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Behind our Walls

By Cleo Wodehouse


Published by Cleo Wodehouse at Smashwords


Copyright 2018 Cleo Wodehouse



Smashwords Edition, License Notes


Thank you for downloading this book. It remains the copyrighted property of the author and may not be redistributed to others for commercial or non-commercial purposes. If you would like to share this book with another person, please encourage them to download their own copy from their favorite authorized retailer. This way, the author receives feedback on how many people are enjoying their work. Thank you for your support.



Table of contents

Chapter 1: A forum with an attitude

Chapter 2: A match

Chapter 3: Names

Chapter 4: One step further

Chapter 5: Dining in the dark

Chapter 6: Hidden treasures

Chapter 7: More ways to spend time together

Chapter 8: Another step

Chapter 9: A one-sided mystery

Chapter 10: The root of her issues

Chapter 11: I must see you

Chapter 12: Out of the dark

Chapter 13: Aftermath

Chapter 14: Punishment

Chapter 15: Therapy progress

Chapter 16: Loved ones

Chapter 17: Coming around

Chapter 18: New experiences together

About Cleo Wodehouse


Chapter 1: A forum with an attitude

https://www.blind-deaf-and-dumb-date.com



Are you …

ugly as sin?

incapable of commitment?

suffering from shyness-induced mutism?

all of the above?


If you have checked one out of five boxes, you have come to the right place! On blind-deaf-and-dumb-date.com you can find a partner that you won’t ever have to see, hear or learn unwanted information about. How so? This forum is meant to match WRITING partners. Of course, WE’RE not blind, deaf and dumb enough to believe that you’ll stick to our terms but at least that means we’re not accountable if you’re not getting your money’s worth here and that we may kick you out for gross violation of said terms.


We've got plenty of room here for articulate deadbeats, wallflowers and losers, just not fetishists or sickos. If you just felt addressed, get out of here. As for you others, simply follow the questionnaire and we'll stick you in the pigeonhole where you belong where we’ll match you with a similar loser.


Be sure to answer honestly because once you're in that pigeonhole, there's no getting out of it unless you delete and recreate your profile. On the plus side, there will be no double fees if you re-register under the same IP address. You’ve read correctly, there is a fee, as well as a one-year minimum term of agreement, but those measly 5€ per month keep our volunteer admins – well, us – just motivated enough not to leak your private info into the World Wide Web.


First of all, type in a screen name that will make you seem interesting even though we all know you aren't.



ERIK



OK, ERIK, now start our questionnaire. Before you begin, remember: you won't ever meet your partner, which means that you can be honest with no repercussions. Be decent but don’t force yourself to be nice, we don’t do that either.



Question # 1: What's your reason for registering?

(x) I’m ugly as sin

( ) I’m incapable of commitment

( ) My closest neighbor lives 3 hours away

( ) I have intimacy issues

( ) I have trust issues

( ) I’m a workaholic

( ) I’m bedridden

( ) The classic (boooring!): I’m shy

( ) Some other loser reason, namely:



Question # 2: Are you currently single?

(x) Yes

( ) No

( ) Irrelevant



Question # 3: What’s your gender?

(x) Male

( ) Female

There is no third option. Look down your pants, it’s easy enough. Otherwise get out of here.



Question # 4: Which gender would you like your partner to have?

( ) Male

(x) Female



Question # 5: How old are you?

( ) 18 - 25 and ashamed that I’m already out of options

(x) 26 - 35

( ) 36 - 45

( ) 46 - 55

( ) 56 - 65

( ) I knew Adam and Eve personally.



Question # 6: How old would you like your partner to be?

(x) Same age bracket because I secretly hope that we’ll meet someday which proves that I have no clue what this forum is about.

( ) Up to 10 years older

( ) Up to 10 years younger

( ) A lot older because my plan is to be made their beneficiary before they die.

( ) There is no “lot younger option”, you sicko.

( ) I don’t care because I’m that desperate.



Question # 7: In which part of Germany would you like your partner to live?

(x) As close to my location as possible because I have no clue what this forum is about.

( ) As far away from my location as possible because I’m a smartass and have understood exactly what this forum is about.

( ) I don’t give a damn.



Question # 8: How frequently would you like to receive a message from your partner?

(x) More than once a day

( ) Once a day

( ) Once every other day

( ) Once a week



Question # 9: What do you want to write about? Multiple selections are possible.

(x) Economics, social science and anything that will make me seem intellectual.

( ) Dirty topics because I suck both as a real-life partner and a writing partner.

( ) Myself, which is how I bored my REAL dates to death.

(x) Feelings – aaaww.

(x) Things only I find funny, hoping against hope that my partner will, too.

( ) Some other lame-ass topic, namely:



Question # 10: Do you secretly hope to meet your partner some day?

( ) Yes, because I’m too cheap to pay higher membership fees at a normal forum.

( ) Yes, because I'm a hopeless romantic.

( ) No, because I'm in denial.

( ) No, because I don't give a damn about other people.

(x) I don’t know because my inability to commit is how I ended up here in the first place.



Question # 11: How fast do you type?

( ) Single-handed: fewer than 30 words per minute

( ) Average: between 30 and 50 words per minute

( ) Show-off: between 51 and 75 words per minute

(x) Robot: more than 75 words per minute



Prove it. Why? Because we don't feel like handling users’ complaints about mismatches. Go back and answer honestly this time or prove that you have the typing skills you have selected. You’ve got one minute. Type a coherent text about anything that comes to your impoverished mind.


And in case you’re wondering: yes, that text is going to show up in your profile later. And in case you're still wondering: no, you won't be able to PASTE anything in this field that you’ve copied from somewhere else, you lazy-ass cheater.


