I met “Koji” on a 2D sidescrolling MMORPG called Maplestory back in ~2008. I was in 7th grade, going into 8th. Looking back, that summer was a very special sweet spot, the exact point of diminishing returns between freedom and responsibility after which the demands on my time would only increase. The following summers would either be taken up by work or poisoned by a deeply troubling undercurrent of shame at my lack of productivity. But this summer marked the first time I had enough interiority for my free time to feel interesting and perhaps the last time it would be socially acceptable, if not celebrated, to vegetate around the house for multiple days doing nothing but melt in the heat.
Being only 13 at the time, I failed to see this chunk of time for what it was. In fact, I mostly resented having nothing to do but sit in front of my family’s computer eating Hot Pockets and El Monterrey Taquitos and trying to get my archer to level 30. So when I met “Koji” on a boat traveling between Maplestory continents one summer afternoon, I was more thrilled than perhaps was appropriate. Sure, I was still just playing a video game alone in the nook off my parents’ living room, but communicating with someone else immediately galvanized it for me. I’ve always had this thing where I never felt like I was really Doing Anything, almost like I didn’t exist, unless someone was interacting with me. Talking to “Koji” made my solitude feel less pathetic and more purposeful, like I was having some sort of measurable net effect on the world around me. We hit it off, he added me to his guild, and suddenly I had what felt like a decent approximation of a Group of Friends.
Of course it wasn’t long before I made him my boyfriend. Looking back, I’m not even really sure what made us originally start talking or what we even talked about. I do remember that we both listened to The Shins, which may have been the only actual interest outside of Maplestory that we shared. I used to send him poems that I wrote, and he pretended to understand what I meant, and we both pretended that either one of us knew anything about poetry. I found that even that mostly-shallow sort of interaction made me feel less alone than most people I knew in meatspace. Besides, he apparently lived outside of Pittsburgh, and the fact that he lived in the same state as me made him seem more real somehow.
Once, he messaged me to let me know he’d written a poem about me on a Taco Bell napkin and typed it up for me in the in-game chat. For years, I had it memorized and kept it close to me because for years, it was the most romantic thing anyone had ever done in my honor. In 2018, I have it scrawled in the front cover of an old diary from middle school that I pull out from time to time just to laugh at it, because it is fucking hilarious:
Just wishful thinking
The girl whose mere grunts form poems
That’s cereal, hunny¹
For every word that spills from her lips
My heart fills like a pool
At the bottom of a waterfall
The other guys in the guild were cool as well, though they never meant as much to me as “Koji” did, and we didn’t really keep in touch. They were all roughly 16-20 years old, including “Koji,” and I spent most of my time trying to throw off the scent of someone significantly younger and more innocent than they were. Even “Koji,” who was 16 at the time, thought I was at least in high school, and as a result, I was privy to a lot of stories he and the guild guys would have (hopefully) been uncomfortable telling a naïve middle schooler. For instance, one of the older guys told me about the time an old girlfriend’s parents once caught him fucking her mid-orgasm in her house and then proceeded to lie to them that his visible ejaculation stains were actually him “pissing himself from fear².” In exchange, I told him the story of the time a part of my bathing suit came loose and I had a minor wardrobe malfunction on Assateague Beach. He then proceeded to let me know there were probably “a lot of boners” on the beach that day, a statement that flattered my underage, mosquito-bite tits off back in 2008 and now sends me cringing into a singularity.
I took all of this as a sign that I was becoming One of the Guys, that I was making some real impression on “Koji” and his friends. I started to imagine a real future together, both of us meeting in the middle of Pennsylvania and falling in love in real life and somehow inviting all of our Guild Friends to the wedding. It was, at the time, the closest approximation of Deep Love I could muster.
And then he went on vacation.
It would only be for a week, he explained, and he would be back online as soon as he got home, but none of that mattered to me. I was already crushed, already abandoned. My unexpectedly soul-filling summer was screeching to a halt before my eyes, and I didn’t even bother trying to hide my devastation. We may have only been in an Internet Relationship, but “Koji” knew me well enough to reassure me using metaphor.
“Pretend it’s the gold rush,” he said, “and I’m heading out west to go make us some money. But pretend when I get back, it’ll be even better than gold. It’ll be diamonds.”
