I wrote this piece as an autobiographical narrative essay for my literature class. I wrote down and I just started to write, it all poured out without a rough draft or an outline. After I finished, I remembered a few things that I had forgotten: topic sentences for every paragraph, a thesis statement – you know, all those little things that everyone hates but ends up having to do anyway -_-;; I just couldn't bear to rewrite it so I printed it out and turned it in, thinking I'd probably fail it.

::looks up at the sky:: Well, somebody up there likes me. Mr. Warren gave it back to me with an A+. He said it was a really interesting essay and that it was the best one out of all of his classes. And he told me that you don't need topic sentences or a thesis in a narrative.

So I figured I'd post this. Strange – I can't write fics, but I can write essays. ::shrugs::

By the way, this is faction. Fiction + non-fiction = Faction. Faction is a mix of the two. Most autobiographies are faction because the authors can't remember things exactly, or they change things to make it more interesting or to add depth. I've done that for this fic - and the whole tree thing is symbolism, it was required. Couldn't figure out how to take it out for this. ::shrugs::
Have fun reading. And please – review!

- Tracie :o)


I met her in a chat room. An Animorphs chat room – at the end of sixth grade I was really into the book series.

For the two months that I'd had America Online thus far, I had been visiting this chat room. Frequently, I had noticed a certain person in there – Rb3851. She – assuming that she was female – she seemed nice and she had a sense of humor. Even after seeing her in the chat room so often during those two months, I had never really talked to her. One day, I decided to instant message her.

BalletGirl85: Hi!
Rb3851: Hey!
BalletGirl85: What's up?

How could I have ever guessed that this greeting would develop into so much?

That night, we talked for two hours. Finally logging off, I turned the computer off and walked into the kitchen.

While taking a plate out of the cupboard, I noticed a seed packet we had received in the mail sitting on the counter, unopened. "Tree – Apple", it read. I set it aside.

The next morning, I noticed the seed packet again when I had finished breakfast. I planted it in the backyard, assuming it wouldn't survive.

That day, she instant messaged me the moment I signed onto America Online. After another fun conversation, I put her on my buddy list.

For almost every day that summer, we talked online. A lot of our conversations were about Animorphs – we both loved the book series, and it was what brought us together. After a while, we started to talk about other people we had met in the chat room, different web sites we had visited, and a few things that are more controversial, like religion. She was raised in Conservative Judaism, and I had been raised in a loose, open-ended belief in God and Jesus. I liked learning about her religion, since Judaism is what Christianity originally came from.

At the end of August, I was sitting in the backyard by the pool when I glanced over to where I'd planted the apple tree seeds. Nourished by the sunlight and sprinkler water, it had risen out of the ground to become a small green plant, a couple of inches above the ground. I noticed the weeds growing around it, threatening to choke the life out of the plant. I pulled the weeds out and sprinkled some plant food on the growing apple tree.

School started in September. I was going into seventh grade at Earhart Middle School, while she was going into sixth grade in an elementary school in southern New Jersey. We didn't have as much time to talk, partly because of school and partly because of the difference in time zones. Even during the school year, she still signed on frequently. I would also make time to go sign on, no matter how much homework I had.

I lived on America Online that year. I still visited the chat room – every night, sometimes even until midnight. She visited the chat room less and less, while I visited it more. Whenever our online times overlapped, we talked. I looked forward to the times she would sign on.

That year, I kept touch with her even as my life outside the computer began to speed up – festival season in choir had kept me busier than I used to be, and my classes were getting harder very quickly. I would still make excuses to sign onto America Online, and would feel sad when she wasn't online.

Soon the 1997/1998 school year was over. Looking at it as the worst year of my life, I was glad to leave it behind for the carefree atmosphere of summer vacation. She was off from school, too – she would be making the transition from elementary to middle school soon, just as I had done a year before. We still talked, and both of us were able to sign on more than we were able to during the school year.