Click on START when you’re ready. Hint: if you’re not ready within 1 minute, you’ll be kicked out and have to start over with your profile. This text is meant to be spontaneous.



START



1 minute for a first impression – great. I’m neither creative nor spontaneous, so I’m just going to write about what’s on my mind:


I’m hoping against all logic that I’ll find a normal person to write and share things with in this weird place, but who knows, it might happen, I’m kind of a careful optimist that way. I’m also smart, reliable, a fast typist and as honest as these sick guys who have set up this website. So, if you feel that you’ve got something to share and would like to



Time’s up! 92 words – congratulations, you robot, you didn’t lie about your typing skills after all. Click NEXT to go on.



NEXT



Well, you made it, welcome to your pigeonhole. Now click on MATCHES to see with whom you’ve been matched. Yes, “with whom”. We watch our grammar, as should you. Your language is the only thing you’ve got going for you.



MATCHES



Member name: MC Hammer


Question # 1: What's your reason for registering?

(x) I have intimacy issues


Question # 2: Are you currently single?

(x) Yes


Question # 3: What’s your gender?

(x) Female


Question # 4: Which gender would you like your partner to have?

(x) Male


Question # 5: How old are you?

(x) 26 - 35


Question # 6: How old would you like your partner to be?

(x) Same age bracket because I secretly hope that we’ll meet someday which proves that I have no clue what this forum is about.


Question # 7: In which part of Germany would you like your partner to live?

(x) I don’t give a damn.


Question # 8: How frequently would you like to receive a message from your partner?

(x) More than once a day


Question # 9: What do you want to write about? Multiple selections are possible.

(x) Feelings – aaaww.

(x) Things only I find funny, hoping against hope that my partner will, too.

(x) Some other lame-ass topic, namely: things that no one addresses in real life. Life is too short for taboos.


Question # 10: Do you secretly hope to meet your partner some day?

(x) I don’t know because my inability to commit is how I ended up here in the first place.


Question # 11: How fast do you type?

(x) Robot: more than 75 words per minute



Prove your typing skills:


Hi there, you ugly, isolated or distrustful stranger,


Strangers have the best candy. Candy is not my thing. Your thing has no business near me. It’s none of your business why, just in case you’re wondering.


If you're dizzy already, let me borrow this forum's founders' words: get out of here. I came here for an exchange at eye level, not to have eyebrows raised at me. I'm here to write, not to meet and most certainly not to touch.


Did I forget something? Most likely because I always do, but I believe I have gotten my point across. Not this point here, which will stay where it is. Period.



Sunday, 15th of September, late evening


Hi MC,


I’ve been sitting here for probably five minutes, staring at my blinking cursor in this forum-message field and waiting for inspiration to strike. Well, so far it hasn’t, so I’m just going to write whatever is dripping from my mind here. I’ve just registered on this weird forum and you were one of the matches suggested to me. We’re in the same age bracket and what you wrote in your spontaneous typing sample made me laugh, which is why I decided to write to you first and I’m hoping you’ll write back.


I have no idea where this is going, which, now that I think about it, is the very purpose of this forum, so I guess I’m in the right place after all. I’m no friendless hermit but I haven’t had much luck with relationships. Of course I’ve tried normal forums but at some point people always wanted to exchange photographs, which put whatever contact we’d had to a sudden end. Through this forum, I hope to get to know someone, perhaps you, the way we ARE, not the way we look. I’d like to find someone to share things with: funny, mundane, deep, shallow, sad – anything, I guess. I’ve always liked writing and sharing, which is why I hope that this forum will give me an opportunity to combine both.


I’d love to hear about your thoughts, wishes and expectations, and if you do write back, you’ll get your answer fast, just as I’ve promised in my profile, since I regularly check my messages on my phone.


Erik



Monday, 16th of September, noon


Hello Erik,


I agree, whoever is behind this forum must be as sick as a plague-ridden, HIV-positive meth addict but whoever they are, I’m grateful to them. Why? Because my own hopes for a real relationship have been cowering on a windowsill in deep contemplation for a few years, too. They haven’t decided to take the jump yet, but even so I have decided that I need a time-out from relationships. I just want to delve into a world without risks for a while and forget about that gloomy windowsill. Does that make sense?


I registered here two days ago but haven't contacted anyone yet, so thanks for relieving me of the agony of choice ;) Like you, I love to share and exchange words – MANY of them, let me warn you right now. Like you, I’ve had experience on conventional dating websites, which, in my case, was stopped not by the other party’s eventual wish to exchange photographs but oral and other bodily fluids. No matter how much they claimed to understand and respect my issues, every time I got closer to them, I realized that they did, in fact, not respect them.


I hope that you’re not like them because I joined this strange forum here in order to be spared that fate. Or ARE you just like them? Because in that case I’m going to avail myself of the forum founders’ words again and tell you to get out here, out of my personal-message inbox, I mean. Shoo! And in case you’re not like them, pretend that was a sneeze just now ;)


I’m going to be as brutally honest here as those dark-humored individuals behind this peculiar forum: you’ve checked “ugly as sin” as your reason for registering, and your photograph-exchange issue corroborates my suspicion that you meant what you’ve checked. Did you? The rest of your profile as well?


MC


Chapter 2: A match

Same Monday, 16th of September, 20 minutes later


Hello MC,


I’m glad you wrote back, and pretty fast, too. I’ll turn to the question at the end of your forum message first because evidently our correspondence hinges on your reaction to my answer: I filled in every bit of my profile in utter honesty, down to my reason for registering. Does that reason matter to you?


I’d understand if it did because even though we’re members of a NON-dating community, I guess nobody here can claim with a clear conscience that they’re not curious about who they’re writing with. Still, I hope that it WON’T matter to you and that you’ll continue to write because your style makes me smile. And I hope you’ll believe me when I tell you that I respect your boundaries. Even if we had met at a traditional dating platform, I would respect them, and not just because I have boundaries of my own that I want respected.


