Connections Over the Rainbow

I was flipping through the television channels in a rather desultory fashion, searching for something to watch.  A familiar image flickered on the screen.  In black and white, a young girl, in a gingham dress, with long braids leaned against a hay wagon and sang.  The melody floated out of the television and into my heart, where it has always echoed.

Somewhere, over the rainbow, way up high, there’s a land that I heard of once in a lullaby.  Somewhere over the rainbow, skies are blue.  And the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true.  Someday I’ll wish upon a star and wake up where the clouds are far behind me.  Where troubles melt like lemon drops a way above the chimney tops, that’s where you’ll find me.  Somewhere over the rainbow, bluebirds fly.  Birds fly over the rainbow, why, then oh, why can’t I?

I have been searching for my own land over the rainbow, my Oz, all of my life. Growing up in the military, I have always felt like the outsider looking in.  I wear many faces for the people around me, but no one gets too close, because I know I will have to leave them eventually.  Beyond that, most of the time, I feel like people really don’t understand me when I try and reach out to them.  At best they just dismiss what they don’t understand.  At worst they consider it strange and back away from me slowly, emotionally, leaving me feeling more disconnected than before.

I was an only child, in addition to growing up in the military.  Constant moves made making and keeping friends a challenge.  It was one I lived up to, making lots of good friends along the way that I have managed to keep up with, but it was often difficult and the first few days or weeks in a new place would have me retreating into some fantasy world I had made up.  Like Dorothy, I always felt like I didn’t fit in.  The world around me was far too mundane.  As I grew older, instead of disappearing, the fantasy world became a world I retreated to whenever I was alone.  Sometimes it even started coming out, in the back of my mind, when others were around.

When we first entered the military (I was three), and moved to Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri, I created a wondrous world based on The Wizard of Oz.  For weeks, possibly months, I insisted on being called Dorothy, and would call my parents Auntie Em and Uncle Henry.  Snowball, the rather fractious white kitten we had adopted, became (rather unwillingly) Toto.  I say insisted, but it was more than that.  I would look at them blankly, or ignore them altogether, if they called me Charity.  Dorothy was all I answered to, and I acknowledged no “Mom” or “Dad.”  To speak to me, they had to enter my world.  And my world was in Kansas when they were around.  They couldn’t get to Oz.  Understandably, Mom was incredibly worried and headed off to talk to a family counselor.  He listened to what was going on and assured her that everything was okay.  I was just a highly imaginative child dealing with a difficult situation in a creative way.  I’m not sure how he reached that conclusion, but he appeared to be right.  I eventually dropped the game, if that is what it was, and things went back to normal.  But the tendency to retreat was firmly entrenched.

October, 1998

The Bronze Age Bunch Entourage (BABE) Theme Song

“The Bronze Age Bunch”

by petshark

(sung to the tune of “The Brady Bunch)

Here’s the story, of some mounted raiders

Who rode through Asia on their way to lower Greece.

None of them painted his face like the others

The oldest one wore blue.

It’s the story, of a bloke named Kronos

Whose three brothers like him thought they couldn’t die

They were four men, living all together

Yet still they had no plan.

They said they were an omen of apocalypse

And the Four Horsemen were widely known and feared

Til that mess with Cassandra and then Methos,

Buried Kronos and broke up the Bronze Age Bunch

The Bronze Age Bunch, The Bronze Age Bunch

That’s how old Blue-Face outlived the Bronze Age Bunch.

The moment I read this I knew I had to join this group.  Over the past few years, my fantasy world of choice has moved from Oz to Han Solo’s space to Anne Rice’s vampiric world to the world of Highlander. If you aren’t familiar with Highlander: The Series, then I know the above song makes no sense at all to you.  To me, it made my day.  It’s based on the 99th and 100th episodes of the series, which reveal a portion of Methos’ (who is a good friend to the hero, Duncan MacLeod) past.  It isn’t a pretty picture, consisting of his being a member of a band of raiders calling themselves the Four Horsemen.  The episodes are two of the most powerful in the entire series as Duncan and Methos’ friendship is put to the test.  Interestingly enough, these episodes appealed to the dark side in a lot of viewers, resulting in fan groups jumping up that embraced this darker Methos and his “brothers”.  They are my favorite two episodes, whatever that leads you to infer about me.

I had been trying to pass the time on a rather dull shift in the computer center.  In an effort to see what was out there, I had started surfing the Internet.  Looking for sites on my favorite TV show seemed like a fun way to spend the morning.  Entertaining for me, yet nothing too serious should a student need help.  Several of the sites my search in Yahoo turned up were ones I had seen before, but the Bronze Age Bunch Entourage was new to me.  I clicked on the link and was transported to a page where I was confronted with pictures from the 100th episode of Highlander, “Revelation 6:8”.  I read the song and laughed so hard the students in the lab stopped their work and stared at me.

Calming myself down, I started to explore the site further.  Stumbling across their forum, I left a message, indicating my desire to join their group.  Within a day I had an email from the Clan Chieftain.  It’s a sort of Internet tradition that all Highlander clubs call themselves clans, for the obvious Scottish connections.  The BABE chieftain’s handle (Internet name) was Kronos4Me, and she was effusive in her greetings.  I filled out a member profile and became BABE Member #25, Brianna, Cassandra’s more loyal replacement (another harkening back to the episode—Cassandra was Methos’ slave, another Immortal who stabbed Kronos—the Horsemen’s leader—then ran away into the desert—silly girl).

Due to school commitments and such, it took a while for me to really become active on the site, but when I did, my life changed.  Literally.  Suddenly a whole world was opened up to me, one that I had dreamed existed, but never hoped to find outside my own mind.  I had always been slightly skeptical about these Internet clubs.  I got online, I surfed around and checked stuff out, I did my email, I read stories, but I didn’t chat much with others, afraid of the creeps that might be sitting at the other computer pretending to be nice.  While on America Online I had received several invitations via Instant Messenger from men wanting online sex chats.  I freaked out, and switched to a Internet Service Provider that didn’t have a messaging system.  Because of these experiences, I was very leery of actually participating in the things this group did.  What was I letting myself in for? After all, who were these people who went around joining clubs and talking obsessively about a show or an actor…no matter how perfect I agreed both the show and actor were?

