MUSEUM OF WONDER
The computer sang to her, making a bouncy jingle as it established a connection. Then this colorful welcome screen popped up asking her to register – and later to confirm that she was 18 years old. Scarlet didn’t think twice about lying and said, “Of course I’m 18,” as she clicked YES again. She felt a little bad but was increasingly curious about why there was an age restriction for this Internet stuff. It wasn’t like she could do anything dangerous. She barely knew how to type.
She browsed the news first, which made her life – and even her dad’s situation – seem minuscule on the grander scale of things. People were still making sense of a massacre that killed almost one hundred people in Texas, and heavy rains were washing out whole neighborhoods along the Mississippi River. This was serious stuff – stuff she didn’t have to worry about being in a star-shaped house on a hill on an island in the middle of the Pacific. This was stuff that wouldn’t happen to her – or her friends or family, she thought.
There were a few buttons on the top of the screen that didn’t go away, no matter which page she was on. One of them read “Chatrooms” – which interested her, so she moved the mouse and clicked on it. The Chatroom page had a running list of real life places where people would go to meet their friends – like “The Artist’s Café” or “Museum of Wonder” or “The Prodigal Diner.” There were also a few that explained why there was a user age restriction: “Sex Shop,” “XXX,” and “Divorced and Dating.” A number in parenthesis seemed to indicate how many people were in each room in real time, and the more mature rooms had the most visitors, with “Sex Shop” having close to fifty!
Scarlet was not very curious about mature chatrooms like the Sex Shop though; she felt bad enough lying about her age. What she wanted was a place where she could feel comfortable–-with people she could talk to. She wouldn’t share how she’d given her dad chest compressions or walked in on her naked brother holding his penis. She needed to get her mind off those things, and she wanted to be someone else for a while.
She clicked on “Museum of Wonder” and was prompted to enter in a nickname and agree to the chatroom etiquette or risk getting kicked out altogether. She typed the most applicable name she could think of. Henceforth, the Museum of Wonder would know her as Invisigirl.
Invisigirl has entered the room.
Howie617: hello invisigirl!
I-heart-Dawna: Hi, Invisigirl.
Dusk2Dawna: I’ve suffered from insomnia since college. I feel you, Moondance.
Invisigirl: Hi. How is everyone?
Moondance: Thanks D.
Invisigirl: I’m sorry to hear about your insomnia, D2D and Moondance.
Dusk2Dawna: …but ever since I met you guys, I’ve slept better.
Moondance: Thanks, Invisigirl. Nice to see you here. Have you been to the MoW
Dusk2Dawna: (especially you, I-heart)
I-heart- Dawna: I love you, Dawna!
Invisigirl: It’s my first time! I’ve never been in a virtual chatroom before.
Dusk2Dawna: Love you too
Howie617: get a room, you two!
Moondance: This is a good place to start!
I-heart-Dawna: Our room is your room, Howie.
Invisigirl: I hope so…
VanillaNice has left the room
I-heart-Dawna has left the room
Dusk2Dawna has left the room
Howie617: was it something I said?
Invisigirl: So where are you guys from?
I-heart-Dawna has entered the room
Moondance: Michigan, you?
Howie617: go red sox!
Invisigirl: I’m from Hawaii
Howie617: but we lost to the yankees today – why do i even root for these losers?
I-heart-Dawna: I heart Hawaii
Dusk2Dawna has entered the room
Invisigirl: Because when they win it’ll be that much sweeter, Howie!
Moondance: Oh wow, Hawaii. You’re so lucky!
Howie617: sorry, I&D, i was just kidding
I-heart-Dawna: We got a room, Howie.
Dusk2Dawna: This room. This is our tribe.
I-heart-Dawna: We’re not mad. We had to step outside to chat is all.
Moondance has left the room
Howie617: That’s cool. Yeah, you’d think they could let us message each other in
private while we’re still in a chatroom. Guess they haven’t figured out the code
Just then, a pop-up window appeared on Scarlet’s screen. Moondance was requesting a private chat with her. She clicked on the ACCEPT button and was automatically booted from the Museum of Wonder. The private chat box opened, covering the space where the chatroom conversation had been. Moondance had one question for her: “What’s the story behind your name?”
Scarlet began typing how it was just a play on words. Then she wished she hadn’t given herself such an obvious moniker. Wasn’t it obvious that she was a girl who felt invisible? Maybe he just wanted her to admit it.
“Mine’s Moondance because I’m a Big Van Morrison fan. You know the song?”
To avoid having to answer the previous question, she quickly typed, “Yeah, great song!”
She didn’t know Van Morrison actually; she didn’t know the song either. She immediately felt bad about lying and compelled to admit the truth, but he added, “His music is so soulful. Crazy Love was my first dance song, actually.”
Scarlet didn’t know it; she also didn’t know what a first dance song was. She was starting to feel like she was in over her head with this Prodigy stuff. She pulled out a piece of paper and wrote down some things she would look up at the library tomorrow: Van Morrison, Moondance, Crazy Love, first dance song. Van Morrison’s music sounded a little older, like something her parents listened to, so she tried to think of songs they liked. She typed, “I love Elvis.”
“Elvis Costello is the best!”
She meant Elvis Presley, but at least the conversation was warming up and he seemed to forget about his Invisigirl question.
“My ex-wife’s name is Alison though.”
Scarlet stared at the unfamiliar word on the screen. Of course, she had friends who referred to “ex-boy/girlfriends” or whose parents were divorced and sometimes even remarried. They call them “my stepdad/mom” or “my mom’s/dad’s boy/girlfriend,” but she didn’t know anyone old enough to have an ex-husband/wife. Her teachers may be divorced, but they would never talk about them in class that way. That Moondance had an ex-wife named Alison suddenly made her feel so very young. She offered him the only response she could think of: “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay. We’re friends, and the kids are a lot happier now.” Kids, as in plural. “No more fighting.”
“Arguing is the worst.” She thought about the countless times Grant bothered her. Ma and Dad too, but things with her and Grant couldn’t be much worse. Walking in on him the other night didn’t help. Not at all.
“How old are you? If you don’t mind me asking?”
“I’m definitely younger than you!”
“Younger,” she hoped that answer would be enough and was almost flattered that he would think she was that old, though it was a bit too old. “How about you?”
“I’m 28.” So basically twice her age. “Families start early where I’m from!”
The first thing that came to mind – the thing that she hadn’t been able to get off her mind–-was Liv showing her how the birds and bees worked. She sure had a lot left to learn.
“Shoot, it’s my bedtime.”
Eve looked up from the computer screen and was surprised how quickly the sun had set.
“Hopefully I’ll see you around! Aloha means goodbye!”
“It means other things too.” Hello. Love.
Their chat window automatically closed, and she was back on the chatroom menu page. The Museum of Wonder now had only one visitor, so she decided to end her first Prodigy foray. The computer sounded sad logging out of the program and landed back on the computer’s normal home screen. Her dad’s den was almost pitch black, but Scarlet felt unusually light inside. There was a lot left of Prodigy to explore and a lot more to Invisigirl than she had in real life.