Jonah Lawrence ran up the stairs to his little closet of a bedroom with the speed of an Olympic sprinter, not pausing for air as he choked back his tears. He halted at his bedroom door to catch his breath, and with the boldness only a 16-year-old could possess, he slammed his wooden door with such force that the impact sent shock waves throughout the worn floorboards of the entire house. Jonah stared at his tattered beige bed spread in a daze of frustration, forcing himself to resist the impeccable urge to let his sorrows out in tears. How his father could make him feel completely worthless in a matter of seconds was amazing to him. He thought Jonah’s fascination with books was unhealthy. His constant pestering about “being a man” and “working with your hands” was like the annoying buzzing of a fly; the harder you try to get it to stop the more it bothers you.
Jonah sat down in his wooden chair by his timeworn desk and stared blankly at the ancient desktop resting upon it. In the reflection of the monitor he saw his dark blue eyes welling up with tears, and his unkempt blond hair sticking to his wet cheeks. He pressed the power button; his foot thumping with impatience and irritation as the computer began the slow process of rebooting. When the monitor turned on he frowned, as the screen was grey and fuzzy, typical of the old dinosaur, as he liked to call it. It began to clear out and the image on the screen startled him. A large room was shown – about four times the size of his own. The brightness of the vibrant blue walls and turquoise ceiling was over-stimulating to him. He felt himself growing angrier and angrier as his eyes explored the mysterious room. The fuzzy carpet lying on the floor screamed wealth, and the massive king-sized bed with a beautiful floral quilt mocked his beige, tattered bedspread. Two huge, floor-length windows opened up to a beautiful balcony where the sun came pouring in. A shred of guilt ate away at him – he knew how much his dad worked for what they had and regretted feeling envious of the bourgeois lifestyle shown before him. Suddenly, he heard a low meow. Startled, he looked around his room frantically searching for the source. When his eyes returned back to the elegant bedroom on his screen, a small black and orange calico cat was staring him blankly in the face.
The cat stared at him with a mischievous gleam in its eyes. Its whiskers pressed against the webcam. The slinky cat reminded him of his old black lab, J. Lo. Shocked, Jonah stared blankly at the motion picture he saw before him. The movement coming from the picture he believed to be stationary left him speechless.
“What the—” he exclaimed, but was rudely interrupted by the cat’s piercing meow.
“James, James Franco,” a high-pitched voice rang from his speaker. The sweet ring reminded him of the chiming of bells, her voice the total opposite to his low, husky growl. A young, jovial girl, who Jonah guessed to be about 16, entered his screen. Her brown hair swished as she approached her cat with utter adoration. She looked petite, probably about five foot five, and was very tan with sprinkles of freckles spread across her smiling cheeks.
Jonah flustered to find the power button on his monitor. A deep fuchsia spread across his burning face. What was he watching? His heart thumped furiously. What he had stumbled upon made him feel dirty, unclean. It felt wrong for him to watch a girl’s life; her private bedroom where he imagined she cried when she was sad, laughed when she felt giddy. It was 11:30, time for him to fall asleep before his father could find yet another reason to scold him. Sleep fell upon him like a pile of bricks, and his eyes collapsed as his head hit the pillow.
The irritating buzzing from Jonah’s alarm clock made him jump out of bed. It wasn’t the first time he had accidentally set his alarm for 6:30 on a Saturday. He looked outside the window to the grey, dreariness that often embodied Seattle’s skies. The huge stormy clouds seemed to be seconds from relieving themselves of their built up rain. Depressed, and worried about seeing his father when he left his room, he sat down to his old computer. Secretly hoping to see the mystical girl that had fallen into his life the day prior made him feel guilty, but he decided that worse than the guilt of spying on the girl was the ravage beast that awaited him downstairs.
The massive room remained on his monitor, intact as it had been before. Now an orange and black ball of fur lay in the center of the king-sized bed. James Franco’s disposition reminded him of that of a king’s. He watched as his royal highness strutted gallantly throughout the vast room. Jonah felt considerable relief peering into this girl’s life rather than facing the wrath of his own. She had so much stuff! Seeing her possessions and her happiness gave him a vacation from his own personal hell.
He shuddered as the familiar sound of yelling suddenly ruined the serene, picturesque life he had been watching. “You little slut! How could I have raised such a hussy?” The harsh words hurt him, knowing all too well the anger from which they were derived. It was amazing to him how such rage could transmit so well over the perplexing webcam from which their lives were intertwined. The yells and curses kept pouring in and Jonah wanted to shout, scream, anything to stop it all. Instead of envying the girl, he now realized he knew her life all too well. He recognized himself in her as he watched her holding back tears to the point where the resistance hurts to deny the body of such an innate function. Her mother slammed the door behind her and the girl’s tears unleashed. Gags, moans, weeps, and bursts of tears seemed to fill the sad room around him. He sat there trying extremely hard not to cry. He recalled all the times his father said to him even before the age of 10, “Crying isn’t for men. It shows weakness. Do you want to be weak?” All the repressed tears were brought back and gushed down his face as he watched the girl. They sat there, possibly hundreds of miles apart, solitary but also united.
His eyes eventually ran out of tears. He looked up and saw her glance directly at him. She quickly reverted back to picking at her cuticles, and he couldn’t be certain if she saw him or not. Her cheeks were red and puffy, sniffles now replacing her sad weeps. Jonah called to her, “Hello, hello? I’m so sorry I’ve been watching you, but I just wanted to know what it would be like to be — to be you! But now I know that I already am you in a way. I just —” He paused, for there was no response. She sat silently stroking James Franco’s long, fluffy fur. He tried yelling to her again,
“Hello, hello! Please answer me; I just want to talk to someone!” He pleaded with the girl, but his cries of damnation were of no use.
