*Occasionally a reader submits a story that is so compelling, I find myself hard pressed to condense it. This is such a story. Being an avid role-player myself, I understood exactly what this young woman was saying, and I believe she said it so eloquently, that for me to cut it down would not do it justice. Therefore, I am printing her story in its entirety.

The Tale of Raven and Darkmoon

I stumbled across "Cyber Romance 101" the other day, just looking at my horoscope. And over the past several days, I've been thrown into emotional chaos.. thinking, remembering, mourning what I had two years ago.

He was my first love. Maybe my only love, for I've never loved anyone as deeply and passionately as I loved him. It was a short-lived romance -- only 3 months -- but it was enough to change me forever, and set me on the path to discovering how very passionate I really was.

My best friend had gotten me hooked to AOL for 6 weeks, 6 weeks being the amount of time it took for my mother to set her foot down and cancel AOL. She's very against anything to do with the Net, since she's a paranoid individual and she's read too many horror stories about pediphiles and stalkers and such in the newspapers. AOL was my first contact with the Internet and for a long while, I thought that WAS the Net... the chat rooms and Webcrawler was the only thing to do out there.

I met a lot of different people on AOL. Mostly, I flirted with the guys. It was the first time in my life that I flirted, since in real life I am a wallflower and the guys ignore me. Flirting online gave me an extreme sense of self-worth, since I began to discover a deeper side to me I never knew existed. Instead of the bookish 15-yr-old everyone thought was probably going to be a contender for valedictorian, I was witty, silly, and fun. I was what I had always dreamed of being, but could never be because of my shyness in real life.

When my mother cancelled AOL, I was glad at first, since I could concentrate on my schoolwork again. For two weeks, I was back in high gear and did all my homework and studied my tests. But the Net bug kept biting at me, and I kept wishing I was chatting with people again, and worrying that someone would take my beloved nickname.

AOL's immense advertising paid off. They sent me a copy of GNN, which was their attempt at accessing the Internet itself, unlike AOL which is really just a vast community of its own with a connection to the Net. I didn't know that. All I knew was that I held in my hands a disk that would connect me to people again.

I installed GNN without my mother knowing (I used my dad's credit card, he spoils the kids rotten) and within minutes, I was back online. E-mail. GNN Chat. A GNN browser. Stuff I didn't know what to do with. But I had eyes only for the "Chat" icon and I clicked eagerly ahead.

The chat took me to the UnderNet, one of IRC's three main servers. I was a little surprised at the vulgarity and explicit language on the channel topics list, since on AOL language was regulated. But I scrolled down the list of 700 or so channels, a little overwhelmed at how many channels there were. The channel #X-files caught my eye and I entered the channel as ShyOne.

I was back. I was thrilled. And I was loving every illicit minute of it.

Within a few days, I tired of going back to #X-files. The people were getting a little monotous. I decided to explore, see if I couldn't find a channel similar to the Red Dragon Inn on AOL, which was a freeform rpg (role-playing game) channel.

#Wolfspirit grabbed for my attention. Wolves, it advertised, and rpging. Hmm, sounded just about what I was looking for, though the wolves I had no clue about. In RDI, people had been aloof from strangers, many never even saying "hi," so involved in their fantasies as they were. #Wolfspirit could've been the same. But I was willing to give it a go.

The first one to greet me as soon as I walked in was WolfCub. "WolfCub raises his head and growls at Raven, wondering who they are." It was a nice, friendly greeting... not. I laughed it off and teased WolfCub about his manners in greeting strangers, not knowing that he was actually a bot... a computer script, or a "robot" so to speak.

Someone named DarkMoon stared at me. Glad for any attention in a rpg channel at all, I cheerfully punched his arm. He just grinned. I felt a sudden affinity for this stranger... I liked him. I could sense that here, finally, was someone who wasn't obssessed with my age, where I lived, or what I looked like.

In fact, almost none of the people in the channel bothered with real life. They just wanted to roleplay werewolves and wolves, or any other creature imaginable. I stood silently for a minute, watching the roleplay, feeling excited because this was the first chance that I saw for me to really exercise my creativity and imagination.

Feeling adventurous, I started to roleplay my character. Raven was a mage, and she could shapeshift. I shifted into wolf to fit the picture and walked over to the lake. DarkMoon watched me every step of the way. Sensing his interest and feeling a little flirtatious, I dove into the lake and swam for a bit, testing out my rusty roleplaying skills.

As I grew more confident, I shifted to bird form. I flew... high and far and away... feeling DarkMoon's eyes watching me. I loved the way he was watching me, and I loved knowing how interested he was in me. I went out for a run, finally ending back up in human form, and arrived just outside the clearing.

