A True Story From My Youth

Centurion: Defender Of Rome

Warning: This post deals heavily with items related to Flash Pulp #128 – The Absent Idol: a Collective Detective Chronicle, and if you intend on listening to/reading the episode, but haven’t yet, please do so before continuing into this bit of personal history.

As I remember it, the summer of my sixteenth year was a stand out. It was the last I would have without the restrictions imposed by a job, or a girlfriend, but it was also probably the first in which my parents allowed me the freedom to indulge in the sort of all-night tom foolery that became the signature of my late teens/college years.

The net was young, and IRC was the place to be.

The winter previous, while wandering the shady alleys of online chat, I met a fellow by the name of Carl – Faithful2 was the handle he operated under – and we struck up a quick friendship largely revolving around old PC games. There was a title in particular, Centurion: Defender Of Rome, over which we wasted many hours in conversation.Centurion Screen ShotNow, you must understand that those were frontier days – the idea of abandonware had just begun, and, like many boys at that age, we were both predisposed to minor hooliganism.

When the freedom of summer finally hit, we carried out our plan to create a channel entitled #ClassicWarez, to exchange games which had fallen out of production.

I’m certainly not encouraging piracy, it was simply what was done at the time – and from June to August of that year, we were kings.

The channel exploded in popularity, partially due to the selection we maintained, and partially due to the ridiculous conversations Carl and I would publicly get into.

There was a lot of debate regarding the merits of the death metal band Cannibal Corpse.Cannibal Corpse's The BleedingDespite the fact that I never met Carl face-to-face, we spent a good eight hours a day, seven days a week, in as close a proximity as the internet would allow. We built a cadre of friends; we exchanged personal details in private messages; we made common enemies.

One humid July evening, Carl admitted to me that he suffered from depression. Often.

I did my best to encourage him to talk to someone about it, but he made it clear that any sort of assistance would have to move through his mother, who, as I heard it, was not a terribly fantastic lady. He started talking of suicide.

As a sixteen-year-old, I did my best – and I think I helped him, for a while. By the end of August, he’d stopped mentioning it.

Then Carl moved, as he was about to attend his first year of college, and we fell out of touch for a few weeks. I got busy with high school.

We appointed successors to our channel, then both bowed out.

I’d still pop on and leave Carl a message here and there, but we’d always maintained the immediacy of IRC as our primary method of communication, and our interactions generally became something like:

wyrd: hey
faithful2: hey
wyrd: how’s things?
faithful2: They suck, but I can’t really explain right now, I’m late for biology.

Well, that’s probably a translation to ease my conscience. In truth, I know it was just as often my own departure – to attend to my first real girlfriend – which brought the conversation up short.

By the end of September, we’d both drifted off. I made a few attempts to track him down in October, but he was never about – I assumed it was school-related. Sometime in the middle of November, however, I became worried.

That’s when my detective work began. I spent days wandering our old haunts, /whois-ing any familiar nicknames I could think of that we’d had some acquaintance with.

Finally, just after midnight on a Sunday, on a network entirely unrelated to the one we’d frequented, in a channel of ill repute, I found a lady who’d been a common friend. She delivered the news via a link to Carl’s college’s website.
A November Sunset.  Fred K. Lawrence, Chicago.He’d stolen some cyanide from one of the school’s labs, and, on the tenth of October, he’d swallowed a lethal amount.

Trying to describe my grief to my parents was tough – they’d already turned in for the night, and were in little mood to hear what ridiculous new drama their son had gotten involved in on the internet. I was told to go to bed, as I had class in the morning.

Digging deep into my log files, I pulled out the number Carl had given me the previous summer, in case some emergency cropped up in our tiny empire. I hadn’t tried it in my recent search, as I’d thought he was half-way across the country from his parent’s house, getting an education.

Knowing she was on the west-coast, and thus that it was about 9pm her time, I tried calling his mom.

Unable to understand why someone from the internet might care so much, she finally placated me with a promise to send me a picture of Carl in the mail, took down my address, then hung up.

I never received the photo.
No Face - a grab from a stranger's flickr streamIn a comment to FP128, Barry, a fantastic gent, mentioned: “I just wonder if this isn’t a case of a bunch of people sticking their nose in where it doesn’t belong.”

Exploring the nature of privacy online is one of the reasons I created the Collective Detective, but there’s another question the CD is meant to ask: “Why and how is ‘real life’ supposedly separate from the internet?”

What is asked, and what is owed, in an existence entirely built around communication?

I don’t have an answer yet – but it’s something I’ve been wondering about for over a decade and a half.