My turn (assuming that you’ll answer): by “intimacy issues”, do you just mean physical intimacy, or do compliments, flirting or banter make you uncomfortable as well? And to answer your question: yes, it makes sense that you just want to forget about your troubles for a while. I want the same.


Erik



Same Monday, 16th of September, evening


Hi Erik,


Based on the brief amount of time you took to answer, you’re most likely a slacker who doesn’t give a furry rodent’s posterior about their productivity at work. Then again, you might also be self-employed, jobless, working from home or enjoying a vacation. Which one is it?


Since I’M a productive, office-bound, currently non-vacationing workforce member, I can only answer before or after work or during lunch break, and today I had already agreed with colleagues to use the latter for collective physical restoration ;)


So, does your self-professed ungainly appearance matter to me? My first thought was: Yes. My second: Ugly as in what type of sin?


As in pride? That would mean you’re a vain, supercilious hunk and therefore ugly on the inside.

As in gluttony? That would make you morbidly obese.

As in sloth? That would make you fetid and slovenly.

As for the other four, I’m having a hard time picturing their reflection on a person’s physical appearance.


But I’m rambling here as I’m prone to doing. Have I warned you about that yet? Are you scared yet? But back to the bottom line I was just about to draw: your admission HAS roused my curiosity but not so much that I’ll pry into the matter further or, the other extreme, break off contact. In fact, the more I think about it, the less I mind. We’re here to write, not to meet in real life, and as long as I like your words, the fact that I might not care for your looks doesn’t matter.


Thank you for being as straightforward with me as I was with you: my intimacy issues are mostly physical. I love to hug and be hugged as long as I know those hugs safely in the non-romantic realm, which goes for the verbal types of intimacy you mentioned as well. Anything WITHIN said realm, however, is off-limits for me. Why do you ask, are you planning to open the charm faucet and ooze all over your next messages? Should I worry? Or get a mop?


Would it be awfully morbid to say that our respective “disabilities” make us a perfect match? You might be ugly and therefore prefer to remain concealed but I wouldn’t want to touch you anyway. Or would that perfection be purely one-sided because you would WANT to be touched? I would apologize for my frankness but the forum founders encouraged us to give “honest” priority over “nice”.


Are you truly named “Erik” or is your screen name supposed to be an allusion a “Phantom of the Opera”-like disfigurement? And how did you find this forum anyway? Its founders don't seem particularly keen on securing a top spot on Google; if I hadn't heard about it through a co-worker, it would never have crossed my path. Or vice versa. Oh, you know what I mean.


MC



Same Monday, 16th of September, 20 minutes later


Hello MC,


Other than for the obvious reason, I’m glad you didn’t see my reaction to your message just now. It was downright scary to read your question about my screen name. I thought no one would suspect a deeper meaning behind it, and yet here you are, figuring it out after only two messages. Most people have seen the Webber musical but the name “Erik” isn’t mentioned there, so my guess is that you’ve read the book. Have you? Do you like to read? Because that would also explain those big words of yours (“ungainly”, “realm of bodily fluids” or “furry rodent’s posterior”).


But to answer your question: yes, I did have the Phantom in mind, although I won’t comment on whether the disfigurement issue applies to me or not. What about your screen name then? I guess you’re telling people that they “can’t touch this?” If so, that is ingenious.


No, don’t apologize for calling things as they are; in fact, I appreciate your in-your-face frankness since, as you can imagine, I’m mostly treated to it behind my back. And to answer your question: yes, that “perfection” between us, as you called it, would be purely one-sided because I would very much like to be touched. I guess every less-than-average-looking person does because it just doesn’t happen as much as for beautiful people. That is, I would have to get used to it again because it’s been a while for me.


Since you’re obviously a smart, educated person, you’re probably aware of how important physical connections are for your psyche and even your health. Maybe you’ve even heard about that statistic that beautiful babies are touched more often than ugly ones, have you? That means that, not only do those ugly babies grow up to be ugly adults, they grow up to be ugly, emotionally stunted adults. That’s hardly fair, is it?


You know, I didn’t expect the beginning of my exchange with a stranger to be so deep, personal and, admittedly, abnormal. Usually this is where we’d ask each other about hobbies and tastes in music but I guess we might as well face it: this is an abnormal forum, so by all means, let’s talk abnormal. My turn: have you always had those intimacy issues? In case you’re wondering: I’ve always been ugly.


As for the question at the beginning of your message: I have a job but thankfully my employer is not a hard-ass ;) And speaking of jobs, I also heard about the forum through a coworker during lunch. Weird, isn’t it? In fact, his nephew's best friend knows one of the founders personally, but that's all I'll ever get out of him because he added immediately that the two want to stay anonymous.


Have a good night.


Erik



Tuesday, 17th of September, early in the morning


Good morning Erik,


The forum’s founders want to stay anonymous? That explains why the only thing you'll find under "About us" in the menu is "None of your damn business, what did you think?"


Well, it fits then that they're not after fame and fortune but simply started this project for their perverted notion of fun. So, your coworker's nephew's best friend (double possessive :D) knows one of the founders? Could that mean that they live in your area? Wouldn't that be a small world?


Since I expected approximately nothing from this forum when I registered, I never thought to begin such a profound, meaningful exchange with one of its members either. I like it, it’s refreshing and unusual, and I’ve always had a soft spot for the unusual. Ha! I knew you were smart. Uh, that observation has nothing to do with the sentence before; perhaps I should have started a new paragraph. Let me make up for that:


There it is. Seriously, I’m grateful that the first person who contacted me through this forum is indeed one with whom I can interact on eye level, just as I wished for in my typing sample because your guess about my screen name was correct, as was the one about my love for reading because I really do require regular literary sustenance. And yes, I have read “Phantom of the Opera”.


