La Reine Est Morte. Longue Vie à La Reine
It was 1998 and the spring of my 25th year.
I remember it as an early evening in mid-May - all windows of my apartment open, allowing the temperate breeze from outside to swirl and twirl and invisibly dance around us in my apartment. I, with my friend Sheila, stood in front of my full-length bedroom mirror – me in a casual navy dress shirt, dark jeans, and a skinny black tie and Sheila in her first evening dress – classy, sophisticated – purple and yellow flowers blooming upon a turquoise fabric landscape of well-mannered and newly-discovered femininity.
Sheila wore shyness like skin – a tradition so long clung to with clenched fists and with insecurities whispering too frequently into her delicate ears - she spent many hours alone in her bedroom – waiting, waiting for something – anything – to change. Slightly hunched over, due to a rebellious and irregular spine at birth, boys hadn’t really been a part of her life.
“You look lovely – breathtakingly lovely”, I told her while standing only a foot away, both of us staring at her statuesque reflection in the mirror. I put the paper party-store king’s crown upon my head – daisy yellow with faux multi-colored jewels - with exaggerated and imitated elegance. I, then, handed Sheila her paper crown with a gentlemanly bow. “To my beautiful queen”, I said, smiling. She looked at me tenderly – wearing that immaculate dress that so charmingly complimented her sparkling hazel eyes.
It was then Sheila began to weep. ______________
The sound of my computer’s modem connecting with another modem across the repurposed telephone wires is an unforgettable, grinding sound I heard daily, beginning in October of 1997. It was then I discovered AOL chatrooms and conversing with other locals became a hobby. Wait - no – that’s not quite accurate – it became an obsession – and it was a lot of fun. Young men and woman sitting anonymously in front of their glowing screens - hiding or being bold or flirty or coy. I was Peleboy516 – a handle, I’m certain, at least a few people still remember to this day.
Two weeks before Thanksgiving I signed onto my favorite chatroom to announce a meet-up at my place the following Saturday. Every homebody – every wallflower – every previously ignored Joe and Jane paused. It wouldn’t be until the following evening I received my first RSVP of “Yes”. Versiboy9, who I would later know as Travis, was the first to accept my invite. Then, minutes later, LasVegasBabe22 and VampireRedHeadLV7 responded – both with a “Yes”. By the end of the night, 37 online handles were listed in my “party notebook”. I finished the evening by saying goodnight, turning off my computer, and I sat silent, in the dark, for several minutes. Thinking. ______________
It was Saturday. At 7:47 pm I heard the first knock on my door. Blake (IronManLV69) was the first to arrive. By 9:00 pm, my small apartment was packed with strangers – many of them, in daily life, awkward and apprehensive – but they weren’t that night. We knew one another fairly well – having chatted for weeks - so the evening felt more like a reunion than a gathering of strangers. 2F94U (Roger) threw up before the arrival of midnight – by then Terry (LandRoverYo) had come out openly as gay and GveIt2MeBackyardGuy (Brett) got JenFU01’s (Jennifer’s) phone number.
The biggest surprise of the evening is when MisfitToy74 arrived. Nobody thought she’d show up. I would, moments after her arrival, know her as Sheila. “Would you like a glass of champagne?”, I asked her - me, already slightly tipsy. “That would be lovely,”, she said, delicately. “You know we’ll be friends forever, right?”, I immediately told her. “That would be lovely”, she repeated.
The intense human electricity flickered brightly that evening. Online handles turned into names – words upon the screen became faces – and casual virtual acquaintances became friends.
And I decided it couldn’t end there. Oh no. This was just the beginning. ______________
The following months consisted of 3 things: 1. Online chatting. 2. Parties at my apartment and, 3. Nights out on the town. With increasing numbers, we became an unstoppable club of those who were never asked to the dance, so-called “losers” who couldn’t score in high school – and many who life had, previously, socially thrown away.
We were becoming rock stars within the local pubs. The misfits club others wanted to join. “Popularity” had changed its definition to suit us. And we would have had it no other way.
“Peleboy!”, exclaimed Calvin (RoamIfYouWant2), never remembering my real name and staggering more than usual – “I’m drunk”. “I’ve got him” – smiled Sheila, wearing her paper queen’s crown on top of her head with pride. “It appears our young prince has consumed more than his fill”, she comically proclaimed. “Your highness – may I suggest we place young Calvin and equally intoxicated Douglas (ManAboutTown12) into a chariot (taxicab) to whisk them away to their far away kingdoms? “Indeed, my king”, Sheila spoke without hesitating. “A fine and fair end to a truly festive night”. “Indeed, my lady, indeed”, I replied. ______________
We, as a collective and socially powerful whole, grew together, partied, experienced life as it is meant to be lived, and formed unbreakable friendships that continue to this day.
But - sometimes foundations fail - even when the ground has been carefully laid and meticulously inspected and re-inspected– every fault, every potential disaster considered, and the area is declared as “Safe”.
Sometimes it’s not enough.
On February 14th, 1999, Sheila took her life and the party stopped.
It was then I began to weep – and I didn’t stop for months.
My beautiful and charming queen had left this world – and my paper crown meant nothing without her.
And it still doesn’t.
La Reine Est Morte. Longue Vie à La Reine is French for "The Queen is Dead. Long Live the Queen".
Image: "The Queen is Dead", version 2 by Luke Cheuh - and it's my next tattoo.