So I did what is referred to as lurking.  I hung around, I read what people were posting on the forum.  I posted a couple of innocuous messages.  I sent a couple of emails.  Then there was a message on the forum from Alexianne, asking if anyone had copies of an episode of Highlander: The Raven.  Valentine Pelka, the actor who had portrayed our beloved Kronos, had guest starred that week and she had missed it.  I sent her an email, volunteering my copies.  Someone else had responded before me, but she wrote back anyway and I discovered that she was a senior at the University of San Diego, and a theater major.  We clicked and started emailing sporadically, but not a lot.  I still just sort of lurked around the forum, leaving messages about things if I felt compelled to, but not participating fully in the group.  Then I discovered the Fable.

By the time I got to it in January, the Fable was well over 200 pages long.  I had a lot of hours in the computer lab, and not much work to do yet, so I spent two days reading it.  By the end, I was dehydrated from all the tears I had cried from laughing so hard.  It was silly.  It was ridiculous.  It was patently impossible.  It was perfect.  It operates on a very simple principle.  It is set in the Camp of the Horsemen, from Episode 100 of Highlander: The Series.  We, the BABEs, are the ones who make the camp run and basically sigh over and adore the Horsemen.  Of course, sighing over and adoring gets very boring for intelligent people, so the Fable has gone off into several interesting avenues.  It’s an ongoing story.  Everyone is free to contribute as much or as little as they like to the story as often as they want.  Some members of the clan have never posted.  Others post more than once a day.  Some are very talented writers.  Some are not as talented, but the voices all combine to create something that is vital and alive and exciting, nevermind the fact that it would make sense to no one outside the group, and often confuses those of us in the group as well.

Characters from other television shows, comic books, movies, whatever, have appeared with alarming frequency.  At one point, Darth Vader and Kronos were fighting, while Luke Skywalker and Duncan MacLeod cheered them on and we all stood in awe of the flashing sword, that in the story, of course, we had never seen.  Through it all the Fable has become a way to exercise my creativity, to escape from real life for a bit and to lose myself in a world, that while definitely twisted in many “normal” people’s minds, nonetheless is a place where I know everything will turn out okay for our heroes…or anti-heroes as the case may be.  A sample of our current plight, to give you a flavor of what it’s like, is provided below.  It would be too hard to explain everything.  Suffice it to say our Narrators, who we have made characters and go by the sexless pronoun “hum” are in revolt and we are being attacked by Furbies (little stuffed animals, for those of you without children).  The battle is being fiercely waged:

Canadian Girl:

“Hit me with a noun, will you!”     CG stormed across the bar,

focused solely on her assailant narrator. Hum in question turned, with

a vicious gleam in Hum’s eye, leveling a piece of parrallel structure in the canuck’s direction. But, before Hum could realease Hum’s attack…

*POW* *THWACK* Hum hit the floor, unconcious, from the blow from CG’s favourite literary device.

“Onomatopoeia, baby.” CG said, standing over the knocked-out narrator. “Maybe high-school english wasn’t a total waste after all!” The words had barely left her mouth before a crossfire of intransitive verbs from the narrator’s union knocked her under a nearby bar table…

Johanna:

Johanna was sitting on the bar with her beer when all hell broke loose.  While trying to save the supply of root beer, she got hit with a few stray adverbs (wimpy little things, but they sting like hell!). Suddenly, she saw Canadian Girl let loose with her

omatapata-whatsit (this is what spell check is for!).

“Okay, that’s it!” she yelled! Grabbing something out of the dimensional displacement bag at her waist, she held up a weapon of doom.

A weapon so fearful, that many of the narrators stopped to cower in fear.  A weapon so –

*Get on with it, Johanna!*

*Shut up, Brandon! (snerk)*

It was the dreaded Five Paragraph Essay!

Johanna hefted it onto her shoulder and let loose. The Narrators ran screaming from the bar as they were pelted with Concrete Details, Commentaries, Quotes, and the dreaded Thesis statements.

“Heh heh,” Johanna said, giving Canadian Girl a high five. “That’ll teach ’em to mess with those stuck in high school English!”

Brianna:

Brianna hit the floor quickly as the Details, Commentaries, and Thesis Statements flew after the fleeing narrators.

“Hey!” she exclaimed as “Why dieting is bad for you” and “The Reasons Role Playing is a good thing for Picked on Students” and “How I Learned not to be so Irresponsible with My Sports Car” nearly decapitated her. She glared at the thesis statements.

“D@mn!! I can’t escape them even here!” She looked after the thesis statements suspiciously…they looked very familiar. Twentieth century thoughts floated in her head and she frowned at the images of windowless rooms and flourescent lights. “Grrrr….” she growled under her breath.

Picking up her sword again, she rejoined the fray. She looked towards the stage where the boys were shrieking in laughter, the Furbies up their kilts. Gus was in tears. She looked to the side.

Jarod was valiantly fighting off Furbies with his Pez dispensers and swinging his computer and DSA’s at the narrators at the same time. K4Me was helping him, so Bria headed towards the stage.

She found the way impassable, though, due to the large mass of Furbies attached to something on the floor. Shrieks appeared to be coming from underneath the mass of fur…shrieks that sounded like a strange mix of pleasure and pain. She had another flash of feathers and chocolate and handcuffs and the TBT’s with her in…

“Methos!” she exclaimed. Swallowing her fear of being tickled, she started pulling Furbies off of him, hacking them. They, of course, multiplied, but, really, Methos must be saved at any cost. She finally found a hand, then a nose. A little disconcerted about their proximity to each other, she finally realized that Methos was doing the best he could to protect himself.

Something hit her from behind, sending her sprawling across his chest, Furbies caught between them. She looked up as best she could to see Narrator #245 chuckling at her. On the floor by Methos’ head(? maybe foot? who could tell….) lay a large red pen.

“Hey! that’s mine!” she shrieked at hum. Hum just grinned at her cheekily. She grimaced, realizing how her poor, defenseless students must sometimes feel, and vowed to switch to a less offensive color. (actually use purple…but, hey…that doesn’t fit as well…)

“Bria!” CG exclaimed, leaning over and grabbing her up. “You okay?”

“Yeah, help me get Methos up, CG, then…we must help the boys.”

The two girls managed to get the blue faced one to his feet, and were rewarded with a quick kiss each. They almost thunked, but since the floor was covered with Furbies and Firesingers, they decided that wasn’t the best idea.

