Spring 2019

Social World

Andrew Vetsch



            “So, are we good to start tonight’s live-streaming, Alex?”

            “Uhh, hold on a minute.”

            Alex looked down at his phone, the brightness of it straining his eyes. Anxiety penetrated his mind as the “DELETE PROFILE” button loomed with its large, red-font letters encircled by a box with round edges. His thumb hovered above the phone.

            As he contemplated his decision, Emily hearkened back into his mind. Emily, the girl of his dreams, the one that taunted him for caring more about the Internet.

            It wasn’t like it’d be the end of his life if he deleted his Social World profile. He’d still have his roommate. He’d still have his favorite college professor, Mr. Coulson, to chat with about books. He’d still have Emily. He’d still have his life. With an increase of confidence, he pressed his thumb on “YES”.

            A circle appeared with a missing outline that spun around. The words “DELETING PROFILE” appeared below. Finally, a notification appeared saying “YOUR PROFILE HAS BEEN DELETED”.

            Assured he did the right thing, Alex placed his phone beside the sink. He turned on the faucet, washed his toothbrush, and started brushing his teeth.

            “We start live-streaming at 8 P.M. tonight,” Alex muffled through the toothpaste foaming across his tongue. “If I remember, tonight’s game is League of Legends, right?”

            Silence.

            He spat the toothpaste into the sink. He looked up in the mirror’s reflection and noticed how Jack stared at him in confusion.

            “It’s League of Legends, right?”

            Jack remained silent, still looking confused.

            “Is something the matter, Jack?” Alex turned to face Jack, who raised his left arm and pointed at him.

            “Who are you?” Jack asked.

            Alex was caught off-guard. Did he really just ask who I was? Is this some kind of joke? “Jack,” he said wearily, “c’mon. I’m Alex. Alex Staton. Your roommate. Your Twitch partner.”

            “No, you’re not,” Jack replied.

            Whatever Jack was playing at, it creeped Alex out.

            “Jack, why are you acting like this?”

            “No, seriously,” Jack continued, “I have no idea who you are.”

            “C’mon, Jack. Do you need proof? Do I need to show you I live here?”

            Jack nodded.

            Annoyed, Alex walked to the front door and opened it. He looked up and did not find his name written on the purple-colored, fish-shaped name-tags resident leaders taped to the front of dorm rooms. It bugged Alex that they used a fish instead of a simple piece of paper. Like, why fish? And why was it not there?

            Maybe it fell off. Maybe Alex took it down and had a false memory of it still there.

            Jack still looked dumbfounded, like it had just been proven Alex had really lost his mind.

            “Uh,” Jack said, “I need to get ready for class. I’ll–maybe–I’ll work this out with Residence Life.” Jack rushed to his room.

            Alex glared at Jack as he shut his door behind him. What is this, some kind of conspiracy? One minute we start talking about live-streaming, then he just pretends he doesn’t know me? What is going on?

            Enraged, Alex headed to his own room.

            Writing in Literature was the first class of the day, and it was Alex’s favorite class! A quick chat with Professor Coulson about the conflicting philosophies between Willy Loman and his son, Happy Loman, would instantly let him brush off the roommate dilemma.

It wasn’t going to be like this for the rest of the day, right?


            “Excuse me, do I know you?” Professor Coulson looked at Alex, baffled.

            “Professor Coulson, it’s me, Alex Staton,” Alex assured Professor Coulson.

            “I’m sorry, but I think you have the wrong room. Do you want me to take a look at your schedule? I can show you where you are supposed to be.”

            Alex, in confusion, plopped his backpack on the ground. He pulled out his binder and swung it open. He pulled out his schedule and shoved it towards his professor. What you are doing? This is not funny.

            Professor Coulson took his schedule and examined it. His class indeed had been listed for Mondays and Wednesdays from 11 A.M. to 2 P.M. He looked back at Alex.

            “There’s got to be some misunderstanding. We are two months into the semester, and I do not recall ever seeing you in here.”

            “Professor Coulson, you have been teaching at this school for twenty years. Your favorite genres are horror, specifically satire about our deepest fears of the unknown. You have a dog named Buck, three daughters, and you went with your family on a cruise in the Caribbean for Christmas.”

            Professor Coulson looked at Alex, amiss.

            “I have shared some of my favorites books with my students, but I have never shared that I went on a cruise with my family on winter break. Tell me, what was your name again?”

            “Alex Staton!”

            “Well, Alex. I’m going to make a call to Student Account Services. I think they will shed some light on this.” He reached for his phone in his pocket.

            Alex glanced at Coulson’s computer which he did not realize, until now, was opened to Coulson’s Social World account.

            That’s when Alex began to wonder.

            “You know what? Don’t bother. I’ll go to Student Account Services myself. They’ll prove that I go here, and that I am a student of this school paid for by my parents and my scholarship. Then we can put an end to this—this—conspiracy,” Alex said as he put his binder back inside his backpack. He swung it onto his back and headed out into the hallway.