As for my language, yes, that’s indeed probably (or probably indeed?) due to the fact that you’ll mostly find my nose buried in a book, and the body attached to that nose lounging on the – I’m not lying – best couch in the world in the midst of at least five comfy cushions. I love cushions. Aside from my tasks at work, reading is about the only thing I do exclusively, at least when I sit on the couch. I will confess to reading during breakfast, lunch and dinner, and while I’m aware of how unhealthy that is, I just become so bored by the mere act of eating. I suppose you could call me a compulsive multi-tasker ;)


Yes, I’m familiar with that study about the babies and I share your indignation! However, from what little I’ve gathered from your messages, you can’t be too emotionally stunted; you wouldn’t be capable of such deep reflections otherwise.


No, I haven’t always had issues with intimacy. Several things have happened to me which have soured my taste for the physical side of a relationship, but I’m loath to relive those moments, which is why I’m veering off topic now with resolve. And this is what I’ve veered off to: would EVERYONE agree that you’re ugly? Appearance is a highly subjective topic after all.


I’m off to work now but should I find a reply from you in my inbox by noon, I’ll answer immediately – that is if none of my co-workers chat me up. I’ll do my best to fend them off.


MC



Same Tuesday, 17th of September, 10 minutes later


A good morning to you, too, MC,


First of all, I wonder why you’d consider your tendency to ramble worth a WARNING because I find it pretty entertaining. You’re the first person I “meet” who dedicates so much thought to syntax or to double possessives ;)


Second, thank you for your remote diagnosis, I also like to think that I’m not too emotionally stunted. I might not be where I’d like to be in life but I like to laugh and try to find humor in as many things as possible, even and especially in myself. I don’t often succeed with that last part but I keep trying.


Third, would everyone agree that I’m ugly? True, the topic IS one of the most subjective ones but given my relationship track record, I’d say yes. As a teenager, I was pretty shy and didn't date much. Over time, I outgrew that shyness and came to think that I didn't look THAT bad, so I tried to date and find someone I could imagine a long-term relationship with. But evidently I was wrong and DO look that bad. There is only so much rejection one person can take and the older I got, the less I tried. It’s not like I wallow in self-pity, it’s just that I’m obviously not nice to look at. Kind of like the evolutionary theory: it’s not 100% proven but preeeeetty close. Why do you ask?


Erik



Same Tuesday, 17th of September, noon


Hello Erik,


Here’s your lunch-break answer, just as promised. There was not even the need to engage in any fending-off. Or is it “off-fending”? No, that expression would look offending :D


So, why do I ask if everyone would agree on your appearance being unsightly? Because I’m nosy and because in this forum I can ask anything without compunction and repercussions as it was advertised.


And, I admit, I was trying to find a way to cheer you up by making you question your own conviction about your appearance. I don’t know you but I can’t imagine anyone calling themselves ugly without even one drop of bitterness. Even before your self-characterization as a man who likes to laugh, I had gathered as much from your messages, but I dislike the thought of mirthless laughter. Your “preeeeetty close” (I counted each “e” carefully) tells me that I have at least managed to sow a grain of doubt but that’s not much to work with as far as cheering up goes :(


MC



Same Tuesday, 17th of September, 15 minutes later


Hi MC,


If you dislike the thought of mirthless laughter, I dislike that frownie in your message. I would apologize for souring the mood with my reflections but it’s actually all YOUR fault since you were the one to ask ;)


There. I put that smiley there because I really felt like it, not just to put you at ease, but if it does, all the better.


It’s touching that you were trying to cheer me up even though we don’t know each other, and judging by the smile on my face right now, I’d say you’ve done a pretty good job at it. Imagining you counting each “e” carefully or the offending “off-fending” expression made me smile at any rate.


Your messages tell me a lot about the kind of person you are and I’d like to get to know that person better but through less serious topics than those we’ve talked about so far. Would you be up for that, too? If so, please let me go first: you mentioned that you were a “compulsive multi-tasker”. What other activities do you combine then, aside from eating and reading?


Erik



Same Tuesday, 17th of September, late evening


Hello Erik,


Yes, I would definitely be up for a change in topic. Compulsive multi-tasking it is then.


Well, for instance I never only watch TV since my hands always crave something to do: mending socks, cracking walnuts, even writing emails. Also, I’ve recently taken up upcycling (combining old clothes to make something new) and altering my wardrobe. I often do that in front of the TV, like sewing on buttons, lace or patches. Yes, I admit it, I’m a hippie.


Even my brain seems bored following only a single train of thought: a major part is usually somewhere in the future, another on some current matter while others are still dealing with some past issue. A measly 2% usually makes sure I don't run into walls, people or cars. The former two HAVE actually happened before, the third hasn't – mostly thanks to some watchful person present at the scene. I should be some sort of highly-concentrated ghost by now, judging by the number of times I should have met my premature demise.


Minor accidents, however, are unavoidable: last week, for instance, I found my cell phone in the fridge because I had placed it there for a moment while I was stocking it with my groceries ;) Thank goodness I hadn’t forgotten in it the freezer because I am hopelessly dependent on its calendar and reminder apps. I forget anything I don’t save or write down, indiscriminate of topic or urgency. As contained and organized I have taught myself to be in everyday life, I’m a scatterbrain at heart. (Huh, “brain at heart”, that sounds like a very complicated knot in my anatomy.)


I not only lose dates but also track of time, space and what I’ve been told or even said myself. Somehow my brain can’t process auditory information. Most of my partners used to complain that I didn’t listen to them because I would always forget the things they said but that’s not true, they simply slip through the cracks. OK, bus-sized holes rather than cracks ;)


On the other hand, my memory for names, numerical data and written quotes is brilliant, and I swear that my brain is 75% song lyrics.