J. Lo. sauntered into his room and licked his arm tenderly. She always knew to come to him when he felt sad, her job becoming increasingly harder as he grew further and further away from his father. He put on a pathetic attempt at a smile to please the old girl and pet her matted fur over and over. He looked at the girl on the screen and back to himself, their lives looked so opposite, but felt completely the same.
Days went by and he watched as the conflict with the girl’s mother unraveled. She occasionally called her foul names and the girl would then choke back soft tears. He began noticing things about her – impossible things. He glanced down at the brown, blotchy birthmark on his left arm, and then to the identical array of freckles on the girl’s right arm. He noticed the dimple on her left cheek was the perfect mirror image to the crater on his right. Not able to believe his eyes, he left his room for the first time that day and went to his father’s room across the cramped, claustrophobic hall. “Dad, something really weird has happened to me. There’s this girl and I don’t —,” he said hesitantly, but was rudely interrupted.
“I–I–I don’t have no time to talk to you boy about all you’s girl troublings,” his father said, slurring his words together almost incomprehensibly. Jonah’s eyes wandered down to the nearly empty glass in his father’s hand; the smell of bourbon was sour in the air and seemed to devour the entirety of the room. Normally his father went away to drink. Jonah ran out of the toxic room and back to his computer. When he turned his computer back on he couldn’t believe his eyes. There scrawled in beautiful round cursive in place of the elegant room he expected to see was a note that read:
“I wish I was you…”
She wanted to be him? Jonah couldn’t believe what he had read. How could someone wish to endure all the pain he is consumed with every day? He shook his head and began to mutter to the screen, “You don’t know what you’re saying! Look at all your stuff; how could you possibly want to be me?”
She must be able to see him too, he thought. Jonah was unbelievably overjoyed that their strong connection wasn’t so one-sided anymore. Suddenly his stomach dropped and it dawned on him what that meant. He wondered if she had seen him in his darkest moments. Now all the times he sat in the dark of night, drowning in the bath of his own self-pity felt subject to her viewing. He felt himself getting angry, upset at the girl for possibly seeing him so weak and vulnerable. He felt naked, completely exposed. But was it any different than what he did to her, or all the times he saw her crying herself to sleep?
Jonah decided to try something. Without thinking, he slapped his right cheek hard enough that a great red welt formed in the place of his hand. The tingling remained long after the blow, but it felt more exciting than painful as he was finally doing something to solve this peculiar happenstance. He checked on the girl and to his surprise he saw the outstretched body of a cat. James Franco was sprawled out in front of the webcam, blocking his view. He heard a loud slap from her end, followed by a high whimper. A door slammed and the sound reverberated throughout Jonah’s room. The girl entered, grasping the side of her face. As her hands lowered he saw a red welt on her cheek. Somehow they were more connected than it would seem.
“Jonah, get down here! I want to straighten you out once and for all, you little bastard,” he heard his father call, still in a drunken stupor. Jonah opened his mouth to yell back, but nothing came out. In that one fleeting moment, he didn’t care about his deadbeat father’s opinion. All that mattered was his screen, and he was beginning to realize he liked it better that way.
James Franco burst into action, running swiftly to the girl’s aid. He circled around her feet caressing her legs with his long, fuzzy tail. His meows were more of a plea, begging her to smile, laugh, anything other than cry. Jonah couldn’t believe what he had done. More than the confusion of how his slap ended up on her face was the pain he felt for causing her so much agony. He spoke softly but clearly, hoping she would hear him this time. “I didn’t mean to, I swear! I’m so sorry. Please forgive me I never meant to hurt you!” His voice cracked in his urgent attempt to catch the girl’s attention. So frustrated with the whole situation and ashamed of what he had inadvertently done, he lay face down on his twin-sized bed and rocked himself to sleep.
The next day he went to school like any other morning. He laughed with his friends and put on the usual façade of happiness. He tried to push away any thoughts of the girl, but they were poking and prodding below the surface of consciousness. He wondered if she was attending school just as he was, or if she really existed at all outside his mind. He accepted the possibility of insanity.
That afternoon Jonah ran up to his room yet again with the speed of a gold medalist. He ran to his old computer, for the first time actually appreciating the old machine’s certain charm. About halfway through Spanish class he realized that somehow the girl on his screen was a gift, someone who knew exactly what he was going through. When the monitor turned on he saw that the girl was reading pleasantly, Pride and Prejudice. He yelled to her, “Can you hear me? Please just tell me your name!” She looked completely unfazed, but something was different about her usual sweet disposition. Her smile reminded him of the Mona Lisa, subtle, yet present.
Nonchalantly, she set her book down on her turquoise nightstand. The dimple on her left cheek deepened as her freckled cheeks tightened into a wide grin. She started pacing towards him, her stride getting faster as she strode along her massive bedroom. Suddenly she was staring intently in his eyes. She pointed to herself and in a hushed tone she whispered, “Joanna”. She began to raise her hand towards the camera. As her delicate, shaking hand rose, he raised his strong, muscular fingers to meet hers. Both of their hands shook uncontrollably, but grins spread across both of their faces. As their fingertips met, the virtual touch sent shivers down his already tingling spine. He slowly removed his palm from the monitor, and the screen went completely black.