            Is it just me, Alex thought, or is it really hot in here? The building Professor Coulson held his class in was very old and built before air-conditioning had been invented. The lack of air, along with the sunlight beaming through the windows into the hallway generally made students sweat through their clothes, but Alex felt the sweat rain down his back.


            No.

            This had to be some elaborate conspiracy.

            Nobody just gathered together to pull an elaborate prank on just one person. It wasn’t like he did anything wrong. Did he?

            Wait, if Jack was involved—and Professor Coulson——could Emily—No. It couldn’t be. Not his girlfriend. Sure, they’d had their differences, but she would’ve never, EVER gone as far as pretending he never existed. It wasn’t like her. But was she in on it?

            Better safe than sorry. Alex pulled out his phone, pressed “FAVORITES” and then “EMILY” with his thumb. Thirty-four seconds passed—a few moments from going to voicemail—when Alex heard the phone switch from a dial tone to a swath of air and then a voice that muttered, “H-hello.”

            “Emily, it’s me. Alex Staton.”

            Silence.

            “Alex Staton. Your—” Should I say it? Will she freak? “—boyfriend. The one you met on Social World.”

            More silence.

            “This is not a robocall, Emily. It’s me. Alex. You know me, right?”

            A few more seconds passed before Alex heard Emily’s soothing voice pierce directly into his heart, “I don’t know anyone named Alex Staton.”

            Tension swelled in Alex’s chest. His heart skipped beats as he swallowed whatever air he could breathe in.

            “Yes, you do,” he nearly screamed. He started talking in a fast-pace, his mouth rushing out words by the second. “We met on Social World just three months ago. We’re friends on there—well, used to be since I deleted my account a couple hours ago because you threatened to end our relationship because I was spending so much time there instead of with you, which I see why now. I know I should have spent more time in the real world because that is what makes people realize you’re a person that exists instead of some random person on the Internet that says every literal thing on his mind—” What am I even saying now? “—because if you spend too much time on the Internet, you’re just letting life go by without ever giving it a chance.” Alex stopped talking. He felt that he’d said too much. He felt the need to take a long drink of cold water; his throat swelled with thirst. Was it really the heat that made him stressed?

            A long period of silence ensued.

            Should I start telling her how much I know about her? Like I did with Professor Coulson? No, wait. Maybe she’ll frea–

            “Look, I’m sorry to tell you this, but I think you have the wrong number. I do not know anyone named Alex Staton. I just pulled up my Social World profile, and I do not see you on my friends’ feed. If you were my friend—” Alex could sense the hesitation in Emily calling him her boyfriend “—I would remember you by something. Something we did together. But I don’t. I think you have the wrong number, and I also think you need to consider seeing a therapist, because you seemed kinda freaked when you told me all this. Uh—I’m sorry. I’m in the middle of class. Don’t call me again. Okay?” No, wait! “Bye.” Emily hung up.

            Alex looked at his phone, at Emily’s name, her phone number, and the contact photo of her smiling as she walked through the local woods. She loved traveling with her little sister ever since they were little kids.

            Should I call her again? Alex’s thumb hovered an inch above her Emily’s blue-font phone number. No, I shouldn’t. He couldn’t scare her.

            His heartbeat slowed. The stress numbed him. Alex’s right hand held his phone by his fingertips.

            The sunlight covered the hallway in bright rays of warmth that added to the stress coursing through Alex’s body.

            At this point, Alex realized there was no conspiracy. Everyone really had forgotten who Alex Staton was in their lives. Their memories of him had been deleted. They would never realize Alex played a role in their lives. He didn’t exist anymore. His dorm door didn’t have his name on a fish taped to the top.

            “What can I help you with today, sir?” the desk person—Ms. Forrester—asked after placing her phone down.

            “I just need proof that I go here,” Alex nearly mumbled.

            “Proof for what exactly?” Ms. Forrester asked.

            “Just—anything. Anything that proves I’m a student here.”

            “What’s your name?”

            “Alex Staton.”

            “Okay. Give me a moment and let me check for you.” Ms. Forrester faced her computer and tapped her fingers all over the keyboard. After what felt like an eternity to Alex, Ms. Forrester motioned her chair to face him and announced, “I’m sorry, I’m can’t seem to find you anywhere.”

            Disappointment pervaded through Alex’s body. “Can you get someone else, please?”

            “Ok, I’ll try. I can’t promise you anything.” Ms. Forrester pushed her chair back from her desk and walked to get help.

            Alex sat in his chair, still and unmoving. The clock ticked loudly as the seconds went by beat by beat. At this point, Alex could only expect that Ms. Forrester would come back and say they did not find anything that proved he was a student. Then, they’d notify security to take him away. They’d ask him questions about how he got there and where he came from. They’d ask about his parents.

            His parents. What about his parents?