What about you, any memory flaws or strokes of genius? By the way, I’m really glad you’re such a speedy correspondent.


MC



Wednesday, 18th of September, early in the morning


Hello MC,


You make your memory problem sound entertaining like you do pretty much anything. Your fridge-cell-phone story, for instance, made me laugh – sure you haven’t got early onset dementia? ;) Still, I can imagine that it must be very inconvenient and time-consuming to save reminders or write notes all the time. Have you always struggled with remembering things? I hope your lack of concentration and your forgetfulness don’t cause you trouble in your job. May I ask what it is you do? I can imagine that you have the sort of job that contributes to making the world a better place.


You asked about my “memory flaws or strokes of genius.” I’m afraid I’m more of a one-track-minded person and I don’t do well with song lyrics (do you sing?), but on the other hand, I have a good eye for detail. I’m good with auditory information and I’ve got an excellent memory for numbers and appointments. It sounds like we should work together and help each other out, you’d only have to agree to wear a blindfold around me until death do us part ;)


Erik



Same Wednesday, 18th of September, noon


Erik,


“Sure you haven’t got early onset dementia? ;)”

I reject that smiley! Dementia is a terrible disease and I find nothing funny in it! As for the rest of your message, I’ll answer later tonight.


MC



Same Wednesday, 18th of September, 3 minutes later


Hey MC,


Of course dementia is terrible but I only meant to tease you a bit. I’m really sorry if I’ve said something wrong.


Erik



Same Wednesday, 18th of September, 12 minutes later


Erik,


I’m really sorry for overreacting and erupting on you like that :/ Please don’t ask, just tell me that we’re OK.


MC



Same Wednesday, 18th of September, 3 minutes later


MC,


Yes, we’re OK. Obviously this is something that you don’t want to talk about, and we’ve all got a right to our secrets and skeletons in our closets. I just hate the thought of you not smiling, so let me try to cheer you up because the skeleton reminded me of something:


Why don’t skeletons like parties? – Because they have no body to dance with.


Erik



Same Wednesday, 18th of September, evening


Good evening Erik,


Thank you, both for your forgiveness, for not prying any further and for that joke. It’s cute and clever at the same time and I’ll tell it to everyone at work tomorrow immediately. Probably I’ll even tell a few people twice because I will have forgotten whom I will have spoken to already. (Finally an opportunity to use the Future Perfect, I have a soft spot for neglected tenses.)


I promised to address the rest of your message, so here goes:


No, I haven’t always had trouble remembering things but my mind has always had the tendency to wander off, even as a child. Sometimes I wonder how I always made it home from school in one piece.


Your suggestion about balancing out each other’s memory flaws has merit and your “blindfold until death do us part” phrasing made me laugh. You once wrote that you always tried to find humor in yourself but didn’t succeed very often, but let me tell you that you did a good job there. I know that many people that struggle with something about themselves, a disability for instance, not only use humor as a coping mechanism but over time learn to truly embrace their handicap and accept themselves the way they are. I’m sure if you do, too, you wouldn’t need to hide because you’d take the wind out of people’s sails within a few seconds and make them get to know you for who you are, not the way you look. What do you think?


Meanwhile, let me turn to your question about how I earn my living: thank you for crediting me with working for world peace but it’s nothing as grand as that: I have sort of a government job. (Two colons in a row, is that allowed?) I meet with customers, which means private people as well as other institutions, and help improve our service for them, e.g. through alterations in web forms or other changes in our customer-service structure. I’m sort of an intermediary between the customers and the techies. I’m afraid I can’t tell you more without making myself googlable or fakebookable. What about you?


And about your other question: I sing OK and everywhere but in the shower because I always swallow water and end up coughing ;)


MC



Friday, 20th of September, morning


Good morning MC,


I know I was the one to raise the topic of my appearance again by cracking that blindfold joke but it seems you just can’t leave it alone either, can you?


I’m sure you gave your advice with the best intentions and I agree that many people can learn to cope by joking about their appearance/disability but I’m not one of them because the fact remains that I don’t WANT to be the way I am. As a child my appearance didn't matter but with the beginning of school that changed, and at some point I discovered that it wouldn't get any better as I got older and that I'd have to do the best with what I had to work with. I’ve been working and failing at making myself as attractive as I can for years but I still haven’t quite given up hope that I’ll make it someday. I believe that, once people give up hope altogether of bettering themselves (both physically and mentally), that’s the first step towards self-neglect, depression or even suicide.


Forgive me for being so brutal but— no, don’t forgive me, it’s still difficult to remember that I may speak my mind here. And another thing that’s on my mind is the following, and it’s very important to me:


Let’s never exchange any information about physical appearance or anything that would make us – as you put it – googlable or facebookable, OK? Even if you’re willing to tell me about yourself, I’m not, and I’d like to keep up the mystery for as long as possible for both of us. As weird as this thing is, it’s also the most exciting experience I’ve ever had.


Let me therefore turn to the rest of your message:


You asked about my job: my parents own a business. I’m afraid I can’t go into detail without revealing too much. After graduation, my older brother joined them, but while I basically possess the talent for the goods we offer, the passion for it is not in my genes. Therefore I decided to get my degree in computer science. I worked in that company where I did the apprenticeship for a few years and after that, I did a two-year training as an engineer for automation technology. Now I’m working in my parents’ business after all and take care of the technological side.


I program, troubleshoot or look for inefficiencies in the system. I also manage everything related to IT. Mind you, I’m not the type of computer nerd who sits on his butt all day; in fact, I spend a lot of my work day on my feet, checking machines or talking to workers. I just want you to get the right impression of me, not that it should matter between writing partners but to me it does.


