with me for what I had done. I could only hope that he’d hold no grudges, even if I really did deserve them.
Thankfully, Prime replied to me. He told me that I had friends on the CybCon. He was one of them. To say I was grateful is putting it very mildly; I can remember wiping tears from my eyes that night, but these weren’t from laughter.
Our messages started anew. But something seemed a little different this time. I couldn’t quite explain it, but these emails felt more familiar somehow. Now, when I’d see a reply from him in my inbox, I would erupt into a fit of giggles, like some giddy little school girl.
The year turned and 1998 became 1999. In my area, the weather began to warm. I started regular Beast Wars hunts, as my supply of Predacons was dreadfully small compared to my platoon of Maximals. As the weather became more pleasant, my thoughts turned to the upcoming BotCon–it was in St. Paul that year–and whether or not I should attend. I had the money, I could put in for the time at work, I could preregister at any time, but I’d be going by myself. None of my friends wanted to go. My ex? Forget it. I was on my own when it came to this, which was a little daunting.
I still planned on going. I had promised myself that I would attend at least one BotCon ever since I had learned of its existence back in 1994. I had made an effort to get to BotCon 1997, but it didn’t happen. But now, I didn’t have an ex to hinder my plans and I had money of my own; I could do this.
The first few rumblings about BotCon started to make their way across the CybCon and into the emails Prime and I sent. He was going, he said and I replied that I was as well. It was now June and summer; unremarkable, save for the fact that it was also around the time of my birthday. I didn’t have plans on that day. In fact, I didn’t even put in for the day off from work. I decided there was no real point in doing anything that year. The last couple of years any plans I had made had fallen flat or come apart at the seams. For reasons I can’t quite explain, I mentioned my birthday in one of my many messages to Prime. I didn’t think much about it.
Imagine my shock when I received a small package from Prime on that day. When I opened it in the kitchen, I all but danced in delight. There was a card, with a small photo of Prime enclosed, and an acrylic case that contained what appeared to be a chunk of building debris. My mother, who had been cleaning up from lunch, stared in bewilderment. “What is that?” she asked.
I was squealing and hugging the case to my chest, an enormous grin on my face. “It’s an actual piece of the Wall” I exclaimed. “Prime sent me some of the Berlin Wall!” I hugged the case again.
While we had been chatting, Prime had spoken of his time in Germany and how he had been there when the Berlin Wall fell. He had managed to grab a few pieces of the rubble and he had kept them. Prime had not only witnessed history, but he had held it in his hands. I told him that I was quite envious; I would have loved nothing more than to grab a piece or two of that Wall.
Now, I had one. Prime had sent me a small bit of history. I was giddy for several days afterward.
Then came July. I had to make my final plans. My mother wasn’t terribly agreeing at first–she didn’t want me to go–but she finally relented. Was it because I had diligently saved up more than enough money for this trip? Was it the fact that I was now twenty four? Was it because I no longer had my ex in my life and things had so radically changed? I don’t know. I don’t think I will ever know. But I was days away from finally living a dream.
Oh and Prime would be there. I’d finally get to meet him, face to face. As if the excitement of being at a Transformers convention wasn’t enough.
The night before my flight to Minnesota, I flitted between my room and the computer room. I checked for updates via the CybCon. I also read and reread the message Prime had posted; it was his description. I also spent time looking at the picture he had sent me, trying to memorize that face, that lopsided smile. Each time I would look at that small photo my heart would flutter. I was going to meet this man. We were finally going to have an actual conversation. I was both excited and fearful.
I really liked Prime. He seemed like a great guy. Our emails were easy and friendly; he made me feel like myself again whenever we chatted. They might have only been words on a screen, but those messages meant a lot to me.
Maybe more than I was ready or willing to admit.
A few weeks prior, I had been playing around with a set of runes I had purchased; at this point in my life, I was leaning towards new age paganism and wicca. I had left behind the Abrahamic religions entirely, with their undercurrent of misogyny and rampant homophobia. My basic belief had always been that if a god truly existed, s/he would love its creations, no matter what. Shoving a god into human ideals and morals seemed ridiculous and wrong. (Now, the idea of god/s seems ridiculous and wrong, a throwback to a time when humankind didn’t understand science. So much has changed in twenty years!)
I had been formulating silent questions and sliding my hand into the bag, to see how the runes may answer. I thought of my ex. Every “answer” I received was in the negative. I thought of BotCon. The pulls were far more positive.
Then I thought of Prime. My answer? A rune that was completely blank. The god rune. The rune of new beginnings, of new directions, of new possiilities. I didn’t think much about it. At least, not until the night before my flight to St. Paul.
On that night, the memory of a blank runestone suddenly felt very significant, like the inclusion in an email of my Action Master Bumblebee falling off my desk.
It was a little thing, a mere nothing. Why did it all feel so significant that night…?
~To Be Continued~