They appraised the situation, trying to figure out the best way to get to the kilted ones. Pressing through the mass of Furbies, who were multiplying quicker than they could be cut down, proved to be impossible. Bria narrowed her eyes and thought.

“Your whip!” CG exclaimed, as Screwy swung by on hers.

“Of course! D’uh!” Bria exclaimed (d’uh..yeah, too much time with my students). She pulled the whip from it’s position on her belt and lashed it at a rafter. She jumped and swung, over the Furbies’ heads, until she landed on the stage, then sent the whip swinging back to CG…

Crazy? Perhaps.  But what fun at the end of the day!  The colors are vivid in my mind and the character we write are larger than life.  Things happen that could never be possible in this world.  It’s like my own piece of Oz.

As I got more involved with writing the Fable, I was naturally sucked more into the group.  One day in February, while reading the posts on the Forum, after an absence due to midterms, I saw one from Gandolph, the Camp Hoodlum.  She was eagerly searching for a roommate for the Cruise.  I looked at the board in bafflement.  The Cruise?  What cruise?  I posted a message asking for details, and someone quickly answered with a website.  I clicked the link and hit the website for the 4th Annual Highlander Cruise.  It was leaving from Los Angeles on Friday, November 5, 1999, sailing to Ensenada, Mexico, and returning to LA on Monday.  I scanned the names of those who were going to be there.  No Adrian Paul, but—my heart skipped a beat—Peter Wingfield, who played Methos—my favorite character on the series—was going to be there.  I didn’t know how much it was going to cost or where I would get the money or how I would make sure I didn’t slack in school or teaching, but I knew that I was going.  I quickly blinked back over to the Forum and posted a message telling Gandolph I would love to be her roommate.  Unfortunately, I discovered someone else had beaten me to it, and her room was full.

So, I posted a message saying I was looking for a roommate for the Cruise.  Later in the day I checked the board again, and there was a message from Alexianne (Lexie).  Her room was full as well, but she knew of a couple of girls who were new to the BABEs who were looking for a third.  She told them about me, and I soon had an email in my box from Laura, who called herself the Whipped Cream Goddess.  She was friendly, but cautious, trying to find out more about me before impulsively offering me a space in her room.  We agreed to meet in the weekly BABE chat on Monday night and talk things over.

Monday night came and Laura arrived in the chat room.  After joining in the general chat for a few minutes, she and I started our own conversation.  As it turned out, she’s 23, like me.  She does a lot of extra work in Los Angeles and loves acting, although not as a career.  We loved the same movies, and, of course, shared a passion for Highlander.  At the end of the night we decided that this would work, but she needed to run it by Kelci (a.k.a. Katchoo), the other girl in the room, and Laura’s best friend since high school.  I got an email the next day from Kelci saying welcome aboard, and we began to make plans.

Since I plan on moving to LA next June, I decided that the week before the Cruise would make a wonderful scouting trip.  I’d never been to California and I though it might be a good idea to get a feel for it before deciding to move out there, no turning back.   My mind started whirling.  Realizing the Cruise was still nine months away did nothing to help the days go faster.

Somehow finding myself with a lot of spare time on my hands last semester, how I have no idea, I spent more and more time on the computer.  The buzz went around the Forum that lots of people had AOL’s Instant Messenger, so, despite my negaive experiences in college, I got it and suddenly could chat with my new friends anytime.  Lexie was online at the same time as I was a great deal of the time during the day, and we spent hours chatting.

SprtDncing (Lexie)<!– (4:47:53 PM)–>: I thought I’d find you here…
BriaPrson (Me)<!– (4:48:01 PM)–>: aha! there you are!!
SprtDncing<!– (4:48:21 PM)–>: Hehehe…
BriaPrson<!– (4:48:50 PM)–>: I keep looking for people and keep missing them…
SprtDncing<!– (4:49:02 PM)–>: I have been online for a  loooooooong time today, and was going to get off, when I got your message. I thought, what the hell!
BriaPrson<!– (4:49:42 PM)–>: ah, you just weren’t on IM…?
SprtDncing<!– (4:49:47 PM)–>: I’ve been keeping IM off because I wanted to avoid somebody. But, for you, I’ll risk it.
BriaPrson<!– (4:50:14 PM)–>: merci beaucoup…I can only chat for about 20-25 minutes anyway…must go to acting class..
SprtDncing<!– (4:51:03 PM)–>: Ooo… How fun!!! I miss acting classes…. I may have to take one for fun next semester at the JC here.
BriaPrson<!– (4:51:48 PM)–>: yeah, this one is not through the school, it’s totally awesome. I have to do my monologue for the first time tonight
SprtDncing<!– (4:52:26 PM)–>: How exciting! Nervous?
BriaPrson<!– (4:54:08 PM)–>: a little…it’s been awhile
SprtDncing<!– (4:54:33 PM)–>: You’ll do fine!! I have faith!
BriaPrson<!– (4:55:22 PM)–>: thanks!
SprtDncing<!– (4:57:02 PM)–>: :)
SprtDncing<!– (4:57:19 PM)–>: So, when are you coming out for Faire, and for how long?
BriaPrson<!– (4:59:34 PM)–>: I can’t make it for Faire…too many weekends off work. But I’ll be there
the 29th of Oct through the end of the cruise (10 days /11 days something like that) then probably again over Christmas break

SprtDncing<!– (5:03:25 PM)–>: Oh, that’s too bad, but you’re probably right about the weekends off from work. And you’ll have a long visit with us for Oct and Xmas.
BriaPrson<!– (5:04:20 PM)–>: yeah…I have to go home to pick up some stuff this weekend, so I couldn’t take yet another one when I’m missing 2 for the LA/Cruise trip…oh well…
BriaPrson<!– (5:17:36 PM)–>: I gotta head out to acting class, hon…hopefully I’ll catch you later?
SprtDncing<!– (5:17:59 PM)–>: Hopefully! Break a leg!
SprtDncing<!– (5:18:07 PM)–>: {{{hugs}}}

Sometimes we just surfed the net and the little box that displayed our conversation would not change for a while.  Then one of us would think of something, or find something on the net, and we would share it with the other.  It was such an amazing feeling knowing that the lines of communication were open like that.  Eventually we were making dates to chat in the evenings, and this was when Kelci and Laura usually showed up.  Slowly but surely I got to know my Cruise roomies.  They were so much fun.  For the first time in my life I had friends who were so in sync with me they could finish my sentences.  They knew my thoughts, my feelings.  We found ourselves on the same path.  They were my Scarecrow, Lion and Tin Man, if you will.