We grew closer. I had always used my real name to identify myself online: Tracie. She used several aliases. The first was the first two letters of her screen name: Rb. She later added vowels to them, turning them into Reeb and Reba. Though I called her any of the three names interchangeably, I learned that summer that her real name was Rebecca. She didn't use it because she considered it to be too common. We also exchanged phone numbers that summer, though we didn't call each other often because it was long-distance.

I remember the first time I talked to her on the phone. Even though she was only 12 at the time, she was intellectually mature beyond her years. When I heard her voice for the first time, I was surprised. I had known that she was only 12 years old – not that I should be saying much, because I was only 13 myself – but from her personality and maturity level online, I had automatically assumed that her voice would sound more adult. She was definitely a soprano – a first soprano. Her voice was childishly high-pitched and she had a New Jersey accent.

The day that I talked to her on the phone, I learned something – you can't judge people based on their physical properties. If I had met her in real life, so to speak, I would have subconsciously judged her as being younger than I am and thus, less mature and intellectual. Knowing her online, I knew her for her true intellectual worth, and her physical body could not change that.

That summer, I looked out of a window that viewed the backyard as I ate a midday snack. I noticed the apple tree seedling – no longer a seedling, but a developing sapling. I finished my snack and walked out into the backyard to inspect it. It was now strong enough to resist the weeds that had before threatened to choke it. That day, I cut down on my online time a little so that I could section off its space of the flowerbed from the other plants and menacing weeds. Encircling it with large, rounded rocks, I once again pulled out the weeds and gave it some plant food.

Eighth grade started. Though that year was possibly the most challenging year I have lived thus far (because of personal issues, not schoolwork), I do not look at it as the worst year I have lived because I had good friends to help me through my troubles. I had at least three dedicated friends I could always count on.

On America Online, Rebecca was still there. When I was crying and feeling incredibly depressed, my friends from school were there for me – and so was Rebecca. I called her about two times during that year crying and hiccupping and feeling incredibly out of it. She was there – she would tell me that everything would be okay and give me encouragement that would help me through tough times.

I did, in fact, survive eighth grade. With summer back at last, I could once again surf the Internet almost as much as I wanted. I also got together with my friends outside the computer that summer. We swam at each other's houses, because most of us had pools. We giggled about boys and gave each other terrible makeovers when we'd have sleepovers. And actually, a couple of times when we were at my house, I logged onto America Online with them next to me. I thought that they could 'meet' Rebecca, so to speak. I thought that they would see what I saw in her.

And something that hurt was...they didn't.

Being online was a game to them – something that they didn't take seriously like I did. I understood – and still do understand – that when you're instant messaging with someone, there is actually someone behind the other monitor, receiving your message. You don't talk to another computer. You're talking to another person. The talking just takes on a different form than it does otherwise.

And those very few times that I went online with other people right there, there were always battles over the keyboard and arguments of who to talk to, what web sites to visit. The shallower things. Once, I even tried to start an instant message with Rebecca – and it was a disaster. I had never previously stopped to think that I had a different understanding of online life than other people did.

I never mentioned this to Rebecca. Instead, I scolded myself for being so stupid as to try to make them understand. A fight within myself began to surface. I had "real life" friends – the ones who I saw every day, whose families I had met, whose voices I always recognized on the phone. I went on choir trips with them; I ate lunch with them daily during school; we went to the movies and to Disneyland together.

Rebecca? I had never even met her. I had little idea about her family, except that her parents were married, she had an older brother, and they practiced Judaism. She had sent me a picture of herself...but looking at a picture cannot substitute actually being with a person. I might have recognized her voice on the phone – but I might not have. This was a girl who I didn't really 'know', in the conventional sense. She was a grade level below me and a year younger. My real life friends were my age. Compared to them, she was a child.

But Rebecca had been my friend the longest out of all my "real life" friends. Countless "real life" friends had come and gone, but Rebecca had always been there. We helped each other through tough times in life, and enjoyed the good times together. A Polish proverb says: "Shared joy is double joy. Shared sorrow is half sorrow." I had definitely shared more joy and sorrow with Rebecca than with anyone else.

