A Welcomed Uh-Oh

By Beth Pugh

It was late on a Friday night the night I met my Ryan. At nineteen, I should have been painting the town red, but I was in no shape to mingle that night. The anniversary of my mother’s death was just weeks away and sleep, no matter how sought after, would not grace me with its presence. Refusing to simply lie and wait for it, I ventured to the computer room to kill some time. After a few clicks, a loading screen, and a search bar, a list appeared before my eyes. I waved goodbye to the loneliness of my insomnia as I picked a name and typed, “Hey.”

Moments later, an “uh-oh” echoed in my room.

This sound associated with the insanely popular chatting system of the 2000s, ICQ, had become a welcomed visitor in my home. In my adolescent years, it was my lifeline to a social life. I was never the social butterfly at school. In fact, I was just the opposite. I was quiet, smart, and the weird girl who loved poetry. Online I was more than that, though. Each day after school, I retreated to my computer chair and listened for the high pitched uh-oh to sound, the welcome signal someone wanted to talk.

After my mother passed away, it was this same chair that held me nearly nightly as ICQ transformed from my lifeline to society to my last hope against depression. My life collapsed inward, making a lighthearted lunch with family too heavy to sit through without feeling the urge to run to the restroom and cry. My nights were equally as difficult. When my grief refused to let me sleep, I returned to the familiar “uh-oh” of better days in search of some sort of peace, or at least a way to lessen the sting of sadness until the morning.

I messaged my friends first. They were quick to lend a sympathetic ear and a virtual shoulder to cry on when need be. But they had lives of their own. Most were away at college. While I was at home praying for sleep, they were burning the midnight oil studying or having fun with the newfound freedom of dorm life.

In desperation, I messaged random strangers. It didn’t take me long to realize strangers were easier to talk to than those who knew me best. Not knowing me meant no emotional attachment to the situation. I could cause them no pain by reminiscing my mother’s life and they could speak the truth to me when family and loved ones were too afraid. It was a win-win.

At the sound of the uh-oh, I turned to face the screen to see a matching “hey” starring back at me. The stranger of the night was Ryan and he worked at a local college in the IT Department. I learned this early in our conversation. Pretending to be a confident woman behind the keyboard instead of the crushed little girl I felt like, I flirted freely.

“Now I know who to call when I have computer trouble.”

I wondered if I had been too bold. I would’ve never been able to say that within minutes of meeting someone in real life. But I was drunk on ICQ courage and high on loneliness. If Ryan stopped talking to me, there were other names I could click on. No harm done.

Another uh-oh sounded.

“You have to have my number first.”

I smiled as I read the sentence in the chat box to myself. I had called strangers before so it wasn’t too terrifying. Still my heart raced a little as I dialed his number. An “into the wee hours of the morning” phone call followed not long after. To my surprise, our conversation continued every evening after work or school, as well on the computer screen every chance we could.

It didn’t take me long to realize Ryan was heaven-sent. He was kind and sensitive, but quick-witted and smart just the same. He jumped at an opportunity to laugh at my expense and poking fun at me was his favorite past time. Unlike my family and close friends who handled me with kid gloves, worried saying the wrong thing might evoke my tears, he spoke freely, even about my mother. His boldness was refreshing, and made falling for him easy.

After a month of talking, we finally decided to meet face-to-face. This was a normal next step, of course, and I knew that. Still, my nerves were shot the night of our first date. I had never been on a blind date. Talking to a stranger online was one thing. Meeting a stranger for dinner was something entirely different.

I straightened my hair, put on my makeup as carefully as I could, and headed out to meet the stranger from a month ago – the stranger who was no longer a stranger at all. The stranger I was falling for. As I drove, I wondered if I was ready for this. Would my weirdness scare him away? Would I clam up and revert to the quiet girl? Would I be the broken daughter still reeling from losing her mother? Or would I be the fun-loving, excited but nervous, eager woman who couldn’t wait to meet him?

I’m happy to say I was the later. In fact, I was so nervous I talked from the time we met at the college parking lot until we were seated at the restaurant. There was no way he could see me as quiet. I wasn’t sad, either. He made it impossible for me to be anything but happy. I laughed more than I ate and blushed when he called me beautiful. He then proceeded to make fun of me for it, which made my cheeks grow all the more red.

After dinner, we drove to the airport for some stargazing. I spread out a blanket on the nearly frozen ground and we lay there, side by side, smiling together in the dark. Our teeth clanked together as we talked and stared at the most magnificent night sky either of us had ever seen. We laughed through the chattering until we physically couldn’t withstand the cold any longer. It was like a page out of a Nicholas Sparks novel.

On the phone that night Ryan said it was a night he’d tell his grandchildren about making the hopeless romantic inside me squeal with delight. Ten years later, it’s still my favorite date we’ve ever been on. In fact, I tease him and tell him he ruined himself by making our first date so magical he’ll never be able to top it.

I didn’t know it then, but this stranger turned first date would become my biggest fan, my toughest critic, and the husband I’d always wanted. While there are no grandchildren in the near future, our son will turn four this summer. It won’t be long before he can make good on his promise.

We have ICQ to thank for that.

About this writer

  • Beth Pugh

    Beth Pugh

    Beth Pugh is a wife, mother and daughter striving to live a life of contentment, like baby bear soup. She hopes telling her stories help others to do the same.

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One Response to “A Welcomed Uh-Oh”

  1. Linda O'Connell says:

    Beth, what a delightful story, so romantic and sweet. I am not familiar with ICQ.

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