You working with customers, that’s a job that fits you to a tee. I bet everyone comes out of your office grinning and already thinking about an excuse to meet with you again.


Erik


P.S.: Did you or did you not say the word “googlable” over and over as soon as you had typed it? Have you got knots in your tongue yet?



Same Friday, 20th of September, evening


Good evening Erik,


I am very, very sorry for being so insensitive. I’m afraid I have always been a person that opened her mouth or let her fingers dance across a keyboard without thinking. What’s more, past experiences have taught me that life is too short to waste it by beating around the bush, which has only intensified that particular part of my personality. I could add in my defense that you agreed to brutal honesty when you accepted the forum’s terms and conditions, but I don’t want to make it sound like it’s all your fault that I hurt you. I might not know you but I’ve already come to like you. The friendly note on which you concluded your message gives me hope that you still like me, too. And yes, I agree to your request of keeping up the mystery.


Believe me, you’re vastly exaggerating when you picture customers leaving my office “grinning and already thinking about an excuse to meet with me again”. You make me sound like Ms. Congeniality when all I am is Ms. Cuckoo. If people are thinking about such an excuse, it’s only because they get free entertainment. Apparently so do you because I really DID say “googlable” about eight times or so ;)


Wow, your parents own a business? So, for all I know, I’m having the unexpected privilege of corresponding with a billionaire’s son here who is typing away on a golden keyboard in a 1,000 square-foot home office, surrounded by high-priced gadgetry geared to making your already spoiled life even more comfortable?


MC



Same Friday, 20th of September, 18 minutes later


Hi MC,


Of course I still like you. Unknowingly I hurt you with my dementia joke and then you did the same but we both forgave each other. All water under the bridge now, OK?


For the record: my laptop is an ordinary Dell with conventional plastic keys and my home office has 150 square feet, not 1,000. While our family is doing OK, we’re definitely not billionaires. What’s more, my parents have raised us to be independent and financially responsible. They pay me well enough but no more than is appropriate for the work I do, but I wouldn’t want them to do that anyway. What about your family?


You asked if I could sing: I guess I do OK but I ONLY in the shower ;) Speaking of activities, what do you like to do in your free time? I often hang out with my co-workers Dennis and Holger or my older brother Kai on weekends but this week has been exhausting and I decided to stay in tonight. May I ask why YOU are, too? You don’t seem like the kind of person who spends a lot of time alone.


Erik



Same Friday, 20th of September, 20 minutes later


Hey rich kid,


I stayed in tonight because none of my friends had time for me and because I have another sewing project claiming my attention. Instead, I’m writing with you and I must say that I, and especially my fingertips, find you vastly preferable to needle and thread ;) Aside from sewing I go to the pool twice a week, like to spend time with friends, LOVE to read and volunteer for the Food Bank as a driver. You could say that I inherited that job from my mom, which takes me to something else you asked about: my family.


I’m afraid that’s a topic that’s too painful for ME to talk about because my parents are no longer alive. It’s been many years but I still can’t talk or write about them for long, so please forgive me for changing the subject. People keep saying that I’m a chameleon because allegedly I can adapt to anything, but I don’t think anyone can ever adapt to their parents being gone.


There is something I meant to ask you before, only I – naturally – forgot: would you like to exchange email addresses instead of communicating through the forum? It would expedite the information exchange greatly. So would Skype or Facetime but evidently those are out of the question for us since we agreed not to exchange physical information.


And there is something else: my real name is Leonie. Although I’m proud of my idea for a screen name, it feels increasingly strange to be addressed by it because with every message I feel that we’re getting to know each other in a way that those around us in real life can’t. I won’t tell you my last name but I promise that my first name is real, and I would like to be addressed by it in your first email to me: pensieve@gmx.de


I’m off to bed now. Just in case you planned to answer me tonight, could you save that message and send it tomorrow? I’d like the new day to be ushered in by your first email. Romantic, what can I say?


Oh, I know what I can say: good night.


Leonie


Chapter 3: Names

Saturday, 21st of September, morning


Hi Leonie,


As you wished, this is me addressing you by your real name in my first email. Wow, this feels weird, and that’s saying a lot for someone who signed up at THAT forum. Still, your real name as well as your email address brought a smile to my face. I would have asked you for your email address before, only I didn’t know how you’d feel about taking that step, having signed up on a NON-dating forum and all that.


I really like your email address. Let me guess:


# 1: You’re a Harry Potter fan

# 2: You never stop thinking, therefore “pensive”


Correct?


I’m glad we’re moving our exchange into our private inboxes. Somehow I don’t trust the forum founders not to leak our private information or use it against us, they seem pretty jaded and heartless. And now that we’ve got some privacy, I have no clue which private things to tell you. This whole non-dating thing is still weirding me out. So, until I figure this out, let me tackle what you wrote in your last message:


I get that you don't want to talk about your parents. I’m really sorry you’ve lost them already; being so close to my own family, I can’t imagine what that must be like. Do you at least have any other siblings? Somehow I can’t picture you as an only child.


Amazing how you manage to make time for all your activities. See, I was right: you ARE contributing to making the world a better place with your volunteer work for the Food Bank. You probably think it's nothing special but it is.


So, now you’ve got my email address, and my real name, too:


Felix



Same Saturday, 21st of September, noon


Good noon Felix (why do we wish each other a good morning, a good evening and a good night but never a good noon?),


I have a confession to make: I'm in love with your name. For one thing, what better name to give to someone who likes to laugh than “Felix”? For another, X is my favorite letter. I’d love to be named Xenia because then I would have a cool, mysterious initial. How fun would it be if my last name began with a Y because the n I could initial X.Y. Or, on second – no, third – thought, if I had a middle name that began with a Y and a last name that started with a Z, I would be X.Y.Z.


