Linh and I met in 2008. She was from a very small town in Washington with a population of less than five hundred. I was working my way through college as an event bartender in Portland. Linh’s cousin was getting married in Portland, and as fate would have it, the wedding reception was held at an upscale hotel on the Columbia River where I frequently tended to small wine and beer bars. I noticed her immediately, as I often notice women that I quickly convince myself are too beautiful to ever date someone like me. Eventually as the night went on, she made her way over to my bar and ordered a white wine. We talked for a while about Portland. I sweated profusely as I tend to do around girls like her. She would be spending the next two days in the city, and I took a few moments telling her about the most interesting sights to see and things to do in town.
“Wow, you should just be my personal tour guide” she said, grabbing my arm and smiling. This happened to me so infrequently that I really had no idea how to react, so I just mumbled “Sure, what time?” and laughed nervously to hedge in the event that she was joking. “How about 10:30 tomorrow morning” she replied.
And so started my relationship with Linh. She was infectious, with a personality that was so innocent and warm. I immediately fell in love with her. There were a few issues that we would have to work through. She was still in Washington and I was finishing school in Oregon. Linh was Vietnamese with a very traditional father who would never approve of her having a white boyfriend. She lived alone in a house with her father as her mother had passed away several years earlier, so going to Yarrow Point to visit her was out of the question. She would come to see me every three weeks under the guise of a prestigious internship program.
Being in a long distance relationship, we spoke on the phone and texted constantly. When high speed internet finally came to her small town in Washington, I surprised her with a webcam for her computer so we could have an even better means of long distance communication. In the back of my mind, I was always looking for ways to be with her as even after two years of dating I was paranoid a girl as beautiful as her would eventually find somebody better to share her life with.
In 2010, Linh’s father passed away suddenly in his sleep from a heart attack. He was everything to her, and she was heartbroken. When she returned from Florida where the funeral was held and her father buried, she was all alone in the house where she had lost both of her parents. With Linh’s father deceased, she was open to finally allowing me to come to Washington to see her, which we planned on doing in a few weeks after my college finals.
One night during our usual bedtime conversation, Linh mentioned to me that her father had been acting strangely in the days leading up to his death. She explained that he had taken to checking up on her multiple times throughout the day and night, and scattering religious artifacts throughout the house. This behavior, she said, was highly uncharacteristic of him. Vietnamese culture and religion was something foreign to me, and at various points Linh had mentioned things like this that I normally wrote off as just being a little silly. She explained to me that being in the house alone without her Dad was emotional and may be playing tricks on her. She hated the feeling of being so alone. She told me that being able to see me on her webcam was the closest thing she had to family, and asked that I promise to never turn off the webcam. She meant the world to me, so I was happy to oblige.
A few days passed and it was now the Tuesday before the weekend when I would finally come to see her in Washington. We spent our bedtime webcam session excitedly talking about our plans and I dozed off with my head on the kitchen table in mid conversation. It had been a long day. When I woke up, I saw Linh sleeping on my screen and stumbled off to bed.
At 3:00am, my cell phone begin to ring. Disoriented, I rolled over, took a look at the clock and knew it could only be her. She took great pleasure in waking me up in the middle of the night to let me know that she had just gotten a drink of water, or had an amusing dream. Anyone else would have gotten an earful from me, but her flirtatious giggle made me feel lucky to have my much needed sleep interrupted.
"I had a nightmare" Linh gasped. "…You danced in front of my friends". She burst into laughter.
"What are you doing up so late honey? You’ve got to work in the morning?" I said.
"I was thirsty, and went downstairs to get a drink of water."
"Great, well we really should go back to sleep, tomorrow is a big day".
"Allllright" she conceded, "Hey by the way, don’t forg——"
After a few crackles and a brief burst of static, the call disconnected. I hated Linh’s phone, she had an old flip phone that dropped calls with no rhyme or reason at least three times a day. I held down the #1 on my own phone, my speed dial for Linh. No ring, straight to voicemail.
I tried to call several more times, and each time it again went straight to voicemail.
I was exhausted, and though I loved Linh to death, to be honest I just wanted to go back to sleep. My eyelids hung heavy.
A little annoyed, I decided to walk out to my kitchen for a quick drink of water. The two glasses of wine that I drank before bed had left me with a little bit of dry mouth. As I rinsed the glass and went to place it in the dishwasher, out of the corner of my eye I saw movement on the glow of the laptop perched on my dining room table.
It was the webcam. Two fluffy brown paws were making a swimming motion directly in front of her camera. As I got closer I saw a close up of two grinning faces. One of that silly dog of hers, and the other of my giggling girlfriend, who knew that eventually after being unable to make phone contact I would wander out to the webcam to say goodnight. I wouldn’t put it past her to turn the phone off on purpose to elaborately stage this scene. Me, standing in my underwear at 3am on a work night, half asleep staring at a girl and a puppy on a webcam.
I waved goodnight, and she kissed the lens of the webcam and pulled away.
I wiped my eyes and looked again.
It’s… standing in the corner of the room. It’s…
Staring at her.
Wrinkled. Angry, twisted mouth.
What the fuck.
It’s watching her.
Two hours later, I woke on the dining room floor. I had a ringing in my ears and a knot on the back of my head. I immediately knew what had happened. It wasn’t the first time. Sudden, extreme stress has given me panic attacks and black outs a few times before. I had never felt such fear when what had happened came rushing back and I nearly had a second panic attack when my thoughts turned to Linh. I loved her more than anything in the world. It took me several moments to summon the courage the look in the direction of my laptop. When I finally did, the screensaver had long since turned on. I looked away from the screen as I flicked the touchpad with my shaking finger. It took me another two minutes to open my eyes.