The trip was a last minute decision. I was spurred on by some inner voice that had to know. The need for friendship, camaraderie and relaxation were uppermost in my mind, but the need to know was laying just beneath the surface.
I was going to an island off the coast of Florida to meet my best friend, whose face I had never seen. Her name was Katharine, and I had met her during an online chat in June of 1994, a mere month before this trip. She was 35, and I was 29. She lived in Portland, Oregon, and I lived in New York City.
Within days of "bumping" into each other in the virtual rooms of the system, we were speaking to each other via telephone. We had grown close very quickly because of the similar mental turmoil each of us was experiencing in our personal lives. We began to cling to each other as if we were the only ones on earth who understood each other's pain.
I had an easy flight there, rented a sporty Mustang, and drove the two hours south of Tallahassee to the island -- St. George. I was feeling high, exhilarated by driving fast, playing loud music, and getting closer and closer to a soul mate. It was only when I crossed the long bridge to the island and my stomach started to twist and my palms began to sweat that I knew I was extremely nervous.
The house was easy to find; Katharine's directions were clear and accurate. All the beach houses on the island were separated from each other by undeveloped lots filled with wild brush and sand dunes. Their house was two-thirds of the way down the road on the west side of the island. No one in the house opened the door when I parked. I slowly opened the trunk, removed my bag, and began the walk up to the front door. The whole house sat on stilts about 10 feet off the ground, so my walk was up a flight of stairs.
Katharine answered my knock. Her blond hair was tousled from the wind, and her voluptuous body measured close to six feet in height. She was wearing a t-shirt and shorts. I was overwhelmed. Before I could say anything, I was swept into a long, strong hug, and could have sworn she was holding me up as I felt no strength in my legs. I don't remember what we said, I was too excited to take mental notes.
And so began the period I call "facial shock." For the next 12 hours, we tiptoed visually around each other. Apparently this phenomenon is quite common among the online community. Some people never adjust to the person's face and it sometimes ends a friendship. Our eyes flickered on each other's faces and then off again quickly.
That night we went out to the beach for a talk. We walked through the dark dunes, carrying our vodka tonics. Katharine was going through major marital problems, and I had just begun the same rollercoaster ride myself. Not only were she and I convinced that we had married the same man, but we felt a bond of twinship between us. There were many spooky coincidences about us and our pasts that mirrored each other's. This is why our online/on-phone friendship had gelled so quickly.