by J. Elmore
Twelve years is a long time to be away from the free world: love, romance, technology...
It all started with a letter. I typed 'K' in a text sent it to my new girlfriend.
"Are you mad?" followed after about 20 minutes of text silence. I stared at my iphone for a few seconds before scrolling through our digital conversation looking for something that might've insinuated annoyance.
"No. Y?" I wrote before hitting send.
"Because you're being short with me." She wrote back.
It was the beginning of my first "digital argument." I was hit in the face with just how much the world has changed. You see, I haven't been living under a rock for the past twelve years but rather inside a rock and I'll touch more on that later.
I didn't think that I was being short with her but she would later tell me i.e. in person that just a 'K' in a text she took as me putting her off. And obviously I was not, but I could see her point and me being a guy, I would later ask that wasn't us texting instead of talking on the phone a way of "being short" with each other? And that of course just fueled her scorn. It was really the first of many digital and verbal spats to come; some worse than others, some were solved without a word vocalized (although some of the harsher words thrown around the screen were vocalized during makeup sex(;
Our relationship was founded through texts. Mark Zuckerberg was our Chuck Woolery. I "stalked" her Facebook page she always likes to say.
I saw her pictures first, not of her but rather the ones she took; pictures of fighting. Though not digitally but physically, mixed martial arts fighting to be more specific. She is the number one combat sports photographer in New England, "The best in the business," is what I kept hearing.
I was training at an MMA gym in Wakefield Massachusetts and after taking up some opportunities to train at various gyms in MA with local fighters and coaches we acquired a lot of mutual friends over Facebook. I would see her pictures of some of the men I trained with at their highest levels of brutality and I also saw some of them at the other end of the bludgeoning. The photos were violent with blood, sweat and rippled skin and emotional with looks of surprise and excitement, conscious celebrations and unconscious stiffness. They were brutal yet beautiful at the same time and if you understand the sport you know what I mean. And god was she an artist.
Her photos were tagged as CrossFace Productions and after toying around on her website I finally found out who she was: Kelly MacDonald. I looked up her Facebook profile and that is when I shifted from curious spectator to a creep in the bushes. Although the bushes came in the form of my iPhone.
I had to get up the gusto to send a friend request to this beautiful artist who I've never talked to or had any kind of communication with before. Not mentioning the fact that she makes a living taking pictures of half-naked men and women who are in the best shape of their lives trying to bludgeon each other. WTF would I say?
I sent a friend request and hoped for the best.
She accepted. "Thanks for the friend request" She wrote.
"I'm not a creep..." were the first words I typed.
I was so blind to the obvious interest she showed because these digital relationships were still new to me.
We had minimal communication for the next couple of months, mostly likes and short comments on posts. The last relationship I was in ended badly and I was nineteen years old at the time. I met Kelly after I had just turned thirty one.
I broke up with my previous girlfriend in 2004 through text but it was text that was written down and mailed in an envelope. It was when NexTel was still a thing and "texting was not." I splayed my emotions on a coffee-stained legal-pad that laid on top of a chopping-block inside a 10'x8' cell as I was awaiting trial on murder-charges for a drug-deal turned armed-robbery.
Twelve years later I would be walking into a cage to meet my first real love as a grown man. It was at a local MMA promotion called Combat Zone and it was not unlike the cage I walked away from after serving just over eleven years; it was confined, it had locks and it was on display. But gone were the corrections officers and convicts, in their place were fight promoters, a world champion kickboxer in the form of Tim Lane, Bellator's Ryan Couture, and Kurt Daniels who's a local fighter I trained with, a ring announcer and Kelly with her big-ass Cannon camera. She was the first one I spoke to as I entered the cage although it came out a nervous mumble and I'm sure she didn't understand what I said. But it got a reaction out of her as it was the first time we met in person. She had to take a photo me with Kurt, Tim and Ryan as we were promoting a seminar they would be having the next day at the gym I trained at. It was the first time I saw live MMA fights. But before I saw who was actually fighting as I walked into the venue, I saw her up on a perch, hunched over the cage with that big lens protruding from her face. The place, an old dog-racing track in Salem NH was hot, crowded, and reeked of stale sweat and beer. I sent her a DM just to see if I could get a response. I did.
The night ended with the fighter I originally went to see, the headliner who my coach was cornering, knocking out his opponent shortly into the first round. And when everything was settling down, I saw Kelly putting away her stuff and I had to shake off the urge to text her first. I honestly expected her to just shoo me away. I approached with a racing heart and clammy hands.
Her hair was a mess from working all night and she was rushing around trying to get her stuff together so she could leave. I got closer and I felt like she knew I was approaching and was avoiding eye-contact. I thought about turning around, catching up with the rest of my gym and getting a late night meal with them when she turned and put her camera bag on a chair then saw me and smiled. We walked out together and exchanged numbers.
We ended up texting that night. I'd never engaged so much over text, it was still new to me and I waited with bated breath for her response every time and hung on every word I punched in so as not to sound like a buffoon before I hit send. But in a strange way I was use to the feeling. In prison we sent letters, it was one of our few luxuries. What was gone was the prolonged anticipation. Now my gratification would carry on through our conversation throughout the night.
Then came the point in our digital conversation that I was dreading; I had to explain where I was for the past eleven and somewhat years, and why I was thirty one years old and working at a CrossFit gym for next-to-nothing and living at my grandmother's house. I panicked a bit and hesitated before sending my next grouping of words. My voice echoed in my mind: "what are you thinking?" "She's going to get creeped out," and "You're a loser. What makes you think that she would be interested in you?"
I eventually let the cat out of the bag. She would discredit the voice in my head after she asked, "Can you call me?"
It's that question that really took our relationship to the next step. We were transcended back to gitty school kids on the phone all night not wanting to be the one that hung up first.
Digital communication is still something that's been a hard adjustment for me but it's my intimate relationship that has really made me realize just how much technology has affected our lives. I used to stay up at night, staring at a white-washed ceiling, wondering what my relationships would be like when I first got out of prison. I mostly thought about what we'd be doing as a couple. I thought of watching movies, going for walks, taking her to my old stomping grounds, meeting her family, cooking together, going out to eat at different places (praying that I didn't get pulled over because I would be forced to explain why the cop was waiting for backup). I never gave much thought as to how I'd meet her. Of course I knew that everybody had a Facebook and the most popular communication was through text messaging but it was so foreign to me when I first got out but even more so when I finally met my better half, I had to be cautious of my likes, comments and posts.
I've been out for almost eighteen months now, I left the free-world a young man and entered back into it, in a lot of ways the same young man, obviously with a different mindset, different morals, and different perspective on things, but still "young" when it comes to the technological world.
Kelly and I still have our spats, some over texts or for the fact that I'm engulfed in my phone at the wrong time, but we always make up in the traditional sense i.e. me apologizing and telling her how beautifully right she is. We also leave love notes for each other to find in various hiding spots and we even have a jar with a collection of them. It gives credence to the fact that texting is nothing
new to our human experience, it's just done on a different "platform." Same emotions, different generation, same love stories but different outcomes. And love, for it to be real has to stand the tests of time and technology.