That night was a clear, starry night – relatively rare in smog-plagued Riverside, California. I laid out on my back on the diving board at the pool and gazed up at the hundreds of stars twinkling in the sky. When I began to get a bit chilled, I stood up...and saw the apple tree.

It was about two feet tall, a lot taller than it had been the last time I had noticed it. It had rich, green leaves on its many branches. At the base of the tree, several weeds were trying to choke its roots. I pulled the weeds out and threw them away.

Ninth grade was incredibly hard for me, just like seventh grade. Now on an advanced choral group and a colorguard, I had even less free time than I had before. Rebecca and I talked less and less; although we still instant messaged each other, we didn't have a conversation every time we noticed the other was online.

In March, my dad found out that one of his occupational benefits was two weeks' vacation. He told my mother and I that he wanted us to take a vacation to Washington, D.C. that summer.

Almost immediately, I thought of Rebecca. I wasn't too good at East Coast geography, but I knew that the states were very small there...it wouldn't be too much of a drive for us to meet each other, would it?

I didn't mention anything until a date was set for our vacation. Then I told her about our plans.

My screen name had changed to reflect my new interests and I had modified my font. Her screen name and font were still the same.

ChoirGrl27: Aloha.
Rb3581: Hey.
ChoirGrl27: What's up?
Rb3581: Eh, not much. My brother's being moody :-p
ChoirGrl27: That sucks.

I tried to gather the nerve to mention the idea to her. After neither of us saying anything for a while, I decided to go for it.

ChoirGrl27: Remember how a while ago I told you that my dad got a new job?
Rb3581: Yep.
ChoirGrl27: Well, one of his benefits is vacation time. Two weeks.

She didn't comment. In front of the computer at home, I took a deep breath and began to type.

ChoirGrl27: You know how, living in California, I've never thought I'd get to go to the East Coast with my dead-beat parents :op
ChoirGrl27: Well...
ChoirGrl27: My dad wants to use his vacation time. And take me and my mom on vacation with him instead of just staying at home.
Rb3581: Yeah...
ChoirGrl27: He wants to go to Washington, D.C.

I waited to see if she would comment.

Rb3581: ...Did you just say what I thought you said?
ChoirGrl27: Yeah...

She didn't type anything more. I waited for a moment, my right hand's knuckles turning white from gripping the computer mouse so tightly. When I didn't think she was going to respond, I started to type a message. Before I could send it, she replied.

Rb3581: My parents, you know that I've told them about you. And that you've told yours about me.
Rb3581: I've already met some other online friends...Tara, Rai, Deidre, etc.
Rb3581: Do you think that...maybe we could meet? I'm sure that my parents could drive me down to D.C., they wouldn't mind. There's a kosher restaurant there that they absolutely love, and I'm sure that my mother would want to meet you, too...
Rb3581: If it's okay with your parents and all that...

She had practically read my mind. I sat there for a moment reading as AOL chimed the instant message sound with every incoming comment. I turned down the speaker volume on the computer.

ChoirGrl27: That'd be really cool.
Cool? What an understatement!
ChoirGrl27: I'll talk to them about it, K?
Rb3581: K. :-)

During dinner that night, I told my parents about our idea. To my surprise, it was okay with them. The next day when I saw her online I told her where we were staying and when we would be there so she could plan with her parents. A couple of days later, the plans were set. I was going to meet Rebecca. I had never thought this would ever happen. As an added bonus, she asked if she could bring her "real life" friend, Sam – she'd told Sam about me and about our plans to meet, and Sam had wanted to come along. I had never talked to Sam before, but I said I'd be glad to meet her. From what Rebecca had told me about her, Sam sounded like an amicable person.

From then until the time I left for vacation, I looked at every instant message Rebecca and I had in a different light. Again, I realized that I was talking to an actual 13-year-old brown-haired girl in New Jersey. After a while, it's easy to fall into the trap not thinking about there being someone else behind the computer you're messaging to.

I called Rebecca on the phone the day before we left for Washington, D.C. We were both excited. She was coming with her parents a week after I arrived. I knew this, and could hardly wait during the six long days before her visit.

