I went online searching for a long-lost love. What I found was a life cut short by incarceration and drugs.
Amazing what watching B2K videos on YouTube can do. I sat on my bed reminiscing about my years as a teenager, where boys meant everything to me. B2K, like the boy bands before them, ran my life. I sat in my room for hours, staring at their posters and listening to their CDs. I wrote pages and pages of fanfiction — which I still read — and recorded every music video I could catch in the days when videos were still shown on TV. They were my teenage fantasy in a reality that felt so lonely and cold.
Boys were a distant dream to me in high school. I didn’t date, never went to Prom and didn’t have my first kiss until the summer going into my freshman year of college. I felt immensely behind my peers who had stories — sweet or salacious — to tell. It was a brutal time for my self-esteem, the ghosts of which still fail to be exorcised.
But I had moments of brief joy. The internet became such a safe space for me in that I found boys that actually liked me. It stood as the only place where I felt desired and wanted. So where I was desired, I went.
That’s where I met him.
For this story, we’ll call him ‘R.’. ‘R.’ was 16 and the star receiver on his high school football team. My friend met him on BlackPlanet, one of the internet’s first social networking websites — #BlackTwitter of its heyday. She shot me his AOL Instant Messenger screen name and I messaged him.
It was the night of his Homecoming so I didn’t expect that we’d talk for long. We hit it off instantly, dropping random sports references and our favorite 50 Cent records. Once he left for Homecoming, I thought our conversation would be over, a blip of joy. He messaged me as soon as he got home.
We talked for hours about absolutely nothing. He told that he loved my voice and I instantly fell in love with his. We talked so much that my Dad had to pick up the phone to warn me that I needed to leave the line open. I was heartbroken.
I remember when my Dad asked me about him. I made up some half-truth that I met him through a friend — I omitted the Internet part — and that we were just talking. As much as that terrified my father, it may have been a sign of relief. His daughter was ‘normal’, she had a life.
I’d call him before football practice to leave him supportive voice messages and he’d call me once he got home. We talked about our plans for the week, ‘R.’ always saying that he didn’t want me to go places because he “ain’t want no dudes tryin’ to holla at his girl.”. I’d melt at the protective yet predatory behavior. He was the first boy to claim me. I yearned for years to be claimed.
The odd thing was that we had no idea what each other looked like. In those times on the internet, it was hard work to get your picture uploaded online. You had to scan photographs to your computer and uploading times were long. It took patience and you could tell those with privilege, those who had pictures at their disposal.
So I asked him to mail me a picture. He did and my heart stopped.
He was a dream. Milk chocolate complexion, perfect height, amazing smile. He was everything I dreamed of him to be. But I feared that I wouldn’t be so I never sent one back. I didn’t want to break his heart by not being his type. Really, I didn’t want to break mine. Truthfully, I was more concerned about my own.
As teenage love goes, five months was a long time. At one point, we had a falling out and I started talking to his best friend in an attempt to be petty. Even after that, we’d find ourselves in each other’s messages reminiscing about the past. We finally met at my best friend’s 16th birthday party but it felt extremely awkward to the both of us. He knew a really great friend of mine and wanted to dance with her. I relented but on the inside, my happiness crumbled. He chose what he wanted over me. That fear of breaking my heart was confirmed.
Still, he’d call me and I’d send him messages on his birthday. We once promised to meet up at a local mall but he stood me up, never calling to apologize. If I wasn’t knee-deep into another boy I met online that summer, I probably would have felt a way. I didn’t. At least I thought I had no feelings on the matter.
Watching those B2K videos had me in my feelings about ‘R.’. I experienced so much pain and heartbreak as an adult because of love that I feigned for the days when things felt simple and innocent, where you weren’t jaded by each other’s past.
I spent the past few years trying to find ‘R.’. In the era of social media, ‘R.’ is a ghost. He doesn’t have a Facebook. I tried searching through mutual friends and Facebook groups but no dice. He disappeared without a trace and there was no extreme I wouldn’t take to find him.
Even if it took looking at his wrongs.
Criminal and civil court cases are a matter of public record. In the past, interested parties would take a trip to their city, county or state courthouse and request a file from the clerk’s office. Today, all states have some form of a judiciary case search website. With a name and date of birth, you can look up the criminal history of anyone, free of charge.
Ironically, I had been working on a piece about a football player who is serving a life sentence for capital murder. Thinking that ‘R.’ may be living a similar fate, I searched his name in our home state’s judiciary database. Hoping for the best but not finding that.
I learned that he caught a theft charge at the age of 19 and served about a year in prison.
Damn, not R.
But then I realized something: around the time of his arrest, he called me. And I had no clue of who he was.
He said his name and I repeated it to myself, trying to conjure up some image of who I was talking to. For the life of me, I could not remember. I sat stuck, trying to put words together to ease my embarrassment until it struck me. I remembered that smile, that face. The chocolate skin and high cheekbones. However, by that time, it was too late. We sat awkwardly on the phone until I said that I’d call him back.
I never did. That was the last time we spoke.
He resided in Washington D.C. at the time of his arrest, so I went looking there. In D.C, he racked up multiple drug possessions, all for cocaine, as recently as 2014. I sat there stunned, in complete disbelief that ‘R.’ would suffer from that sickness. In one last ditch effort to find him, I Googled his name and ‘Washington D.C.’.
I found an obituary.
He supposedly passed away July of last year, living, according to his obituary “life to the fullest”.
I cannot confirm his death unless I reach out to who appears to be one of his family members and I can’t bring myself to do so. I found her name on the estate records for ‘R.’. It already felt like an invasion of privacy to know that struggled in his adult life to addiction. To reach out to her in hopes to confirm a death that she may not want to recollect is a task I choose to leave undone.
But that may not be him. He may choose to live a life without social media, a commendable one at that. I hope that he’s in treatment, trying to get his life back together. There could be two people of the same name, residing in the same city, struggling with the same circumstances with one passing away that isn’t him.
I don’t feel so good about it. I wish I never looked.