He was there. He stepped out of the shadows, and I watched him. I waited for him. I grew mysterious, and his curiosity drew him closer to me. I felt instantly attracted to him, and somehow, it felt as if his spirit touched something deep inside that I never knew was there, and I held on to that connection with wonder. And then he was mine.

I didn't know then that I had become his too.

I was completely new to the White Wolf roleplaying series, which was what a lot of the people in the channel were basing their characters off of. The ways of the wolf, and of the werewolf were completely new to me. It took a long time for me to understand what a werewolf in Garou form looked like ("Bigfoot with fangs" was the simplest, most accurate description I was given). DarkMoon took me in and explained everything to me.

He was a Garou of the Red Talons, the most fierce and bloodthirsty of all 13 werewolf packs. Honor is everything to a wolf. Take that away, and you have nothing but a craven creature, born to die at the hands of his brothers. There is a hierchary -- alpha, beta, guardian -- among the pack, and it is the duty of every wolf to preserve his pack. Wolves also take mates, as I had observed between BlkWolf and AliCat, the alpha male and female of the LanHunter pack that dwelled in the #Wolfspirit clearing. And wolves mate for life.

On the third day, DarkMoon asked me to become his mate. Thrilled, I said yes. I had no idea what it would entail for me... Raven, DarkMoon's mate.

Soon after, the pack initiated a hunt. I opted to remain home at the clearing, but DarkMoon was eager for the chase. I sat alone, listening to the howls of the wolves in the distance, and smiled to myself, knowing that my mate was there and enjoying himself along with the others.

And then, from the distance, I heard it. I heard it, and I couldn't believe it, but the words had appeared on my screen. He sent me an "I love you."

As soon as he said the words, a tremor passed over me and I closed my eyes, closed my eyes against the glare of the monitor and its sweetly damning words. One guy on AOL had said he loved me, several more had crushes on me. But I never returned the feelings, and always dismissed my would-be suitors with a laugh and a slap on the back. But when DarkMoon said the words, I realized that not only had I expected -- no, hoped -- for the words... but that I returned his feelings.

It was, to say the least, one of the most shocking realizations in my life. I had fallen in love. I had gone and fallen in love with this man that I had never met face to face, had never seen nor touched or heard or tasted. Hell, the guy could be a figment of my imagination for all I knew.

I didn't tell him then that I loved him. I couldn't. I come from a family where love is shown in ways other than words... I've never even told my mother that I love her. How could I tell this stranger that I was madly, deeply in love with him?

On the fifth day, he found out my age. All he said was, "oh boy i am double your age ... 31." I couldn't believe it. The man of my dreams... 16 years older. This was it, I thought. He knows, he's leaving me. I'll never see him again. The thought was immensely sad to me, and I grew quiet, as did he.

That night, he sat brooding in a corner of the clearing. He talked with one of the wolves there, and brooded some more. I was afraid to approach him, afraid of cemeting in concrete the loss I was sure I was about to suffer. But miracle of miracles, he came back to me. It was the only and last night we would ever talk about the age difference between us.

In the next two weeks, we roleplayed and talked. Of his real life, I knew only that he lived in Ohio and that he was an accountant. But that didn't matter to me. I was so blissfully content. Here was a guy that was everything I had hoped for, everything that I had dreamed of in my 15 years of existence. He was passionate about everything, he was possessive, aggressive. Loving. Tender. Gentle. He would die for the woman he loved.

When I couldn't see him, I would think about him. At school I would stare dreamily off into space and wish desperately that I could go home and be with him again. I started to lose sleep, since we stayed up late nights. I didn't do my homework. I ignored everything but him.

For Christmas, he e-mailed me a milky tear-shaped pendant. "This is a DreamWalk stone," he wrote. I need only to think of him and I could walk into his dreams. It was so sweet a gesture. I lowered my head and hugged myself thinking how wonderful it would be if we could be together in real life.

Within the week between Christmas and New Year's, DarkMoon had managed to get himself into several tangles, become a LanHunter (finally), and gotten himself killed.

Raven was a widow. I was utterly and completely devastated. Roleplaying had become real life to me then, I didn't know that it was just a part of the story fabricated by many many people. I didn't realize that he wasn't truly gone, which was what I thought at the time. Another first came for me then. For the first time in my life, I cried over someone online, someone I've never met nor interacted with physically.

The nights became racked with emotion. I felt so completely alone. No one, it seemd, truly understood the immense pain I was going through. I felt completely and utterly empty, without life. Even when I tried flirting with someone else, I couldn't do it with the vivaciousness and heart that I had on AOL, before DarkMoon.

But like the shadows he liked to hide so much in, DarkMoon was there, just invisible to me. He watched me. If only I had known...

He began roleplaying an immortal/werewolf, BloodRage. I had seen him several times around #Wolfspirit just a little before and after DarkMoon's death. But since GNN chat didn't show the IP addresses of the people in the channel, I never connected the two to be one and the same until later.