And I had never even seen these girl’s faces.

Over the months, as we chatted and emailed and planned for the Cruise, our friendships grew and cemented.  Suddenly they were anxious for me to come to LA.  We started planning things we would do, places we would go.  While I was surfing the apartment listings one day, Lexie asked when I was moving out there.  I told her and she commented that she would be looking for a roommate about then.  We mulled it over, and talked about it, and soon it was seeming like a sure thing.

Talking to Kelci one day, she mentioned that she was really ready to move out on her own.  I mentioned Lexie and I getting a place and she tentatively asked if she could join us.  We said, of course, and the hunt for the three bedroom apartment was on.  Pretty soon Laura was seriously considering the idea as well, and it was decided that a house would be best.  Meanwhile, Kelci and Laura had driven down to San Diego to meet Lexie.  They were all nervous, but the meeting went well, and they all faithfully reported it back to me, with a “when you get out here…” tag on the end of what the four of us would do.

Laura started looking for motels for me to stay in when I came out before Cruise, but Kelci was having none of that.  Very generously, especially since I was still a stranger at the time, she offered early on in the planning for Cruise to let me stay with her that week.  I accepted and that was when she and I started our deeper chats, really getting to know each other.  In June, Kelci got a job working at United Airlines, and offered to let me use her buddy passes to fly out to LA at a very significant savings.  I was thrilled and touched.

Sometime in May, Lexie told me she would be in Connecticut for a month over the summer.  I immediately began making plans to go see her, which were solidified in July.  The drive up was a little intimidating, since I had to go through New York City, but I couldn’t wait to see her.  I was nervous, never having met anyone in real life who I had talked to on the Internet, and you always hear so many horror stories, but I was determined to see if this was a real friendship, and that necessitated meeting.  I figured it would be safer in Connecticut, where home was just seven hours away, than in California.

In July, my friendship with Kelci and Laura took a new turn.  I had been going through a rough time in my personal life (I was totally infatuated with a guy who was completely wrong for me in every way and was treating me horribly under the façade of loving me), and they had been very supportive over email and through chats.  One night it all took a turn for the worse and I emailed them and another BABE, Nancy (a.k.a. Isolde),  our wise-woman in the group, always ready with good advice, in a panic the next morning.  I couldn’t believe what I had done, and I was a mess.  Nancy immediately said, “What time will you be home from work?  Here is my phone number, call me.”  I did, which was really weird, since this was the first offline conversation I had had with any of the BABEs.  I was extremely nervous as her phone rang.  She answered, and sounded so solid and dependable, like someone who might have the answers I was seeking, that I dissolved immediately into tears.  We ended up talking for three hours and her insight really calmed me down.  She had been through what I was going through and she was able to assure me that there was a light at the end of the tunnel.

I was sound asleep on my couch that evening, when suddenly the phone woke me up.  It was Laura and Kelci, who had just gotten my email, and they wanted to talk to me in person as well.  They too had been through exactly what I was going through, which kind of surprised me, since I was convinced that no one had ever gone through what I had, let alone finding out in one day that three people I knew had been, but they were extremely supportive and non-judgmental.  We talked for a long time and I found great comfort in their voices.  Surprisingly, it was only a day or two later that Lexie called and decided I needed a vacation.  I asked off from work for the next weekend and headed up to Connecticut to see her.

July 24, 1999

I entered the darkened theatre and glanced around nervously.  Driving through New York City and then through Connecticut during rush hour had been a harrowing experience.  I had reached Waterford, Connecticut, only to get lost as soon as I exited I-95.  A couple of locals, smoking and drinking coffee in a tiny Friendly’s Restaurant, had given me directions that sounded something like this, “Well, you go back down two, no three, well maybe two lights…look for Bob’s Auto Repair.  It may not be called that, but you’ll know it.  Then turn left and go down until you go through a flashing light and make a right then the next left by the house with the fence…”

Of course, there was no Bob’s anything, let alone auto repair, and I never saw a flashing light and I made a couple of turns they didn’t mention, but somehow I found a sign that read: EUGENE O’NEILL THEATER CENTER, Now showing: National Playwright’s Convention.  I nearly cried I was so relieved.  I maneuvered my small car over the gravel driveway towards the light I saw shining up ahead.  The darkness was otherwise complete.  I could vaguely make out the shapes of buildings around me, but after being in the city, the empty blackness was unnerving.

I parked beside a dark blue van and got out of the car.  There was a little wooden shed off to the side with a hand painted sign on it that proclaimed it to be the box office.  Nervously I approached two guys in their early twenties.  They were helpful and friendly, and knew exactly where to tell me to go.  I wandered down the path towards the huge red barn that had been converted into a theatre.

Now inside, I glanced around, looking for someone to assist me.  The performance was already underway, but it was the least of my concerns really, although when a woman approached me, I simply gave her my ticket and took the seat she directed me to.  Perching on the edge of the seat, I tried to pay attention to the work the actors were doing onstage, but I found myself scanning the backstage areas.  The barn was cavernous, with an open area in the center for the actors.  The back “wall” of the stage was a black partition, and folding chairs sat up around the other three sides of the acting space.  The props were all a modular gray, and the actors all carried scripts, a sure sign of a staged reading.  Lights hung from the upper level of the barn, illuminating everything not behind the partitions.  It was light enough to read the playbill, which I did eagerly.  I finally found the name I was seeking, and sat back, slightly more relaxed.

Intermission came, and I stood up eagerly.  I cast my mind back to the picture I had seen.  A tall girl, curly reddish brown hair falling down her back, came out into the acting area, clearing away props and setting up for the second act.  I studied her carefully.  Maybe.  I wasn’t sure.  She left before I got a better look, disappearing into the empty blackness beyond the partitions.  Another girl came up the stairs, and I spoke to her.  She reassured me that the person I was seeking was in the building, then disappeared as well, without really helping me at all.  As I was getting a little nervous again, the tall girl came back out and sat on a desk by the theatre door.  She glanced over at me, looked away, and looked back.  I studied her more carefully, then smiled.  She smiled back tentatively, and I took a step towards her.