A little nervous, I used my calling card to call her on the phone two days before she was due to visit so that we could again go over our plans. I did this with the other two online friends I was meeting during my vacation, too. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love Oscar and Deidre (who also happen to be online friends of Rebecca) – but I was more excited to meet her than I was to meet the other two combined.

I remember the day that she came. I was sitting in the eating area of the first floor of the hotel, hardly able to eat any of the continental breakfast that my parents were enjoying. I kept looking from my plate to the TV to the hallway, anxious to see her. After the longest hour that I've ever spent in my life, I spotted two middle-aged adults and two teenage girls walk into the room, looking lost.

I had been already standing, poised to walk to the elevators so I could get to our hotel room. Sitting there in the hotel restaurant had been wearing my last nerve – I just had to move, to go somewhere, to try to spend a little of my pent-up energy. But when I saw this group of bewildered people, I stopped. I looked at the shorter, slightly chunky, brown-haired girl. There was something about her...

I crossed my fingers behind my back and hoped that these weren't the wrong people. If they were, I'd look like an idiot.


The short brunette turned to look at me – look up at me, actually, as I had a good six inches over her. She blinked from behind her glasses.


She dropped her suitcase and we shared the first hug that we had ever shared – after being very good friends for four years.

Her parents planned to stay the night in our hotel, which meant that Rebecca and I had two days together. Those two days were two of the most enjoyable days that I've ever had – I got to know Rebecca even better, and I got to know Sam for the first time.

Though our first half-hour together was sort of awkward, from then on we had incredible fun with each other. We watched Digimon, a favorite TV show for both of us, as Sam sat on the couch wondering how the two of us could enjoy that sort of thing. We did a lot of singing – Rebecca and Sam share my love for vocal music. However, the most enjoyable thing to do was to just sit there and talk with her. I almost could not believe that my friend of four years – Rb3581 – was there with me, in the flesh.

I almost cried when Rebecca and Sam left. I had never imagined that being together would be so enjoyable. With promises of telephone calls and Christmas presents via Fed-Ex, Rebecca, Sam, and Rebecca's parents left the hotel.

I have gone over this event countless times in my mind. I try to remember everything – the look on Rebecca's face when she first realized who I was, the way her voice sounded when she sang, what her smile looked like. She was so much shorter than I was – when we hugged I had to bend my knees so much that they almost started to cramp up.

The sad thing is that if I met her in "real life" instead of on the computer, I would have judged her based on her age. Online, there is no way to know physical properties of people. Even if someone sends a picture of himself or herself, it is just not like knowing the person in "real life."
Online, there is only one thing that you can judge people on: their mind. Personality, humor, and intellect are the only things that you can see. Rebecca is one of the most intellectual people I have ever known, and an incredible writer. More important than these, she is the best friend that I have ever had.

The last thing I thought about as the plane was leaving Washington, D.C. was meeting Rebecca. I was still thinking about it when we returned to California.

As I was unpacking, I glanced out of the window into the backyard.

Standing proud and tall was the apple tree that I had planted four years before. It was almost five feet tall, with a sturdy trunk, green leaves, and to my surprise...apples.

I went outside to examine the tree. It was perfectly healthy, sporting a few red apples. I picked them and put them in a bowl on the kitchen table.

Rebecca and I are still good friends. We talk on the telephone and online, and I keep in touch with Sam. Sometimes, when I see an instant message from Rebecca, I cannot help but remember.

The day I first instant messaged her, the idea that I would meet her or any other people I met online had never occurred to me. However, we did. Our friendship prevailed through four years – four years of e-mails, instant messages, telephone calls, and the time we actually met.

Ever since I met Rebecca, I have tried to keep a more open mind. She showed me that you can't judge people based on their age or physical appearance. What matters is their soul – who they really are on the inside.

I don't know if we will ever meet again. I've been planning to take a vacation to New Jersey after I turn 18 – Rebecca's mother says that there's always a bed for me in their house.

Until then, we have the phone. The Internet. And our friendship.

I met her in a chat room.