It’s easy to forget that most of the internet isn’t being looked at by anyone.
Chris Ritter / BuzzFeed
Last week, I took a break from the workday cascade of emails and tweets to sit down and listen to a colleague, an investigative reporter, describe how she tracks down hard-to-find people online. Showing us one database, she encouraged us to type our own names in. I did and one result from Amazon caught my eye. It led me to a “Wishlist” I have no memory of making. Immediately I could tell it was mine.
It consists of nine items and was created on May 8, 2000. I would have been ending seventh grade, which had been the worst year of my life, thus far. I would have been on my mom's PC upstairs in the hallway when I wrote the list. The tawny chaparral hills would have been shrouded in fog. Or if I wrote it at night, the world outside the window would have been thickly dark, our home being rural, and there would have been big garden spiders in each pane.
Social media wasn't really a thing yet and I never had LiveJournal or MySpace. It'd be four years before I got a cell phone. Most of my time online so far had been passive, a few red-cheeked proto-erotic Yahoo checkers chats excepted. This was in part because my mom, who distrusts technology still, had chided me against putting information about myself on the internet and I was an obedient kid. Creating this Amazon Wishlist, then, was a sort of rebellion. A first skirmish in a war of independence that would in years following be fought.
May 8 was about a month before my birthday in June. The irony: If the list were ostensibly intended for my mother, who would be the one to buy me things, she was the only person I would not tell about it. Though I'm sure I never told anyone about it. This was an era of diaries, not friends. The internet then felt so intimate, small, like a secret I privately — and slowly, dial-up warbling and moaning — learned.
This list was a statement about my identity I made to no one.
It breaks into essentially three categories. First, Sharon Creech novels. Second, Weird Al CDs. A duo of cookbooks — both Pillsbury. And last a novel called Beauty, a 1978 Beauty and the Beast adaptation.
Next to each desired item I have written exclamation-mark-laden reviews:
Sharon Creech was the first author I remember identifying as my favorite author. Her books had felt, at the time, adult, complex in a way that was novel. The worlds in her books were not simple. People hurt each other. People did things that didn't make sense.
I love both the fact that I was interested in owning the hard cover of Absolutely Normal Chaos — which implies I already owned the paperback — as if I were investing in it. As if I would keep the book on my shelf for forever, and show it off when guests came by. “Oh, what's that? Just my hardcover edition of Absolutely Normal Chaos.”
The paperback, I presume, today sits 3,000 miles away in my parents' house, on a shelf in a room that's now for guests. Not that there are ever guests.