HOW COOL WOULD THAT BE???!!!


In conclusion, I should find a husband with Z at the beginning of his last name and then get busy making a baby and name it Xenia Yvonne or Xerxes Yves. Gosh, I’d be a terrible mother :D


As for your guess about my email address, let me congratulate you on 2 out of 3 points. Yes, there is a # 3: I have a memory like a sieve. PenSIEVE, get it? ;)


I’d love to earn myself a good grade as well but I’ll admit that your email address has me puzzled: Pafelbloix@home.com? If I remove the “Fe” and the “lix”, I get “Pablo”. Was that your intention, and if so, who is Pablo?


I’m glad for you that you’re close to your family; I always had a strong relationship with my parents, too. Sadly, however, I AM an only child. My parents would have liked to have more children but it just didn’t happen, and perhaps they were grateful for that circumstance after all since I slept little and never sat still ;) In case you’re wondering where I spend Christmas or Easter, I usually stay with my best friend Anita, so don’t you worry about me. I also have an aunt and uncle that I love but they live three hours away, so Anita’s family has become my family instead.


You called it “amazing” how I managed to make time for my activities. It really isn’t, though, I simply wouldn’t give up any of them, especially not swimming. It’s one of the few things that help me clear my head. I always aim at swimming for 45-50 minutes and after ten minutes or so, my body switches to auto pilot, so my thoughts are finally free to roam until they have knocked themselves out. People keep telling me to join a swim team, but while I’m good at many types of sports, I’ve never liked the pressure of competition.


(Should you find any crumbs in this message, it’s because I’m taking bites out of my sandwich between typing. Perhaps I should start attaching napkins to my messages ;)) Huh, now that smiley looks like it’s got a double chin but I can’t just type one bracket. Winter is coming and therefore I can’t leave a bracket open.


Leonie



Same Saturday, 21st of September, late afternoon


Good noon Leonie,


Napkin attachments, double-chinned smileys and open brackets – unbelievable. On the one hand I think you should write books, on the other hand you’d never finish because you wouldn’t be able to stick to one topic, correct? ;) Still, being a techie, I agree with you on the bracket issue. Try leaving one open in an Excel formula.


I’m really glad that your friend’s family has become yours as well, and speaking of family, I’m sure you will make an excellent mother.


You asked about ‘Pablo’ in my email address. Well, Pablo is my read-furred housemate (see attached picture). You’d love him and I wish there was a way to introduce you two. He’s as soft and cuddly as a cat should be and extremely low-maintenance, too. Are you a cat or a dog person? Please don’t say “dog”, my whole impression of you would be ruined if you did.


Felix



Same Saturday, 21st of September, evening


Hey cat lover,


What an adorable ball of fluff, and that one white paw among the red ones looks so cute on him! I love your Pablo already. You see, you may breathe easy again, for I am very much of the feline persuasion. (Don't you just love animal adjectives?) Still, I’ve never considered getting a cat myself since I like to stay flexible, for instance spending a spontaneous night at a friend’s house. In addition, I’m afraid my neighborhood is not the most cat-friendly environment. The lady in the apartment below mine once mentioned that she had lost two cats to the traffic in our area already. The alternative would be keeping it inside all the time but those dear creatures aren't meant for that. I’ve often thought of moving to a quieter neighborhood but since I live in a condo, I’d have to pay taxes and notary fees again if I bought another one. Conclusion: no cat for Leonie just yet :/


Why did you name yours Pablo? Is he a Spanish stray you fell for on vacation and whom you smuggled back to Germany? Also, have you ever noticed that the blend of your and Pablo’s second syllables forms the French suffix “oix” and therefore lends an extremely sophisticated touch to your email address?


And what has caused you to dislike dogs so much?


Leonie



Same Saturday, 21st of September, 9 minutes later


Hey Leonie,


Why can’t I stand dogs?


1. They reek. Very often you can smell them before you even see them. I'm very sensitive to smells – good and bad. Many owners don’t set any boundaries for their dogs, so they just throw their pungent, hairy selves on you unasked. Ugh.


2. They’re about the highest-maintenance pet you can get and I don’t want my life to revolve around the needs of a pet.


3. Many people keep dogs because they will accept them for who they are. Although that concept might hold appeal for a man like me, being liked by your dog is nothing to be proud of. Dogs aren’t very clever and will give their affection to anyone who offers them food and a pat. To get an admittedly self-centered animal like a cat to beg for a scratch or a cuddle, on the other hand, is quite a feat. Does that make sense?


4. There is that flexibility issue you mentioned but since I’m not a spontaneous person like you, I only put that item on the list half-heartedly ;)


No, Pablo is not a stray but we picked him up from the local shelter. He already had his name then and we saw no reason to change it. Smuggling strays sounds like something YOU would do, though; I can imagine that you've got a heart for strays.


No, I’ve never noticed that French touch but now I’ll never forget. You’d probably pronounce it French just to make yourself laugh, right?


You live in a condo? Your job must pay well then, or are you a rich kid, too, and have kept it a secret from me? Speaking of kids, I can imagine you never sitting still because I already know that that hasn’t changed ;) Were you a little hell-raiser then?



Felix



Sunday, 22nd of September, morning


Good morning Felix,


Yes, item no. 3 on your anti-dog list makes a lot of sense because I have taken pride in feline approval myself more than once. I have always appreciated it how they watch you from afar with caution, circle you with wariness and eventually rub their preened, odorless softness discreetly against your legs. That always makes me feel as if I’ve done something right! (Sorry for the big words, I’ve been reading a lot of Regency romance novels lately.)