DarkMoon came back one night, in semi-ghost, semi-real life form. We kept slipping from OOC (out of character) to IC (in character), OOC to IC, and back again. We talked for a long while in #WolfCafe, another channel, which at the time seemed barren and unfamiliar to me since almost all of IRC I had known at that point was #Wolfspirit. He admitted to having another character and to watching me. I remembered BloodRage's distant, almost cold attitude. His writing style. Yes, it was him.

I was so deliriously happy just to know that he was around. But then another problem arose. BloodRage was supposedly semi-attached to another woman. So I had found my love only to lose him again.

January was a month spent in frustration and loneliness. We had started migrating towards another channel, #thecavern, which itself was a sort of split-off of the old #Wolfspirit channel. I created a character, JadeMoon, who was the daughter of Raven and DarkMoon. She was a small-time time-traveler who had travelled back in time to try and stop her father's death, but failed. Now she was here in #thecavern, pondering the mysteries of life.. and falling desperately in love with BloodRage.

Blood had feelings for Jade too. But he wasn't free. That fact practically drove me insane, as I had to be in the same channel with him, but not get to "touch" him or "caress" him, or tell him how very much I loved him. I would almost end up crying again, I didn't know what to do. Together in body... but not together in soul.

After a few weeks of painful separation, BloodRage finally managed to free himself. Sort of. In exchange for BloodRage, who would be mine, the woman he had been with demanded another character of his, StormRaven.

I felt ready to scream. But being separated from my love for so long, I was willing to settle for anything. Slowly, bit by bit, we pulled ourselves together and closer, away from anyone else.

BloodRage introduced me to a smaller, less deeply-involved roleplaying pack on DalNet. DalNet was a whole new experience for me, as I had only been on the UnderNet before. It seemed to be a strange new world, with warmer people. Soon, it became my favourite place to hang out with my love.

One night, a sudden flash of insight came to him. He asked me if I loved him. I said yes, with all of my heart. "oh god," he said. "oh god." A dreadful sense of foreboding came over me, as I asked what was wrong. I could sense that something... something was terribly, awfully wrong.

"I never meant to hurt you," he began. And then he told me. He was married in real life, with two kids.

He went on, but I couldn't see the text through the blur of my tears. The news shocked me, numbed me. I sat there in the dark, the only light coming from the glow of the monitor, and told myself to die. Just die. Because there was nothing worse than this, than knowing that the man you loved was nothing more than married, as well as 16 years older to boot.

My shoulders shook with the effort in surpressing my tears. I couldn't cry. I wouldn't cry. Never ever ever would I break down, lose control.... it wasn't worth the pain. But once the first tear rolled down my cheek, no force in heaven could stop the sobs that wracked my body then. My whole soul went pouring out with those hot tears, and I finished with nothing left in my heart. I went to sleep wanting to die.

I don't know how, but somehow I accepted this new obstacle. A part of the hope in me that we would someday be together died, but I never really truly lost it. We went on... wolf mates and, I believed, soulmates.

Over the course of the next month or so, we left one pack and joined another. In my memories, I was rarely as connected to a pack as I was to the LanHunters, although BloodRage was really into the last pack we were together in, a pack who's name escapes me now, started by a friend from #Wolfspirit.

Things began escalating, though I couldn't feel it. We had started to grow distant, as I began to surpress my innermost thoughts for fear of losing him. BloodRage sensed it even before I did, that I had become a shell of the person I once was. Terrified of losing him, I was sacrificing who I was. And he didn't like it one bit.

There were a couple of scares, too. My mother had started suspecting I was on the Net again, and twice threatened to box up the computer to shut me off. I sent BloodRage panicked mail, saying I was going to be gone forever, though both times the threats turned out to be false alarms. I knew I was treading a fine line though. Once my mother suspected, it wouldn't be long before she knew.

My best friend, the one who had introduced me to AOL, was growing tired of seeing her best friend a desperately tired zombie badly in need of sleep. I would doze off in the middle of every one of my morning classes, and barely be conscious in my afternoon ones. She sent BloodRage a couple of deliberately worded e-mails about me and my schoolwork, meant to give him a guilt trip, and it worked. He worried about what he was doing to my life.

After one particularly frustrating argument with my friend, she sent off the worst letter, blasting him for "ruining my life" and putting my academic career in ruins. The letter tore at BloodRage. That night, he told me it was over. Finished. Done with. I was gone from his life for good.

Worst than the night he told me he was married, worse than the night DarkMoon died... that night, some deep part of my heart began to scream in agony. I was left empty and without a soul. For two weeks, I would bury myself under the covers in bed, turn to the east wall towards where he was in Ohio, and whisper my love for him. And then I would cry myself to sleep.

