The latest entry in our series on Childhood (see sidebar).
by Bill Barnwell
It’s funny; despite the fact that I was an altar boy and a precocious, nubile adolescent, only one person ever tried to molest me and that was on the internet. The mixed emotions of avoiding permanent scarring while experiencing a lack of romance came up years later when two guys tried to kiss me in the course of a week that ended with seeing the girl I was interested in fucking a football player in the shower next to the one I was cleaning myself in. Freshman year at a safety school.
This is about childhood though and although I was 17 as a freshman, that’s strictly “I’m Not A Girl, Yet Not A Woman” territory. In 1994, I was a sassy ten-year-old wielding my independence and personal growth on the then-embryonic Internet, where AOL charged you $19.99 extra per month to access the World Wide Web and Prodigy (before it was destroyed by Y2K) gave anyone who bought an IBM a year of free service. In other words, you were probably reading Salinger and listening to the Empire Records soundtrack, but Billy “Hockeyrock” Barnwell was kicking it in various sports- and grunge related chatrooms. If you remember someone asking you to press 1 if you thought Scott Weiland was cool, that was probably me. If you didn’t respond, that was probably also me typing 111111111. My details were accurately summated in AOL profile listing my date of birth and interests (see above); there was no one to scaremonger, let alone defend me from sketchy clutches. I’m sure if my parents were familiar enough with a computer to turn one on, they might have said something.
So it wasn’t that strange, then, that I received an instant message one day from a stranger named HOTUMBROS asking me whether I liked hockey and soccer. Since these two topics comprised my wheelhouse at the time, I concurred. He introduced himself as Tom and we got to talking.
He asked me who my favorite athletes were and then told me how beautiful they were in their gear. He asked about growing up in New York and whether I ever went to Trenton, where he lived. I knew there was a minor league baseball team there and it excited him greatly. He invited me to come down to a game whenever I wanted and then asked me what I wore when I played sports, to which I believe I answered “pads.”
This went on until he felt comfortable enough to ask me whether he could call me on the phone. I asked him why, and he said that he enjoyed it and liked being friends with me. That’s enough to get me in bed nowadays, so at that stage, a phone call seemed eminently reasonable. I asked my grandmother if this was acceptable and she was concerned solely with any charges the phone call might have; when HOTUMBROS assured me that it wouldn’t cost anything, she approved. I thought it was strange that HOTUMBROS asked me to go into a room by myself when he called, but I stretched out my corded phone all the way to the bathroom and when the phone rang, it was him. His voice was very breathy but undeniably deep and masculine, much deeper than my father’s. He talked very slow and deliberately, like he was condescending to someone he was trying to sleep with but didn’t speak the same language as. We talked about sports for a couple of minutes before he suddenly changed the topic.
“Can I ask you something, Billy? Do you ever play with your cock? You know, do you ever just see it down there and just touch it, fool around with it, see how it makes your body feels really good?”
This was not where I’d expected the conversation to go. I was a very naïve ten year old, I went to Catholic School and when my family moved the next year and visited the public school I’d be attending two months beforehand, I wore bright orange sweatpants around. This shockingly did not become an identifying characteristic.
The problem with HOTUMBROS’ question was, well, that we actually didn’t speak the same language, and “cock” was yet to enter my vernacular. The closest word I knew was “cocky”, which my father used as a euphemism for human feces.
So I am, ten, sitting on my bathroom floor, phone stretched from the living room of my apartment all the way through, and some man I met on the internet an hour prior is asking me whether I reach down and grope my own shit and how that would make me feel. My confusion and disgust at the thought must’ve really confused the pedophile on the other end of the phone. “No, that would be gross.”
Actually, it must’ve turned him on, since the next question was “No, Billy, it’s not gross! It feels good, trust me. You should try it, right now.”
“I don’t have to go.”
“I don’t have to go, and I still think it would be really weird. It smells funny.”
“Is it hairy?”
I couldn’t possibly fathom a situation where it would be hairy. “I don’t think so.”
“Okay”, our resigned pedophile said. “Let’s not talk about it anymore. Let’s talk about something else.”
“Do you like Stone Temple Pilots?”
“I don’t know what that is, Billy. I actually think I have to go. We’ll talk online, okay?”
“Sure! Bye Tom! It was ni-”
The funny thing is that he actually sent me an IM the next day, asking me not to tell my parents what we’d talked about. It was too late, of course, as my grandmother had already asked and I’d said “Oh, you know…sports and stuff…”, but I knew something weird had just happened. I didn’t feel violated…just uncomfortable, really.
When the conversation made sense a couple of years later, I looked up HOTUMBROS and tried to find him to see if he’d be interested in engaging in further conversation about sports, but there was no trace of him on AOL. He doesn’t show up in Google searches now, either. So, if you need a new name for your AOL account, I would probably recommend not using HOTUMBROS. That would be a bad idea.
I guess it’s too bad he didn’t know I really liked pro wrestling. He would’ve really got off something fierce.
Bill Barnwell is a writer living in Boston, Massachusetts.