“Lexie?” I asked, hoping I was not making a fool of myself.

“Bri?” she asked, with the same hope in her eyes.

I nodded and she jumped up.  We looked at each other awkwardly for a minute, and then fell into a happy embrace.

“It’s about time!” she happily scolded me, “I was getting worried.”

“I got stuck in New York,” I said grinning like an idiot.

“I figured.  How was the trip?” she asked, and the small talk commenced, both of us glancing nervously at each other from time to time.  “So, do I introduce you as Charity or Brianna?” she finally asked.

I hadn’t thought about it.  “Charity would be best for now,” I decided.  “I may not answer to Bria without some serious adjustment.”

The lights flashed signaling intermission was over.  Lexie hurried back behind the partition, and I sat back down to enjoy the end of the play, still nervous and excited about being there.  After the show, I helped Lexie put away the props, then we headed over to the tavern that was on the grounds and had a drink with the other 50 or so actors and technicians who had come to work at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center for the duration of the Conference.  Used to people dropping in all the time, they were extremely accepting and friendly to me, taking me as one of their own.  I laughed more than I had in a long time, happy to be back among theater people.  It had been well over a year since I had felt so at home in the company of anyone.

“So, why are you here?” a young man asked, taking a sip of his beer.

“To visit Lexie,” I replied, knowing where this was heading and not sure how I felt about that.  I remembered the mixed feelings from my friends back home.

“Where are you from?”

“Richmond, Virginia.”

“You came all the way up here to see her?  That’s so cool!”

I took a deep breath.  “Well, I figured I couldn’t miss this chance to meet her.  Connecticut is far closer than Los Angeles.”

He looked at us, stunned.  “You guys have never met before?”

Lexie grinned.  “Not until tonight.”

“So, you’re…what? Penpals?”

“Sort of,” Lexie explained.  “We met online last fall.”

“And now you’re meeting in real life?” the young man seemed to be having a hard time digesting this.

“Yep.”

“You guys act like you’ve known each other forever,” he protested.

We looked at each other and smiled.  “That’s how we’ve always felt,” I said.

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.

Robert Frost’s poem sounded in my head as we wound our way through the countryside a couple of days later.

“I don’t think I’ve seen walls like this outside of England!  How quaint!” I exclaimed.  Music from our favorite band, bRoTHeR, a Celtic rock band from Australia, whose music Lexie had introduced me to earlier in the year, reverberated through my car.

“I thought you were an Easterner,” Lexie said, laughing.

“I’m a Southerner, not a Yankee,” I protested.  “We don’t have stone walls like this.  We’ve got picket fences.”

Lexie just smiled.  The CD moved on to a new song, and I asked her who sang it.  Never having seen the band in concert, I had trouble placing the faces of the members with their voices.  Lexie told me whether Angus, Hamish, or Fergus was singing lead vocals on each song for the first couple of tracks on the CD, then we got caught up in discussions of things we’d been doing and what our plans were for the fall.  We started talking about where we wanted to live, and how we were thinking about breaking into the Hollywood game.  The music became background noise, albeit pleasant noise.  About thirty minutes later, the CD changed and one of my favorite songs came on.  Lexie and I were talking about what we wanted to do when I got to LA.  I took my hand off the steering wheel, starting to move to motion towards the CD, planning to ask her who sang this one. Lexie broke off her sentence, said “Hamish,” and then went on with the conversation, describing the myriad things we could do in LA.  Then she stopped.  Taking a breath she looked over at me.  I was staring at her.  She thought back over what had just happened.

“Cool!” she finally said.  “We even do it off line! It’s the same way with Laura and Kelci.”

I thought for a minute about the deep connections I had always dreamt of making, then smiled.  “This is gonna be so much fun!”

I came back from Connecticut feeling refreshed and renewed although I had not wanted to come back at all.  We found that the connection we had forged online was just as strong in person, and, yes, we could still finish each other’s sentences in real life, which really bothered some people.  They just didn’t believe you could find such a close friend on the Internet.  I don’t see why not.  I am a very nice, fairly normal (ignore all above mention of swords and any rumors about vampires you have heard) young woman.  I get on the Internet and get involved with things that interest me.  Why shouldn’t other very nice, fairly normal young women do the same?  Perhaps the odds of four of us meeting who jive so very well together is a little unusual, but not completely unforeseen.  We have similar interests, so we frequent similar places and start getting to know each other.  In fact, it’s surprising how many Internet Clans I’ve actually joined in the last year.  What’s really funny, though, is that it is the same core group of people in each one.  We all just keep turning up together, posting on the same boards and frequenting the same chats.

When I was six years old, Mom took me to the doctor for my school physical.  I had decided life was boring that day, I guess, because I remember the doctor asking me what I saw on the vision test.

“Nothing,” I answered in a scared voice.

He fiddled with some knobs.  “What about now?”

“Still nothing,” I said sadly.

He looked at my mother with concern.  She blushed and pulled me aside.

“Charity, this is NOT the time to be playing Mary Ingalls,” she whispered furiously.  I shrugged.

“A, E, R, S, T,” I dutifully read the chart.

A lack of true connection with others is often a negative symptom of the military world.  Constant moves and the fluidity of civilization make forming deep friendships difficult.  Add to that the ephemeral nature of childhood, and a true lack of intimacy develops. And so you make up imaginary friends.  Ones who understand you, ones who stay with you through thick and thin and always understand you.  These friends became vital to me in my childhood, and through adolesence. They helped me go off to college alone and they amused me through the long days in Korea when everyone else worked normal hours, and I was home after early morning classes by myself.  They always understand and they know just what to say, even if it isn’t what I really want to hear.

Through the years, I’ve learned that it isn’t wise to let my private fantasy world come out in public.  I’ve learned to hide that part of myself, and express it only when I’m alone.  Of course, the fantasy world grew out of aloneness, so that is probably appropriate, but sometimes I long for someone to be able to understand my world, and be willing to enter in and play along.  That’s only happened once in my life, with a fellow actor I dated in college.  He didn’t think that my multiple personalities—Christabella, the vampire; Brianna the Immortal; the pirate; the princess; the pretender—were strange, because he had them, too.  We both loved to create characters and then live them out.  Sometimes they were characters we were playing onstage; other times they were pure fantasy.  It was fun and I’ve missed that terribly.  With Kelci, Lexie, Laura and the other BABEs, I feel like I’ve found that part of me again.  They know and like Brianna, who is how I’d like to be and how I present myself online, and they know and like Charity, with all her faults and insecurities, and they accept both facets of myself, and share the many facets of themselves with me.