I'm not religious, but back then, day after day, I would pray for God to take my life.

My friends in class would look at me worriedly, then turn away and pretend not to notice. If they had thought I was a zombie before, then I was lifeless now. Utterly without emotion, devoid of thought, there was only one thing I could feel, and that was the intensely empty ache within my heart that BloodRage had left when he left my life.

My computer had been wiped only a few days after BloodRage had left, so it was a while before I was back online. But when I was, I immediately searched him out again. I secretly tried to track his every move, but I had neither the means nor the nerve. I was deathly curious about what he was going through, but I couldn't bring myself to actively pry and find out.

Two weeks after the separation, I found him. He was mated to one of the pack from the first group on DalNet we'd been with. The discovery tore at me, and I forced back the tears. Doubts began to plague me relentlessly. Did he really love me? Did he really leave me to save me from self-ruination? Or did he leave for someone else... ?

As if coming out of a trance, something inside me broke, and something else connected. I started to think again. The deep pain was soothed to a dull, unforgiving ache that was easier to deal with. From that night on, I never spoke of him to my friends again. And I stopped turning to the east wall.

It has been two years now, since we first met in that clearing. Some spark of electricity had instantly connected us to each other, and just as instantly, we separated in mid-March. It took me a long, long time to forgive him, but I have. All I can do is look back on the love we shared and treasure the lessons he taught me... about life, love... and me.

For surely, he changed me irrevocably. I couldn't have gone through so much in so short a time and not come out without a scar, or without having been changed. I grew wiser. In retrospect, I cringe at how very very naive I had been. I grew cautious. Never again, I swore, would I fall that quickly, that blindly into love again.

And I discovered myself.

I marvelled at how much more of passion I knew. This was me, who's only moment of passion before had been, "I got a fucking A on the English essay!" Now, I knew how very deeply one could love another soul, and how very completely that love could possess you. I had tasted the sweetest honey of happiness, and now I craved it. Happiness wasn't getting into Stanford. Happiness was being loved, and loving back, and knowing nothing could stop that love. A new appreciation for life and love began to grow in me, and I became a little more sympathetic to the toils and troubles of others.

I spoke with BloodRage on the phone about a month after we left each other. He had a soft voice, which was soothing and quiet. Several months later, we spoke with each other briefly when we bumped into each other on IRC. Then I e-mailed him months after. And tonight, I have seen him one more time.

And now, two years later, I am back to where I have started. I am at some sort of emotional crossroads in my life, as lately I've been thinking about my first love more often. I'm not sure when, but slowly, as I've been thinking over the last several days, I've realized that I still care deeply for this man.

In real life, I have a boyfriend that I've been with for a year, and am living with now. We are committed to each other... a wedding was tentatively set for next June, though the plans are now up in the air again since my mother objects. I love my boyfriend... but I know that the love I have for him is less soul-consuming than the love I had... have... for BloodRage. BloodRage was everything I wanted. My boyfriend is not. Nevertheless, the thought of breaking off my current relationship to go chasing after someone I've never met breaks my heart, because I can almost feel the emotional pain my boyfriend would go through, as he does love me very much.

December 3, 1997

Feeling very depressed and very lonely, I walked into #the_silver_blade_tavern, searching for some answers. My boyfriend had discovered my previous journal purely on accident while installing a new motherboard and sound card in my computer, and it had hurt him deeply to read my words. My heart ached for him, but I couldn't deny what I felt.

There were only two in the channel, besides me. But I just started talking, because I desperately needed someone to talk to and I hadn't been able to find any of my old IRC friends. They listened to me with sympathy and when I was done, they both offered me the same advice.

Separate fantasy from reality, they advised. The DarkMoon/BloodRage I was in love with was not the person behind the keyboard, as far as I know. For all intents and purposes, we could meet in real life and then find out there was nothing between us, that we were totally different people when offline and our physical forms would not have the chemistry that our online forms had.

DarkMoon exists, but only as my dream, my fantasy. I built him, perceived of him, as this man I had been waiting for all my life. The real man, Randall, was someone else... someone who had been through a rough childhood, a failed marriage (his wife later left him and took the kids with her), and emotional turmoil. I hadn't been there to see that. I hadn't been there to look into his eyes and see if what I wanted was there. Dreams and fantasies were good to hold on to in the darkest of nights, but that was all that they were... dreams.

The advice of two total strangers calmed me. And a night of tossing and turning, restless sleep, and chaotic thoughts cemented my resolve. I have the blessing of a lifetime in front of me -- a man who loves me with all his heart, my real life boyfriend. I can't ask for more than that.

And so I shelved DarkMoon. Never to be forgotten, oh no... he was my fantasy. But never also to come between reality. I won't lose the love I have now for the love of a dream.

- JadeMoon.


I Will Always Love You