An Email About An Email

On creepy chain emails I got in the fourth grade, and starting to unpack what came with them.

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I have this really vivid memory of opening my email at the age of 8 and bursting into tears.

I had been in fourth grade for all of two months, and my friends and I had made proper emails for the first time under allegedly false birth dates. I had a Hotmail, like most of my classmates, as that granted us access to MSN Messenger. Later on, I made a Yahoo account once I forgot my Hotmail password and because our IT teacher insisted we get Yahoo emails to use the long-forgotten children’s educational webpage, Yahooligans.

I didn’t cry because of Yahooligans. I cried because I was scared. I can’t remember now who sent it to me, but I had received one of those forwarded email chains where it said “if you don’t forward this, you will die in X amount of days” or “if you don’t forward this, the dead girl that sent this email will show up under your bed.” I didn’t know what to do but cry. The email had a deadline. I had to forward it to five people in seven days, otherwise, the ghost of this dead email girl would crawl out from underneath my bed—an IKEA bed with three drawers underneath—and do God knows what to me. I actually don’t remember what the threat was. She could’ve murdered me, turned me into a ghost, or worse: turned me into a ghost trapped inside an email.

Obviously, these were simply hoaxes fueled by superstition, especially that of an impressionable child. After I got my crying out of the way, I mustered up the courage to tell my dad about my impending death deadline. He kindly let me forward it to five of his accounts, to which I replied: “But dad, I don’t want you to die five times!”

As I feared for my father’s life, he simply laughed. He told me these emails weren’t real. That there was no crazy killer was tracking down who was receiving this email and making sure they wished anyone who didn’t forward it a Very Die. Although he disuaded me then, there’s still very small part of my brain (perhaps not the part that’s always thinking about Oscar Isaac), that irrationally fears that the email could be cursed.

“But Ari,” you may begin, “that was years ago! How could your dumbass be so supersitious? So paranoid?”

Well, dear reader, I don’t have a good enough answer for you other than the fact that I’ve always been a little paranoid. For a while, sequestered in isolation, I forgot all about the dangers of the world because a deadly virus sits at the top of the food chain right now. I wasn’t thinking about looking over my shoulder on my commute home from work, or if what I was wearing would enthrall some creepy weirdo—I was thinking about how not to die. Staying inside’s been a pretty good tactic so far. But it got me thinking about dangers inside the house.

I used to be afraid of home invasions, a fear I forgot about until I saw John Mulaney and the Sack Lunch Bunch and watched all those kids get interviewed about their own fears. I used to think I was such a badass for being hypervigilant and Sam Puckett-prepared to beat any intruder’s ass with a sock full of butter.1 Procedural cop shows and parental supervision made me afraid of exploring the internet on my own, but of course, I did it anyway. Suddenly, a budding ‘fuck it!’ attitude brewed and living on my own stopped being scary. Doing it anyway is how I learned those emails were fake and not to be taken seriously. That’s “life”, right?

The real reason I want to bring up my irrational childhood fear of chain emails, is because I’ve become equally fascinated by those chain emails and my relationship to fear. Now that I’m sitting down and thinking about it, confronting my eight-year-old’s Courage the Cowardly Dog-like concerns about the internet, I find that there might be more to it than meets the eye.

Those emails were an art form in and of themselves. They still count as storytelling, technically. Someone took the time to sit down and craft copy about a dead girl who got run over and haunted her mother’s computer, threatening to murder anyone who didn’t get her story to as many people as possible. Someone put in blood, sweat, and tears to edit photos of the girl from The Exorcist on CorelDRAW and make it their own, ready to attach at the footer of their message. We may never know what their goals were when the first set out to craft this long lost internet tradition—be it hacking, extortion, more friends on Friendster—but we know that they worked hard on it. At least a little bit.

Those emails were playing on people’s morbid curiosities and the lack of actual understanding of how the internet really worked, and circulated amongst children and teens because that demographic are always looking for something to entertain themselves with (at least I was.) They prey on the hidden vulnerabilities of the email receiver. For me, personally, I was really afraid of death.

As I got older, the advent of 20-something Tumblr mutuals having a very concerning mental breakdown on the dashboard also triggered a similar discomfort. It reminded me that even if you could get all the information and access in the world, sometimes you were just helpless behind a screen. 8-year-old me felt helpless, and I knew they hated that feeling. Having your own life or someone else’s hypothetically in your hands was not a fun experience at all! How can something so trivial in hindsight actually scar so much of my brain tissue?

There’s this really sick piece on The Verge about the prevalence of chain emails, and that’s been the jumping off point for my exploration. I want to give some of my old email accounts a try and see if those messages still exist. There’s a Tumblr dedicated to pretty hilarious chain texts and posts warding off malicious chain posts. It’s all very fascinating. I hope to find more and keep you posted on my findings.

I guess what I’m trying to say with this long, meandering, non-anecdote about a spooky chain email I got forwarded was that there are still many, many things left for me to confront and talk about. What this has taught me, not that everything has to be a teaching moment, is that there’s been a lot of fear in my life that I’ve let become a force in my life both conciously and unconciously. I don’t want to live like that anymore. Of course, I’ll still be afraid of some shit. I’m only human. But I hope I can learn to push past them and keep going. That I can just bite the bullet and do whatever is the 23-year-old version of forwarding chain emails to my dad.

My latest fixation as per this newsletter’s title has been to revisit childhood, specifically my primary school days. My best friend sent me screengrabs of snacks we used to have in our school tuc shop, whilst another reminded me that we had bars on all our school’s windows like some demented prison. They both reminded me of an author that used to visit our school. He wrote this book called Mokee Joe, whose cover reminded me of yet another childhood irrational fear. They have so many vivid memories of that time, good and bad, whilst mine are all jumbled and obscure.

I’ve started listening to the small voice in my head that wants to preserve things. I want to keep a record of things. A record of that period of my life, a record of Kuwait in the mid-2000s, a record of every silly little fickle trend my friends and I were obsessed with—I want to immortalise them on paper. I want to immortalise them into words and worlds. I don’t want to hold on to the past, but I do want to honour it in ways only I know how to: write about them. Writing about them on my silly little blog is a start.

So, if an issue of Hyperfixate is a little Oscar Isaac-less, bear with me, we’re just incorporating some new shit into our regularly scheduled programming. My apologies in advanced.

In the words of Adam Driver Hive Treasurer, John Oliver, “And now, this”:

That’s all for this week! I’ve been absolutely swamped so next week might be a short and sweet one too. Thanks for sticking around!

1

It was not a butter sock, but I did stuff a sock with LEGOs and kept it by my bedside. I was a scuzzy little weirdo.