July 14, 1999….from Kelci (in response to my frantic email)

Oh ((Bria))) *sigh* What am I going to do with you?  I don’t know whether to hug you or smack you.  I’m leaning toward the latter.  j/k. almost.

Why do I have a feeling this is the same guy that I told you to watch out for?  I’m very torn as to advice because I am, as I said before, I have the heart of a romantic and the mind of a jade.  My romantic’s heart is what put me in a situation very close to yours. ((hugs))

Meeting Lexie only heightened my impatience to meet Kelci and Laura and to be in LA.  While chatting over the summer, we had discovered another love we had in common.  Renaissance Faires.  These Faires are scattered throughout the United States.  They are set up as villages in Tudor Englad, complete with Henry VIII, Mary I, or Elizabeth I, depending on the Faire.  There are minstrels and shows and food and crafts.  Everyone who works there decides on a character and dresses the part—a peasant, a nobleman, a merchant, a wench, a lady.  It doesn’t matter what.  They are so entrenched in the parts that the Faire takes on the feeling of a real village fair in ages past.  Many of the patrons dress up as well, further lending to the illusion and fantasy.  Of course, I love them.

While I had not been to one since I was a teenager, I remembered them fondly and was delighted to discover one in Virginia, not too terribly far from Richmond.  While I had always wanted to attend in costume, I never had had the chance.  Kelci informed me I had to go in costume if I was going to have any fun at all, so I got a costume, and I got a friend to go with me and we ventured up to Fredricksburg and had a really nice time.  The friend I went with, however, was an ex-boyfriend and I found myself wishing for female companionship, girlfriends to go “wenching” with.  Commandeering kisses from unsuspecting rogues is a little difficult when your ex is trailing along with you.

Kelci and I talked about it afterwards, and she said she would have her flight privileges in September if there were any Faires then.  We looked around the area and found that the Maryland Faire ran from the end of August until mid-October.  Tentative plans were made for her to come out here for the Faire.  Mid-August we decided on Labor Day weekend and also started talking about my flying to California for a weekend to go to the Northern California Faire with her.

I couldn’t believe Kelci was actually going to come out.  I had a really tough couple of weeks in the end of August—issues with the same guy, my wisdom teeth came out, my cat died, and my high school boyfriend visited, all in about the space of two weeks—but thinking about meeting her helped me pull through.  Until about the Wednesday before, though, I kept expecting something to go wrong and her not to be able to come.  An entire weekend of fun and frolic with someone I thought could be a true kindred spirit, in the middle of the chaos I had been living in, seemed like an almost impossible dream.

Aug. 5, 1999 from Kelci

I went to swing dancing today but was more in the mood to listen to the piano.  So since Ron ( the piano player) was there, that’s what I did.  I took the swing lesson but returned afterward to listen.  I love the piano and often, by proxy, piano players.  He starts playing this song and there is something, a feeling, so rich, that I close my eyes to experience it more purely.  Behind the blackness I can feel the notes washing my soul.  He focuses on the high notes, tickling them slowly down, and I feel each note as they dance up my spine.  The music is rich, the plushest velvet and the seduction of the blackest of silk sheets. It brushes my skin and penetrates my soul. And I actually respond to it’s lovers touch.  My breathing becomes heavy, my lips part.  My stomach knots in expectation as the song builds momentum.  But it goes no higher and I am left on the edge of bliss, wanting to fall in but unable to give in alone.  Seduction by music.  Just music.  The song ends and I open my eyes, almost

surprised to still be sitting in the bar, with my cousin and Rally ( the bartender) chatting.  But I don’t even see them, my eyes are on him.  And his are locked to mine.  For just a moment, but…  What was it?  A shared moment?  One musical soul addressing another?  Coincidence?  Or was it all in my mid, an over-fertile  imagination?

My cousin later commented on this.  She said that I looked enthralled, glassy eyed with my lips parted.  I was embarrassed because it was like she witnessed a sex act, to me anyway.  But I’ve never had sex that made me feel so moved and so excited.  It was probably one of the most erotic moments of my life and all it was, was a song.

Don’t ask me why I’m telling you this.  I wanted to share it with you because I can’t share it with Laura.  There are some things that Laura and I don’t share, things we don’t see the same vision.  You and I do, I think.  A sort of romanticism, maybe.  Or maybe it’s just the romance novels.  Either way, she would have just made fun of me, and it was too special to me to be made fun of.  But I needed to share.  I hope you don’t mind.

Always, Katchoo.

September 4, 1999, 5:30 AM, Saturday morning.

I stumbled into Dulles airport, and stared up at the blinking arrival/departure monitors.  It took my eyes a while to adjust and focus on the bright yellow letters and numbers.  I finally found her flight number, and stared at the arrival time.  5:34?  I glanced down at the print out of the flight information I held in my hand.  5:43.  I looked back up at the monitor and saw the announcement blinking next to the flight.  ARRIVED.

“Shit!” I cursed under my breath.

I hurried through the terminal and hopped on the “people mover” that took me out to the satellite gates.  As I approached her gate, I saw a tall blond girl, wandering around looking for something, or someone.

“Kelci?” She turned quickly and smiled.

“Bri! It’s about time!” Where had I heard this before?  We hugged and started

talking.  There was no awkwardness at all.  We were two old friends getting together for a weekend of fun.  We talked about family, her flight, boys, faire, boys,  what we wanted to do Sunday and Monday, how Lexie and Laura were, boys, her car breaking down Tuesday and the annoyance that caused.  Since it was so early, we headed back to the house where I was staying and took a nap before heading to Faire, but we didn’t sleep much, because we were talking so much.