Diamonds. Diamonds. I held onto his words for the next few days, willing myself to remain optimistic in light of my sudden loneliness. I believed he meant it, that things would be even better than expected when he did eventually return. But without someone to talk to every day, a person to revolve my life around, I was quickly sucked back into myself, restless and paranoid. What if he didn’t come back? What was he doing right now? Was he thinking about me? When would we be together? A few days turned into a week, a week into two, and when he still hadn’t returned as promised, I spiraled even deeper.
For a few more weeks, I tried to resume my typical Maplestory activities. They weren’t nearly as exciting without “Koji” to share them with, but they were the closest thing I had to a routine. I felt like a widow. I didn’t know how else to fill my day. With no way of contacting him outside of the game, all I could do was open up our chat window every few hours, searching for some sign he’d logged on, at least for a minute or two. I’d reached the point where I didn’t even care if he talked to me again. I just wanted stimulus, input, some sign that he was still generally himself or even still existed. I asked the Guild Guys about him, but they didn’t know him any better than I did and eventually got tired of my questioning. With no other leads, I resorted to Googling his Maplestory username, with surprisingly revelatory results.
First of all, I noticed that, in addition to the PinnPointt account I had come to know and have weird cartoon lust for, there were a variety of other “PinPoint” accounts, with a variety of distributions of n’s and t’s, presumably also operated by “Koji.” The Maplestory website had a listing of all of the players and their stats, and it seemed as though these other iterations had been abandoned at lower levels, leading me to wonder what had led “Koji” to keep creating new accounts. I also noticed that he had not stopped at PinnPointt, as there appeared to be usernames with even more n’s and t’s (PinnnPointtt, etc.) that had also been abandoned at early levels. This suggested that at some point. “Koji” had toyed with creating a new version of his Maplestory persona and then regressed back to the one he’d used to meet me. I couldn’t help but wonder if I was the reason for his attachment.
Second of all, “Koji” had a YouTube account that I was able to locate using the names of one of his many failed PinPoint experiments. The channel mostly featured videos of Maplestory Gameplay, but there were also a few shoddy recordings of him and presumably his younger brother doing weird outdoorsy things, like blowing up and destroying things in their backyard. Sitting in the nook off the living room late at night, cicadas screeching through the windows, I sat in a frog-squat on the computer chair, mining each one for small details about “Koji” and his life. He had a younger brother, who seemed to be around my age (the irony). Wherever he lived, his family seemed to have a lot of land. And he was chillingly boyish, judging by his interest in doing recklessly destructive experiments in his parents’ backyard. Strangely, the revelation of his appearance was low on the list of my concerns. I remember thinking he was normal-looking. Not the sort of stereotypical Pained Expression Emo Boy I would have had a crush on in those days, but not prohibitively nerdy or weird-looking the way I’d secretly feared he would be. These details both galvanized my ideas about “Koji” and alienated me from them. The more I came to discover about him, the more I missed him. And yet, it became increasingly clearer that we knew relatively little about each other, and I began to feel silly for pinning so many of my hopes to him – both for the summer and for much further in the future than I would like to admit.
It took me around two months – practically the rest of the summer – to accept that “Koji” probably wasn’t coming back. And by “accept,” I mean acknowledge his absence and then use the heartache as fuel for this ultra-horrible poem:
Where are you?
Don’t you miss me?
Didn’t you say I was your everything?
I thought we could do anything.
So why didn’t you say goodbye?
I waited, I really did.
But I can’t wait like this forever.
I need you now,
Not this summer.
Not a few months from now.
You said we were on a carriage ride out west.
That this was a bump in the road.
That at the end, there wouldn’t be gold.
There would be diamonds.
But all I see is that stupid poem you wrote me.
I’m sick of seeing it every time I open my notebook to write.
It’s not good enough anymore.
Come find me.
Please, just come find me.
The title of this poem is “Stepping on a Pinn,” and I decided to include it in a note instead of in the body of the essay itself because I feel like both the poem and its ridiculous, emotionally tone-deaf pun title deserved their own comedic moment. Sorry for the interruption. Go on.
