About four years ago, I was innocently sitting in my room, and I received an Instant Message. Being the modern techno-child that I was/am, I did not find this occurrence all that out of the ordinary.Upon closer examination, I noticed that this was, in fact, an unusual case. Rather than being an IM from one of my friends – asking me simply, “sup?” – it was a rather timid seeming “hello.”I don’t know why it seemed particularly timid, but another feature of the IM caught my attention. Rather than being from someone whose screenname I instantly recognized, it was from “girlnamedkristi” – screenname changed because, as the story will reveal, there is no need for me to do anything worse to her than I already have.Now, I don’t have the best memory in many respects, but associating a semi-random string of characters with a person I know to an arbitrary degree of familiarity is something I am particularly bad at. Hell, I can hardly remember my screenname, let alone someone else’s. As a result, it’s not entirely uncommon for me to receive an Instant Message from a mystery name, and not know who it is.Now, a completely rational person would ask who the person was, perhaps apologize for faulty memory, and move on. This is translated to AIMspeak as the following:forgetful1: OMG!!! mY bad, I totalyl 4got who this is. LOL!mysteryname: hehe, np, this is james. =]8_-{ )In case you couldn’t tell, that emoticon – used for satirical purposes – was a foppish gent with a top hat, monocle and a handlebar mustache. Because monocles are “cool” these days with the kids.Back to the point at hand, the rational person I mentioned – or even the average AIM user – would take a straightforward course to fixing their problem. I, however, am a bit scared of looking, well, dumb. I do it often enough that I try and minimize it when I can.So, I employ Lewis’ tricky method No. 1 for avoiding the embarrassment of an “I don’t remember who this is.”girlnamedkristi: hellobeatniklew: what is up?::insert much small talk of a non-specific nature::beatniklew: alright, I’ve got to go, I’ll catch you later.Repeat this process around once a month. Same girl each time.”Kristi,” I think to myself, throughout those early months, “do I know anyone named Kristi?” And try as I might, I realize, I really don’t know anyone named Kristi.Now, Kristi calls me Lewis – she knows my name. And has my screenname. And this was all before I was the massive Internet presence I currently am. No one I didn’t know had access to that information, except for identity theives, and I feel like they had better things to do than make vague small talk with me.Much of this changed, about a year into this vague relationship, when I lost any semblance of the ability to believe that I knew this girl, and just never ran into her in real life.girlnamedkristi: how have things been since transferring from UND?”What is UND?” you might be asking. I know I asked myself that, and was uncertain. So I asked the Internet. It gave me fair justification for believing that she was asking how I had been since transferring away from the University of North Dakota.Now, at this point, I still had a valid out. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I might have said. “I’m from Illinois, and I’ve never been to North Dakota, much less have I matriculated at a university therein.”Instead, I gave what I took to be the most reasonable response I was capable of making.beatniklew: pretty good.See, and that was that. From there on out, there was no going back. It’s like in “Oregon Trail,” when you finally get to choose whether to take the toll road or ford at The Dalles, and you choose to ford the river, and you can’t go back even though you know the way will be rocky and rough. And you realize you should have left in April and been a doctor so you could have money and cure Mary’s typhoid.Sorry about that, I’m back from my childhood now, and can move on with my story.So I kept being vague, and we kept talking once or twice a month. Her conversations got more and more specific, and I found out things about her, her husband, her husband’s job, her life, I even discovered some things about my life. Where I was supposed to be at school, that I was planning to be an RA – things like that. She knew enough about the both of us to keep the conversations going, and here I am, four years later. As far as I know, she is still unaware that I am not who she thinks I am.So who does she think I am?That is a question that bothered me since passing the point of no return. There exists some Lewis, who might feasibly go by beatniklew on AIM, that Kristi thought I was.No light was to be shed on this question until about a year ago. I was trying to look at my long-since-unused LiveJournal, and I couldn’t remember what my username had been.Now, beatniklew is a name I use for lots of things. But that wasn’t my LiveJournal. See, when I acquired my LiveJournal, freshman year of college, I was in a period of severe Ultraman fandom. Please note – I am still in a period of severe Ultraman fandom. So, my LiveJournal account is “ultraman.” On the other hand, “beatniklew” also exists.So, when I tried to find mine by guessing at my username, I discovered that I was not beatniklew, as far as the LiveJournal universe was concerned. The posts might be described as having a similar demeanor to mine, but differed stylistically, contentwise, and, also, I believe, in how unbelievably whiny they were.I clicked on “user info.”Name: beatnik lewThis was not helpful.Location: Grand Forks, North Dakota, United StatesAha! The puzzle pieces snapped into placeWell, that was one mystery solved, there’s another Lewis out there who goes by beatniklew. No big deal.Then I noticed a couple other facts on the user info page.Birthdate: 1981-12-11AOL IM: beatniklewXXWould his life have been any different if he’d used his head start on existence to grab that key screenname. Well, for one, Kristi would have talked to him a hell of a lot more.So where does this leave me?Well, I ought to tell Kristi the truth. Maybe tell her the other Lewis’ screenname. That would certainly be the more honorable thing to do. Then again, it’s been four years of once a month communication. And I’d have to say something like this:girnamedkristi: hellobeatniklew: Oh, hey, by the way, here’s a thing you should know, for the past four years, you’ve been talking to a different lewis than you thought you were. At first it was honest misunderstanding, due to my lack of wanting to admit that I’d forgotten who you are. It turns out I never knew you in the first place, and that you had confused me with a friend of yours who has a similar but far inferior screenname. At one point, I realized the mistake, but it was far too late then for me to even pretend to act like I hadn’t know who you were. As a result, I’ve been saying vague things about my life, while you told me things about yours, and tried not to be too invasive. Perhaps the Lewis you were looking for isn’t a good conversationalist, and so you didn’t notice. Perhaps you noticed but thought that the possibility I was feigning knowing you was too preposterous, so it must have been that Lewis had changed, or just didn’t converse well over AIM. Whatever you thought, and whatever my reasons, I realized it is time now to come forward and tell you that I passively perpetrated a massive deception spanning four years. I apologize, but, if it makes you feel better, after reading the other Lewis’s LiveJournal, I feel that I am a more interesting person anyways. The other Lewis is beatniklewXX. I apologize, and hope that you can one day – preferably today or tomorrow – look back on this and laugh at how silly we once were. Or rather, how ridiculously absurd I once was and still am.Or maybe I’ll just publish this whole story in the Campus Times, and hope that the situation takes care of itself.Powell can be reached at lpowell@campustimes.org

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