“Take a deep breath and hold it,” the buxom sales girl instructed me.  I did so.  She laced the bodice up, then grabbed the strings in one hand and braced the other on my rib cage.  “Now, let it out.”  As the air exhaled out of my lungs, the boning in the bodice encased my torso in an iron grip.  I tried to take another breath as the girl tied off the laces of the bodice, but found that it was nearly impossible.  “Do you want it tighter?  I can make it tighter.  I’ve got a thirty-five inch waist and can lace it down to about 18.  As little as you are…” her voice trailed off as I looked at her in disbelief.  I looked in the shiny, full length, rather anachronistic mirror, at my reflection.  The blue chemise was off my shoulders and trapped beneath the multi-colored bodice.  An olive green skirt was pulled partly up to reveal the navy blue one underneath.  “You need to fluff,” the sales girl said authoritatively.  I looked inquisitively at Kelci, who was sitting calmly in the costume she had brought from California.  Mine was at my parent’s home.

“Fluff?” I asked.

Kelci grinned.  “Bend over, reach down your bodice, and, uh, pull up and arrange, to the level of cleavage you want.”

I blushed a bit, then remembered that I was a wench.  I fluffed.  Looking in the mirror again, I grinned.  That was more like it.

Leaving the clothing shop, we strolled through the medieval village that had been recreated outside of Annapolis.  Remembering the handsome, scholarly looking young man we had seen earlier, we returned happily to the pewter shop.  Kelci wanted to buy something.  I pulled out my new International Wenches Guild, preparing to attach it, as well as my Ferguson clan pin, to my bodice.  Much to my dismay, I discovered that the lock on the pin was broken.  By that time we had reached the pewter shop.  The young man was still sitting behind the display counter, and we approached him with a smile.

“No more jeans!” I announced gaily.

“Very nice,” he replied appreciatively, looking me up and down.  I gave him my best wenchy smile.  He grinned.  We chatted for a bit about the pewter pins he was selling and Kelci bought one for her costume.  I pulled my wench pin out and showed him the lock.  He gallantly took it from me, and proceeded to try and fix it.  His boss came over to see what he was doing.

“Is that one of our pins?” he asked with concern in his voice.

“No,” the young man answered with a grin at us. “But she couldn’t get it on, so I offered to fix it for her.”

“Friends of yours?”

“Yes,” the young man said.  His boss took the pin and wandered off to try and fix it.  The young man held out his hand.  “I’m Damon, by the way.”

“That would be good to know, if we’re going to be friends,” Kelci replied.  “I’m Kelci.”

“Call me Bria,” I said.  “Is your name really Damon?”

“Yeah.”

“That’s so awesome!  The main character in the play I’ve written is named Damon!”

“Really?  I’d like to read it.”

So I gave him my website where I have the play posted.  His boss came back with my pin fixed and we wandered off to explore some more.

Kelci tells me that she is the quiet one, but I really have trouble believing that.  We talk at least once a week on the phone, usually for a couple of hours, and I don’t think we stopped talking except to sleep all weekend, and we didn’t get much sleep.

We shopped and saw shows and twirled to bagpipe music and just enjoyed each other’s company.  It started raining and we held hands, skipped and hopped over puddles like two little girls. I hadn’t had such a carefree day in years.  It was an absolutely exhilarating experience. At lunch we settled down on a wooden bench, pints of cider in hand.  I had fish and chips and Kelci had chicken of some sort.  We finished it off with carrot cake, which Kelci insisted on feeding me, in keeping with the days lightheartedness.  This, of course, attracted a great deal of attention from those around us, especially the other patrons who weren’t in costume.  Our playful behavior seemed to assure them that we worked there, and one gentleman went so far as to ask to take our picture.  We laughed and played along.  It started to rain, but we didn’t mind.

By the end of the day we looked like drowned rats, but I had a new bodice dagger and a torque and had gotten to use one of my kiss cards.  A kiss card is one of the perks of the Faire group known as the International Wenches Guild, a fun group of women who know the ins and outs of having a good time at Faire.  The purpose of the kiss cards is to hand them out to anyone you fancy in exchange for a kiss.  Kelci and I wanted to give one to Damon, but didn’t have the nerve.  We did finally find someone else we thought kiss worthy, a young, handsome, well built man in nothing but a kilt and sandals, and he, being willing, obliged us each with a very, very thorough kiss, pulling us into his arms like the hero (or villain) in a romance novel, then sent us on our way with a flourishing bow.  I decided then and there never to go to Faire in the company of anyone but my girlfriends again.

I was sad to see her go back to Califonia, but knew I’d see her in just a few weeks for the cruise.

I came back to Richmond, to a party that we were having to celebrate the third anniversary of the restaurant I worked at all summer.  Since the guy I’d been messed up with  was going to be there, Kelci warned me to behave.

Me to Kelci Sept 7, 1999

I had a wonderful time this weekend as well!!!

And yes, you need to seriously reprimand me for last night. Seriously.   Verrrry seriously.  My chaperons were completely useless and Merlin was at his most charming.

On the other hand, Billy accused my friend Laura (who is happily married)  and I of being lesbians because we danced together.  Ah well….closed minded folks…of course, he tried to get us to kiss…dumb boys….

I gotta go to class, so I’ll catch up with you later, hon!

((Kelci))

Sept 8 1999 from Kelci

You just better feel lucky I’m on the other side of the continent as I have a strong urge to shake some sense into you.  I don’t think I want to know how seriously you are in need of reprimanding.  What excuses did he give or did he even bother and just start going for the seduction? Do I sound a little jaded?

As for Billy…It sounds more like a private fantasy than close-mindedness.  You know they say that every man’s private fantasy is two women…and just how drunk was he?  Heaven forbid I ever get around your friends, I have a feeling they would have a field day with me…and out of, I don’t know, annoyance (?), I might do something stupid.

Always,

Kelci

It is amazing to me, even after meeting Lexie, how close Kelci and I were.  I felt like I could tell her anything, and I did, and she listened and understood.  She and I have figured out that we share something with each other that perhaps the others don’t.  We both have a sensitivity, a romanticism, if you will, that we haven’t found with hardly any of our other friends. So many times I have tried to tell someone about something like that, only to have them look at me with that “Okay, Charity, whatever” expression in their eyes.  With Kelci there is none of that.  I can totally be myself with her, and she likes me for who I am, not for the masks that I wear for others.

So why the fantasy life?  My mother, when I discussed it with her, took a moment where I think she was a little disturbed at the vividness of my imagination and the depths I went to, finally concluded that it is really just an outpouring of my creativity…that my mind has to always be working on something creative, and if I’m not writing or not onstage, it goes off in it’s own directions.  Mom’s a psychotherapist, and I feel like she should know, but nonetheless, a conversation on Ally McBeal a couple of weeks ago, really disturbed me.

