I’m a nostalgic person who rarely knows where to begin.
It’s been six years.
I’ve tried to lurk here once or twice before. It didn’t last very long. I kept forgetting my passwords, and more importantly, I don’t think I had enough distance to come back until now.
In my high school psychology class, we learned that babies have trouble with object permanence—the idea that something exists and will continue to exist even if you can’t see it. If you take a ball out of their field of vision, it’s as if that ball ceased to exist.
I struggle with the opposite of that. Even when something is gone, I expect it to be the same no matter how many years have gone by. In my first year of college, my grandparents moved out of their home into an independent living complex. My grandparents had lived decades in this house; it was like a second home to me. I would spend vacations there, helping my grandmother in her garden or riding my bike around the neighborhood church. I practically had the wallpaper memorized. But because I was at college when they left, I didn’t see the boxes or the empty spaces that were left behind in their old house. I never knew who moved in after them. It’s completely irrational, but because of this, part of me still expects to be able to go back. Somehow, I can’t help but think that all I have to do to go back in time is to walk through the front door. Their grandfather clock will be in the foyer on the left, and if I walk through the kitchen and out the door, I’ll be right back in my grandmother’s expansive vegetable garden. Intellectually, I know that the grandfather clock now sits in the middle of their new living room a few hundred miles away, and that my grandmother now tends to a smaller patch in a communal garden. But it feels like it should still all be there.
This is also how I feel about Sal’s. I retired from the forum moderator position six years ago. I also stopped frequenting #novus, the old unofficial chatroom. A lot has changed since 2008. Many of my old friends are inactive, having moved on to some other corner of life. But last week, when I logged on for the first time in years, I was hit with that same reverse-object-impermanence. I still tried to find our old IRC haunts, thinking if I could just find the right URL I’d be able to join a chatroom with everyone still frozen in time.
I know that Sal’s is less active than it used to be. The vast majority of moderators are retired. It makes my heart ache to read through the “Hilarious IRC Quotes” thread, to see all of the broken imageshack links. Every two pages someone will ask how to join #novus and I desperately wish that coming back was as easy as clicking on http://danirijeka.altervista.org/.
With all this talk about the end of an era, I don’t mean to imply that my era was the era. Sal’s was vibrant before and after I was a part of it. I find this is incredibly impressive. Ten years is an eternity in internet time, and the fact that this large part of my childhood is still around today is a testament to the bonds we once forged—and those that others continue to forge as we speak. The people I used to know may have moved on to new lives. I wouldn’t want it any other way. But I’d wager that most of us still have ties to our old ones. In fact, it’s probably false to even draw a distinction between an ‘old’ and a ‘new’ life (though this compartmentalization felt right to me for a long time). Regardless, I will never forget the nights spent in mIRC or the Debate Room or on iSketch. We weathered the (temporary) end of the wilderness, munky’s porn attacks, and Rick Astley. It was one hell of a ride, but mainly because of the company.
Things aren’t the same. I’m not the same person I was six years ago, and I wouldn’t want to be. But I still have intensely fond memories of my time here. Sal’s was there for me at a lonely time in my life. Many of my close friends had recently moved away. I was never ostracized, but still felt isolated. It was middle school—do I really need to elaborate more? I was looking for a home, and I found one. I wormed my way in through the debate room and didn’t look back. And I found a lot of great things. I finally found a space where I could debate politics to my heart’s content. I had people to play Pest Control and Castle Wars with, to help me through quests, to teach me how to merchant. #Novus became a big part of my life. It was mostly immature jokes, but real friendships developed. Sal’s, and the people I met there, became a big part of my support system.
Of course, it wasn’t a completely hazard-free time. As one of the few active female members of the site, I got sexually harassed a lot. But the community always stood behind me in not tolerating it. As one of the younger members, I worried about being out of place. But my friends treated me no differently, and never expected me to be more mature or older than I was. I especially appreciated the older members of the community. They helped ground me. They were able to articulate things I couldn’t yet. They stood up for me. They gently called me out when I needed it.
Even though it was a relatively difficult time in my life, I look upon Sal’s with immense fondness. I made friends. I started becoming more confident in myself. Among my classmates, I was incredibly shy, but this forum gave me a place where I could abandon my shell. People liked me for my ideas, for my conscientiousness, and for my maturity. I sometimes felt radiant, which unfortunately is all too rare among 14 year old girls.
By the end of my time at Sal’s, I was a relatively well-known and well-liked moderator. It had been a wonderful, transformative experience. So why did I leave?
Here is what I thought it had come down to: I had succeeded. The happiness that Sal’s had allowed me to cultivate didn’t just stay on the forums. I made an entirely new group of real-life friends and slowly had less and less time to spend as a moderator and a participant in #novus. Moreover, many of my friends had retired or were thinking about leaving. So, it was a two-pronged problem: I was growing distant from my community and so were others. When I “retired,” I promised that I wouldn’t drop off the face of the earth. This was a mistake, because that’s essentially what I did. The reason I felt compelled to make a clean break was this: when I love something, I fall hard. I loved this website, and the people I met, and the time we had together. I didn’t trust myself not to come back here and get addicted all over again.
That is what I originally wrote. But then, I re-read this letter, and I realized that that paragraph is only one piece of the answer. Equally true is this: I was ashamed. I had internalized a lot of weird and unnecessary stigma about the difference between The Internet and Real Life. I thought Runescape was for nerds and that internet friends weren’t real, or if they are real they were only for people who couldn’t make any friends. When I started making more friends, I thought that maybe this was my one chance to break free from my Shameful Internet Past and be a Normal Human.
Here’s something the Kittenblob of six years ago would not have said: all of this is BS. I made friends in real life for the same reasons I made friends here. There was nothing wrong with me. I now use the internet to keep in touch with my high school friends and our interactions are no less valid just because we can’t be in the same room. All of my experiences, whether they were enhanced by the technology of a computer or the technology of a measles vaccine, are part of my life. Sal's was important to me, and I am learning not to minimize it, apologize for it, or compartmentalize. Also, it helps to realize that everyone secretly played Runescape in middle school.
Fresh starts come with a price. It was so commonplace at the time, to retire and be less active or even to do what I did and quit cold turkey. Yet now, I can’t help but question it. How could I just leave my friends? How could I just walk away without any back-up plan, any way to reconnect? I think the previous paragraphs have already answered this. At least, they impart on me that I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. Perhaps these questions only make sense in hindsight, now that I am distant enough to compress those years into a rose-tinted blur.
The reality was, leaving was probably the healthiest thing I could have done for myself at that moment. But I wish I stayed in touch with the people that mattered. I’m not going to make a list, but if we crossed paths on #novus, got into heated political debates, or were DMs/moderators together, I’d be thrilled to chat with you. Even six years later. You probably meant more to me than you realize. I can’t promise much, but I can promise I’ll try to check back in.
I thought that maybe I would end this blog post with something moving, some grand pronouncement about life and how much I’ve learned. But really, what I’ve learned leads me to end with this: If we were once friends, send me a message. I will respond to them once a week. I realize that as someone who’s been gone for six years, you might not be very inclined to take me at my word (although really, my word is all that I have). Here is how I know that I will keep this promise: reading through the archives comforts me, so I have been keeping a tab of the forums open on my computer that I check every few days. I figure it works like this: worst case scenario, I rediscover some old memories. Best case scenario, I reconnect with some old friends. Even if you’ve moved on to bigger and better things, and will never read this letter, it’s ok. It’s enough for me to have written it in the first place. But I had to try.
So. Once a week. Really.