Despite all of the angst it entailed, I don’t remember exactly how long his absence lasted, only that at some point during my eighth-grade year he reappeared and explained that he had contracted Lyme disease on a family trip to Presque Isle³ and then fell out of the routine of playing. I showed him my shitty poem, and he apologized for worrying me. He also gave me his AIM screenname so we could continue to keep in touch regardless of our commitment to the game. Around this time, he also informed me that “Koji” wasn’t his real name (hence the quotes), and that he used it in-game to seem more interesting and skilled as a player. I won’t share his real first and last name here, even though they are extremely generic, because I’m already toeing the line as it is, and this guy and I still interact once a year on Instagram. In some ways, I finally got what I had always wanted – some information that placed “Koji” outside the context of Maplestory, something that gave me more access to him, almost like someone I knew in real life. But things were never the same between us as they were that summer. We kept in touch, but he wasn’t as crazy about me as he’d been before, and I was busy with school. I largely stopped playing Maplestory and focused much of my internet time on trying to nurse my extremely tumultuous and pathetic relationship with a real-life crush.
Then at some point, he interrupted a conversation to let me know he had met a girl at his school and that he wanted to ask her out. Whatever still remained between us was done. I said something like yeah, me too, haha. Even though that wasn’t remotely true and nobody was going to date me let alone be genuinely interested in me for at least another year. For a while, we still talked. Then, we talked once in a while. Then, we didn’t talk at all.
I stopped using AIM in the beginning of high school, when I finally got a Facebook account and migrated most of my communication to Messenger. As a result, I lost touch with “Koji” for around five years, until I randomly decided to add him on Facebook one summer between college semesters. To my surprise, he accepted my request, and we caught up over the course of a couple days. Unlike me, he’d opted not to go to college and found himself a pretty well-paying job as a programmer, only for that to fall through a year or two later. At the time, he was working as a toll booth operator until he could find something else to do. That’s the most we’ve talked since I was in middle school. We’re mutuals on Instagram and I think about six months ago he told me one of my outfits (camo shirt, orange jacket, combat boots) looked nice.
Sometimes he’ll DM or Snapchat me a video of himself listening to the all-to-familiar Maplestory soundtrack, panning over to the grin on his face. And in those moments, it feels like we’re sharing something special – certainly generationally unique, but also unique to us. An acute nostalgia over something that’s both universal and completely obscure. A connection so small and so fleeting it almost aches, like we’re touching hands through a thick pane of glass.
¹ To be fair, I think this was an inside joke of ours, though I don’t remember the context, which I’m sure was also stupid.
² This story has haunted me for my entire life. When I first heard this back in 2008, I thought it would eventually make more sense to me, like maybe after I’d acquired some Sex Knowledge I would understand what happened here and/or how the fuck it was even possible. But it is the year of our Lord 2018 and this story still makes absolutely no sense to me, and after typing it out for the purpose of this memoir I am utterly convinced it didn’t happen and that the guy who told it to me was also an underage catfish virgin. First of all, I don’t really understand how “ejaculation stains” (?) could reasonably pass off as that or why someone’s parents would point them out in the first place. Secondly, assuming this is even true and these “ejaculation stains” (??!!?!?) were a thing he would have to lie to them about, why would telling them he was pissing himself out of fear be even remotely better than just owning up to what happened? I’m writing this at 12:53 AM and I am about 2.4 unanswered questions away from producing a full-scale, straight-to-Netflix investigative documentary on this. As the years continue to pass and this story continues to remain a nagging enigma to me, I’m increasingly worried that my final thoughts as my soul leaves my body will be about this fucking weird Maplestory Cum Anecdote and I don’t know how to cope with this creeping inevitability, tbh.
³ Later, and without any significant recollection of my whirlwind 7th grade internet romance, I would later attend college in Erie, PA, where my friends and I would frequently drive out to Presque Isle to grill hot dogs or walk on the frozen lake in winter. Given my many years in the Erie/Pittsburgh part of the state, I’m sure that “Koji” and I have visited many of the same places at different times, but it specifically warms my heart to know we have both been to Presque Isle and put our feet in the same water. Not because we’re still close, or anything, but because it reminds me that Internet People exist on the same plane I do, even if we never encounter each other on it.
Kat Giordano is a poet (1%) and massive millennial crybaby (99%) from Pennsylvania. She co-edits Philosophical Idiot and works for a law firm somehow. She is also the author of many highly embarrassing social media meltdowns at @giordkat. Her poems have appeared in Occulum, Ghost City Review, Awkward Mermaid, The Cincinnati Review, CLASH Magazine, and others. Her debut full-length poetry collection, The Poet Confronts Bukowski’s Ghost (https://www.amazon.com/dp/1732292205/), is available now.