2002 by Lucinda Hodge
It's always been there, gripping me, holding me so tight in its grasp I can scarcely breathe. I've denied its existence, laughed at it, argued that it had no hold over me.
I'm a pro at deluding myself.
Fear is what has wrapped me in a protective shell of fat. Fear is what has kept me from losing the weight that has led to my declining health. Fear is what motivated me to accept clerical jobs that held no challenge or hope for me.
Fear has controlled me.
But now, on the plane, when I should most feel fear, I sense nothing but anticipation, perhaps a bit of nervous apprehension, and more than anything, unadulterated freedom and joy.
In just a few moments, when my plane touches down at O'Hare, I will begin one of the more rewarding adventures of my life. I will meet the best friend I've never met, I will connect with five women I've never seen, and I will bask in the joy of taking such a phenomenal risk.
Not even six months prior to this journey, I joined a fan forum on the Internet. I had just been diagnosed with diabetes, and I was looking for a distraction. I had discovered a television show I once loved playing in re-runs on a cable channel. Its timing was impeccable.
When I was in high school, that show, Starsky and Hutch, had been re-run on our local television station. My step-father had insisted we watch it, instead of the show I wanted to watch, so I sulked in the afternoons after school, watching the show he chose. But in just a few days, I was hooked. I began to appreciate the show as much as he did. Probably more. The show is about a friendship I felt impossible to equal. A relationship so sweet and so special that it's almost heartbreaking. I knew I would never trust another human being as much as the two main characters trust one another.
The show has many humorous moments, and I appreciated the comic relief. I grew to love the show as much as my step-father did. It bonded the two of us. He died almost ten years ago, and finding the show again brought him back to me in a tender, wonderful way.
This time I noticed how incredibly gorgeous the lead actors were. This time, on screen at least, they were my age, and they were hot. I got the humor. I laughed even harder at it. This time I had the wisdom and experience of failed relationships. I knew friendship like theirs didn't exist. And yet I knew that now, more than ever, I needed a friendship that special.
Wonderful thing the Internet. I found a search engine, plugged in the title and gasped at the number of Web sites for a show filmed over 25 years ago.
It was such a small act, a Web search. Funny how a simple click of the mouse can change one's life. Funny what can alter one's course.
I clicked on the link to the first site listed. I found a fan forum more warm and friendly than any I had seen. It was set up in an appealing graphic format, with adorable emoticons to insert into posts. The members pretended to be police officers like the show's main characters. There were topics to discuss, ranging from Episode Discussion to fan fiction to a room devoted to stories about the squad room.
I had no idea I was home. Or how different my life would be once I joined.
And it took me no time, really, to join. I rose through the ranks quickly. And I was so intrigued by these "partnerships" that had formed on the board that I knew I absolutely had to have a partner too.
But I didn't "click" with anyone, and I began to feel distraught that not only couldn't I find a friend in real life, not only was I ignored in real life, I was now ignored on the Internet too.
So I did something I never thought I'd do. I wrote a story about the squad room. I inserted appearances by our favorite guys, the characters in the show. Finally, people noticed me.
One person, in particular, completely understood my twisted sense of humor. I loved her posts and sensed a witty, sarcastic kindred spirit.
Before long, some members of the forum decided to start chatting.
And that made all the difference.
Skyler's avatar (or picture) was Grover from Sesame Street. Mine was Oscar. This was only one of many common bonds we would share, only one of many events that convinced us our meeting was designed purely by God. As Grover and Oscar, we were "Starsky's Love Muppets." One of us would fire off dialogue from the show, and the other would respond. No one else in the chat would catch it, or else they typed too slow to respond. From the start, we would respond the same to just about everything. She more eloquently, of course, but still we spoke the same language. We shared the same brain.
In our first chat together, other members at the chat noticed we "clicked audibly." It was merely minutes, really, before I realized I had finally found that friend I had longed for, that soulmate, the person who would understand me and support me no matter what.
Our friendship grew so quickly, as did our friendship with other members of the board. Skyler and I began to send "messenger" messages on the forum to one another, then I trusted her with my e-mail addy, then we started to chat privately, and before long, we were calling each other on the phone.
We decided to be "partners" on the police force. We made detective together, giggling at 1:00 a.m. because our "arrest record" had promoted us. We were dubbed the Double Trouble Twins.
But our obsession with those actors and the show and the "police force" paled in comparison to the real-life bond we were developing. She has carried me through the devestation of my diabetes diagnosis. She has cheered my 93-pound weight loss. She has entertained me through the boring days on my dreadful job. She is patient and philosophical. I am impetuous and blunt. I am a dreamer who wants everything now, but she is trying to teach me some of her diligence. Most importantly of all, she has reminded me I'm a writer. I had forgotten that, long ago when the fear buried me, but I know she will never let me forget it again. We even made a pact to write daily and be published writers in five years, and the pact has propelled us toward that goal.
Our friendship grew so strong that naturally, we wanted to meet. Be together in person. For real. I am still not sure how we picked the others to invite. It was so destined, our group, that I'm not even certain we DID pick them. Maybe they picked us.
At any rate, 10,000 e-mails later, all six of us were meeting for a weekend in Chicago. We were from everywhere, New Jersey, Kansas, Michigan, Germany, Tennessee and Chicago. They had all convinced their husbands and families this was safe. I hadn't told anyone what I was up to. And that was fine with me. After all, being single should have some advantages.
For the first time in my life, I wasn't letting fear hold me back. Not in any form whatsoever. I knew this trip was so right, so perfect, that I didn't have the sense to remember how dangerous it is to fly off to an enormous city to meet strangers. But they weren't strangers. They were my friends. I knew them on the inside. This was merely our chance to meet the outside.
My plane is approaching O'Hare. The seatbelt lights come on. I smile like an idiot out the window. Skyler is inside the airport, watching my plane descend.
As I exit the plane and stroll down the terminal gate, my heart pounds and I smile. I think about how Skyler and I never exchanged pictures. Our descriptions of ourselves were inaccurate (my insistence that I weighed 842 pounds never seemed to register with her), and we didn't tell each other what we'd be wearing. We wanted to test our cosmic theory and see if we would "just know" the other.
In five years, Skyler and I are going to ride to the top of the Sears Tower and celebrate our pact. We're returning to the location where we spent our first hours alone together, talking as if we had known each other forever. Fearless.
On that day, we're going to celebrate the success our pact has brought us. We're going to look out over the city and smile and silently thank the beautiful men who brought us together on the wonderful show they did all those years ago. We're going to thank the Internet, and our "Commish" who created the site. We're going to thank God for orchestrating the entire aria. We're going to celebrate everything good that has happened in our lives.
And we will feel absolutely no fear.
Lucinda Hodge, a
frustrated university clerical employee, lives for travel, adventure, reading,
writing and baseball. She lives in Tennessee with her enormous black cat,
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