Yes, I do have a heart for strays, but since I grew up in a medium-sized city and now live in another one of about the same size, I don’t exactly have many opportunities to take in injured birds or underfed hedgehogs. I always look out for human strays, though, such as new or shy co-workers ;) What about you, are you a hillbilly, son to successful farm-equipment manufacturers, or a sophisticated urbanite, heir to a media empire?


So, was I a hell-raiser as a kid? Not really, but I used to be something of a tomboy. My parents soon gave up on making sure my clothes were clean or my hair brushed, and they got used to all the strange things accompanying me in my pockets. I would check my photo albums and send you a few pictures but since I haven’t changed much since childhood, that would be violating our agreement not to exchange physical information. Just in case you’re wondering if I show up at work with the remains of breakfast on my clothes and twigs and spiders accessorizing my hair, I don’t. Over time, I’ve learned how to dress and to leave wildlife where it belongs ;)


And no, I was no rich kid but my parents left everything they had to me.


Leonie



Same Sunday, 22nd of September, 25 minutes later


Hey Leonie,


Sorry for opening my mouth without thinking. My rich-kid question was very insensitive :/


I live in a medium-sized city, too, but I don’t stand to inherit a media empire, or any kind of empire for that matter. I repeat: my parents’ business is doing well but we’re down-to-earth, middle-class people. With a private helicopter. Just kidding.


I admit that I still live in my parents' house – no, not a mansion – but at the same time I’ll have you know that I’ve got my own floor, that I clean it myself and that I do my own laundry. I would pay my parents rent but they won't hear of it. Probably they withhold it from my paycheck ;)


I’d love to see pictures of you as a kid but I agree, that wouldn’t be a good idea. I was definitely NOT a hell raiser; I fact, I was on the quiet, careful side, but whenever my brother let me tag along with him and his friends, they exercised their bad influence on me.


Yep, the Regency romance novels show in your writing and I’ll admit that I had to Google the word “regency”. So, you’re into chick lit? On the one hand I wouldn’t have guessed that about a deep, smart person like you but then again it makes sense after all. Since you’re one of the most upbeat people I “know”, I guess you’re probably a fan of deep feelings and happy endings, correct?



Felix



Same Sunday, 22nd of September, late afternoon


Hi spare,


Why “spare”? Because I just remembered that, as the younger son, you don’t stand to inherit your parents’ allegedly modest fortune, unless your brother is met with fatal misfortune. The British would call that principle “the heir and the spare” – awfully utilitarian, isn’t it?


So, you manage your own household? Good, since I could never respect a pasha who believes that fresh laundry grows in the closet and that used up toilet paper replenishes itself.


Leonie



Same Sunday, 22nd of September, early evening


Felix,


I’ve been thinking: with all the personal things we’ve told each other from the beginning, we’ve already broken the first rule of the forum founders, namely the “dumb” part. Would you be up for breaking another, the “deaf” bit, meaning talking on the phone? Don’t worry, I’m not going to suggest violating the “blind” part anytime soon, if at all. I registered at the forum for a reason.


Leonie



Monday, 23rd of September, morning


Leonie,


You may have told me that you’re fond of unusual topics and prone to digressions but your suggestion came totally out of the blue here. I’ve been thinking about it constantly since I read it but I feel that I’m not ready to take that step yet. I signed up at the forum BECAUSE I would never get truly close to my writing partner, and yet here you go and suggest that we do just that. I mean, not that I’m not curious and a bit flattered but do you think that’s wise? Won’t it lead us to believe that we stand a chance in real life after all? Right now I wouldn’t want to change anything about what we have. Does that make sense?


And are you OK? Somehow I can’t shake the thought that something must have happened that prompted you to suggest the phone idea, especially because you sent it so fast after your first email.


Felix



Same Monday, 23rd of September, noon


Hey Felix,


I'm glad you’re not as spontaneous as me and are keeping a level head. My phone call idea probably wouldn’t have been very wise. Sorry :/


Did something prompt me into making that suggestion? Actually, nothing happened, which is exactly what happened. In other words: I was feeling a little lonely. I have the best friend I could wish for, plus few but irreplaceable other friends, but yesterday I was feeling as alone as I haven’t in a long time. Looking back, I can’t believe you noticed that something was wrong with me before I did. Well, I can, but it’s humbling nonetheless.


Leonie



Same Monday, 23rd of September, 8 minutes later


Leonie,


There is nothing to be sorry for; after all, I know all about loneliness. I hope that I can make you feel a little better or at least distract you with my messages. YOU’RE doing that for me at any rate.


Please, whenever you’re feeling lonely, send me an email. I usually check them on my phone regularly, so I should be able to answer fast. Remember: if you’re feeling lonely, I probably am, too, but together we won’t be.


You said that you loved to hug and be hugged. So, feel hugged – in a way that doesn’t make you uncomfortable.


Felix



Same Monday, 23rd of September, early evening


Felix,


You ’re sweet. I know it’s most men’s least favorite adjective but rest assured that I mean it in the most masculine way. All the more does it pain me to tell you that I’ve realized something: sending you an email in my lonesome moments would never have the same effect as reaching out to the real people in my life.


Yesterday night I ended up calling my friend Miriam, who managed to make a bit of time for me after all, and a mere 20-minute chat with her sufficed to restore me to full emotional capacity.


Miriam is real. I know where she lives, what she looks like and what her weaknesses are. Nothing could ever replace a connection like that. None of this is meant as a reproach because I can understand your reasons for remaining in the dark. I just hope you understand what I mean and will continue to write with me. I need both in my life, my real people AND you.


Feel hugged right back.


Leonie



Tuesday, 24th of September, evening


Leonie,


Please don’t feel bad, I know exactly what you mean. Perhaps one day we can become real to each other, too.


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