            Alex pressed his finger on his mother’s name under “FAVORITES” and pressed on her phone number. Wait. Could he handle it? Could he handle being forgotten by his own mother? Dwelling on this, he pressed on a button to end the call. Alex then turned off his phone, because he did not want to answer. Wait. If I’m not in the database, could that mean–

            Ms. Forrester came back with Mr. Garrison. Mr. Garrison waved Alex to come into his office. Alex plopped himself into a chair as Mr. Garrison shut the door and sat himself in front of Alex. “Now, Ms. Forrester tells me that you go here, is that correct?” he said.

            “Yes,” Alex said exhausted.

            “And you need something that proves that you go here—why?”

            “Because no one remembers me. My roommate, my English teacher, E—” he could not bring himself to say Emily “—Evelyn, my friend. No one remembers me. I was in Mr. Coulson’s class, and he tells me he’s never seen me before. And neither does my roommate. And I’ve been going here for six months!”

            “I see your problem, Alex. I checked for you in our Social World database, and we never seemed to find you. I searched all over and I never—”

            “Wait, wait, wait. What did you say?” Alex said.

            “About how I never found you in our records?”

            “No, the other thing. The thing about Social World. Yeah, why are all of your records in Social World?”

            “Well, we were running out of space for student and alumni records. Plus, our computer databases were getting old and unreliable. So, the school board voted to place all our documents onto the Social World drive; it made things more manageable for us.”

            Alex’s mind got fuzzy. Anger swelled inside him. “Why would you do that?!”

            “It wasn’t me who made the decision. It was the school board. The school board agreed it made searching and managing our records easier. And it has. At least, from my experience.”

            Alex thrust himself out of his chair and stormed out the room. He noticed Ms. Forrester looking at him confused as he stormed into the hallway.


            An R.A. stood by the door to Alex’s room.

            “What?!” Alex said. What do you want?!

            “I got a call from Mr. Garrison. He said there’s a student that’s says he goes here even though there is no indication he is a student.”

            “I am a student!”

            “Well, I would like you to come down to the office with me. We can sort this thing out.”

            “Hold on just a minute.” Alex went inside his room. He gathered all the binders that littered the floor.

            “Uh, you can’t be in here if you’re not a student,” the R.A. called.

            “Just a minute.”

            Alex opened the binders that were for his English, geometry, and history classes. All his notes from other classes were stacked on top of each other with no organization, but Alex could not have been happier to see Mr. Burkowski’s red pen mark all over his wrong answer. If someone told Alex the day would come when he would chuckle when he saw a big red “C-” at the top of his math classwork, he would have scoffed.

            This will show them. It’s all over. Alex stepped out of his room to the R.A. “Look,” Alex handed the R.A. his paperwork.

           
            The R.A. scanned it. “What is this?” he asked.

            “It’s my math work. Mr. Burkowski’s geometry class,” Alex smiled.

            “This is your math work?”

            “Yes.” Did he hear what I just sai–Is he deaf?!

            The R.A. gave it a long look, then turned his head to make eye contact with Alex.

            “It’s blank.”

            “What?”

            “There’s nothing on it.”

            Alex snatched the homework sheet out of the R.A.’s hand.

            The homework had nothing written on it. The writing on the notes were not there. Mr. Burkowski’s red markings disappeared. Only the wrinkles that laid across his paper remained.

            “I-I-I don’t understand. They were all here. The work, the red markings…”

            “I think it would be best if you came down to the R.A. office with me,” the R.A. said. But the R.A.’s words did not get across Alex’s mind. It was there—all there. Everything–gone. Gone.

            “Can you hear me? I said—”

            Alex rushed out the door.

            His mind was perplexed by the day’s events. When he deleted his Social World account, had he erased his identity? Had he erased his existence? Since he no longer existed on the Internet anymore, did that mean he longer existed in real life? Or did he exist at all in the first place?

            Nononono. This all has to be a—I exist—dream.

            Alex stepped outside. He looked around and saw students walking around, heading to their classes, to lunch, to meet their friends, to do their homework. For them, it was just another day of classes and schoolwork. None of them would ever realize that Alex was no longer a part of their world. Alex was now just a forgotten figment of their imagination. No one would remember Alex. No one would forget him either.

            Maybe—maybe. Maybe if I should just fade—fade out. It’s not like anyone would miss him. Not Jack. Not Professor Coulson. Not Emily.

            Emily.

            “Hey, wait up.” Alex looked behind him. The R.A. stood panting. “I want you to come with me. We can sort this thing out.”

            No. They wouldn’t find anything. I would get sent away. To my family—who probably do not think I exist anymore. I should go with him, anyway. It’s not like I have anywhere else to go.But where would I end up going? Where would I—

            “C’mon. We can work something out.” The R.A. reached out to Alex and waved him forward, assuring that he did not mean any harm.

            Nowhere to go. Nowhere to go. No one will listen. No one will believe me.

            Alex gazed at the R.A. in perplexity.



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