Ally’s fantasies had diverged from fantasy to almost hallucination, something she was discussing with her friend and boss, John Cage.  John hits her with the notion that the reason she insists on having her fantasies is that she knows that ultimately the only world that will not disappoint her is the one she makes up.  Ally refuses this idea vehemently.

“That’s not true, John.  I do those things, see those things because I’m nuts.  That’s all.  I’m nuts.  I love this world!”

“Then maybe, Ally, one day you’ll consider living in it with the rest of us.”

I started wondering about my own retreat from reality.  Is it really because I am so creative?  Is talking to people who aren’t there and often don’t exist anywhere actually sane?  Maybe not normal, but not insane either?  There is so much in this world that I love and enjoy, but part of me feels I was born a few centuries, if not a couple of millenia, too late.  Not that I really would want to live without microwaves and showers and flushing toilets, but it seems that in this highly technical age we live in, romance and imagination has died.  At the same time, the creative media is flourishing.  More and more people escape into movies and television, and the publishing industry is flourishing as well, especially romance and other escapist type novels.

Perhaps that’s part of the trouble…the romance novels I read.  For years I devoured them voraciously.  I couldn’t be satisfied.  Sometimes I read two a day.  Graduate school has cut down on my pleasure reading time considerably, and I have branched out into other genres, but most still involve some sort of escapism.  I’m currently working my way through Dragonfly in Amber, the second book in the Outlander series, which mixes fantasy, romance, history and time travel all up in about six 800+ page novels.  They are simply marvelous.  Kelci told me I had to read them.  Lexie and Laura seconded her opinion, so I bought them and attempted to start reading the books.  I made it through the first one before the semester started, but find myself reading maybe ten pages a day now, if I’m lucky.

On the other hand, Dorothy’s longing for something more exciting to happen to her keeps resounding as well.  Maybe I don’t like my life as much as I want to.  Maybe I’m not really happy, and that’s why I dream.

It was very strange.  These friendships started out based purely in fantasy.  We interacted in places of imagination…online, in the theater, at Faire.  However, when I was in California, I didn’t have time to retreat.  We played on the cruise and frolicked along,  partying our way down the coast and through Los Angeles.   We stalked the actors we loved, hunting the ship for them, but they were actors.  They weren’t the characters, and we accepted that without compunction.  Our conversations were about real life hopes and dreams and we relished that the connections we’d formed online lasted when we were all face to face.  The four of us were joined by Nancy, Samantha (a.k.a Gandolph), Vicki (Canadian Girl) on our party rounds and we met other online friends as well.  Real life was staring me in the face, and I loved it.  I was constantly talking to people who knew where I was coming from.

Laura and I clicked as quickly as Lexie, Kelci and I did.  She and I wandered through Hollywood and Disneyland and shared intimate secrets that I would blush to reveal to any of my friends here.  Her quirky sense of humor and outrageous comments brought out the same in me, as I found myself becoming more outspoken on life, love and sex than I ever thought possible.  I felt completely comfortable, and completely loved and completely me.

I came back to Virginia, to a barrage of work and an onslaught of emotion from every corner, and I found myself retreating once again to the world I know, and I control, where things are safe, where things turn out right.  The producers of the movie version of The Wizard of Oz created that world.  There is danger there, but the witch is vanquished and the sky is blue and then, it’s all a dream anyway, isn’t it?  Perhaps LA has become my Oz

My monologue for my acting class is from a play called Dream Girl, by Elmer Rice.  When I read it I almost cried, because it reflected so perfectly how I have felt recently:

Maybe I should try psychiatry.  Only what’s the use when I know so well what’s the matter with me.  Except that maybe the right psychiatrist could help me forget about Jim. But do I want to forget about Jim? And what if it isn’t just Jim that’s the matter with me? What if it all goes back to something lurking deep in my unconscious, quietly festering away?  How absurd! In the first place it costs a fortune.  And anyway, what do I need a psychiatrist for?  I am a perfectly normal, healthy person.  All that’s wrong with me is that I’m in love with the wrong man.  But that’s plenty.  Maybe your mother’s right, Georgina, maybe it’s time to cut out all the daydreaming, time to stop mooning around imagining yourself this extraordinary creature with a strange and fascinating psychological life.  Still, to be honest, I must admit that compared to the average girl you meet, I’m really quite complex.  Intelligent and well informed, and a good conversationalist.  If only I could stop lying awake, imagining all the exciting things that could happen to me, but never do. Well, maybe today is the day.

The constant recurring of the theme has had me worried.  What if there is something wrong with me?  Am I simply a dreamer, lost in a world where possibilities are endless?  Am I fooling myself?  Am I locked in Dorothy’s Oz, needing to come home?  Or do I just have a different, valid outlook on life?  Then I remember the BABEs, and I think of Kelci, Laura, and Lexie, and I think that maybe I’m a little odd, a little eccentric, but what’s so bad about that?  I’ve found others who are capable of sharing my inner world, and we have a marvelous time together, whichever world we are in.  I can talk to them, tell them my innermost thoughts freely, without fear of censure.  And they can do the same.  Our meeting may have been unconventional, but I am now convinced that it was not an accident.

The way things have worked out in regard to the future; the deep connections we have made, when I needed them most; the way they accept and love me for myself and I accept and love them as they are—these things convince me that these friendships are fate.  It scares me to think about all the things that could have happened that would have made me miss out on these friendships.  I almost didn’t come to school, and even then considered going to a different one.  What if I had gone to law school?  Or if I hadn’t gotten my assistantship?  Would I have had time to spend on the computer, looking up Highlander Internet sites?  What if I had missed the post about the cruise?  What if I had decided not to follow my dream of acting and given into all the pressures around me to find something more practical to do?  What would have happened then?  I try and convince myself that somehow it would have all worked out, but the thought that it might not have, terrifies me.  I drove by Yale while in Connecticut and thought, if I’d been in law school here, it would have been so easy to see Lexie all summer. Then it occurred to me that I might not have ever met her, and I almost started to cry.  But as good as they have been for me, I have to reach this conclusion:  I found that song for a reason.  For the first time in my life, I don’t feel alone.   I have found my place over the rainbow, my own Oz, one that transcends time and place and bridges the real world and the imaginary, and the friendships there are my pot of gold.