Matter’s debuting a new experiment in episodic storytelling, “The Matter Mini-Series,” because apparently people enjoy serialized television and also Serial.
(Or, this: Each of us online is telling a serial, multimedia, cross-platform, ever-updated story of our own, starring ourselves or some performative version of ourselves. Serialization’s the most natural thing.)
Each Thursday, the latest chapter will be released through our newsletter, so be sure to sign up. (It’ll arrive online a few days later.) But you can read the very first chapter of our very first serial, “Love in the Time of Bae,” right now.
Everything You Do Is Super Duper Cute And I Can’t Stand It
by Taffy Brodesser-Akner
Illustration by Angie Wang
Terezi Pyrope (aka gallowsCalibrator) was a natural fit for Charlotte (whose name isn’t Charlotte) because she (Terezi) did crazy shit like hang her stuffed animals in nooses (hence gallows) and also was the troll who kept shit in line (hence Calibrator) with the other trolls (there are 12, they’re really trolls), and she is all about justice (Terezi is blind, and her symbol is a Libra, whose symbol is a scale), and she will bring those gallows out for the punishment, she will, and a little bit, Charlotte is like that in real life: calm and rational, which you could see sometimes (via her reasoned arguments that reflect her parents’ values, conservatives slightly to the right of Franco but not yet quite a threat to Mussolini) and a dark side that is only visible to some. Charlotte and Terezi are different, though, in that Charlotte is a girl, 16, in San Diego, and Terezi is a web comic character who has an ongoing existence at the pleasure of her creator — a man on the Internet. Charlotte continues to live at the pleasure of herself and her mental state. This pleasure was not always a foregone conclusion.
Terezi was adorable, with her perfectly conical horns, dark orange to light orange horns, like candy corns, pointy teeth, red mirror sunglasses—and Charlotte had recently been seeking out adorable. A year ago, she’d become a cutter, a real cutter, not like the fake cutters you see on Tumblr who are all wah wah wah, look at me and my cuts, I’m so deep and I’m so dark and I’m so sad. Do I even belong in this universe? Charlotte was a real cutter because she cut her upper thighs, using the innocent-seeming business end of a dissected pencil sharpener, so how could she be the exhibitionist type that these others were? And another thing is that Charlotte was really gay, not like the fake gay people on Tumblr who are experimenting, or the people who, deprived of the shock-value they were going for by announcing in 2014 that they were gay, decided that they were transgender. And another thing she really was was suicidal, but don’t get her started on that because everyone is suicidal. That doesn’t even have to be faked with a significant amount of theater. You don’t have to do anything, you just have to say things that are scary to your parents and to the people around you. But Charlotte has been suicidal. She knows that real suicidal is about keeping it private. You just want to be alone with your fantasies and your dread and your self. When you want to die, she says, you stop caring about what other people think.
Charlotte created a Tumblr with a URL that indicated she was gay. She wanted to lead with her gayness, not have to go through the whole intro, not have to do the are-you dance all the time. Finally, she met a friend of a friend, this one IRL, and she had her first relationship, which consisted of hugs and cuddles and nice words, a thing Charlotte calls “fluffy” now. But then some shared Tumblr acquaintance threatened to kill herself, and Charlotte shut down and stepped away because you don’t even know if it’s real, and what could you do anyway? Well, fluffy turned huffy and the girlfriend needed time away — five days the girlfriend spent not being in touch, five days! — which was exactly the amount of time Charlotte needed to realize that she was pretty and the world was bigger and gayer than she’d first considered and she had options. “Can we be friends,” Charlotte asked. The answer came quickly: No, they could not.
At night, in her home, Charlotte’s attention shifts to Homestuck, this online comic that’s been going since 2009 except for during the Gigapause, which was the name fans gave its yearlong hiatus from 2013–2014. Homestuck looks like a holdover from the time my father tried to teach me to draw an apple on the world’s first computer but is really a modern comic, just done in an MS Paint style, and with more mythology than you’d think the Internet could hold — more than I can hold, I’ll tell you that. Anyway, in the comic, Terezi was dating Karkat (carcinoGenetecist), another troll, his horns nubby, not sharp, same slouch as Terezi, but yellow eyes and a cancer sign. Charlotte liked how simple that relationship was, how nice, but then Terezi and Karkat broke up (something about “quadrants”), and how could you achieve closure from that? So Charlotte went to Twitter, and now she could be Terezi, she could role-play her, and she could continue to date Karkat, who was being role-played by someone else, and keep that relationship alive.
Alas, not all role players want to stay true to their subjects. So there she was dating Karkat when Karkat decides to up and kill himself, and let’s remember that suicide — thinking about it, being exposed to others’ thoughts about it — is a thing Charlotte desperately would like to avoid, so she wandered over to this other troll who had been poking at her — a totally sweet little troll named Sollux (twinArmageddons), he of the red and blue optic blasts, he of telekinetic abilities! But again, you’re dealing with role players, not with the person who wrote the thing, and so this Sollux does not behave like real Sollux. In the comic, he’s a hacker and he’s mischievous, but the guy running Sollux makes him into someone who shoots up mob bosses and smokes cigarettes. Sollux would never do that!
The music played►in her bedroom and on the other side of this regular world was a boy, whose music played► into his headphones, and he and Charlotte started talking outside their characters [like this, you’d use brackets to indicate when you weren’t the principle thing you were] and slowly they talked more and more until one day Sollux just disappeared, and he returned a week later, explaining he’d been in the hospital. Charlotte hadn’t noticed or cared. She wasn’t looking for real love from Twitter. She went to school and to anime conventions for that. But when he returned he told her his name — Anthony, let’s say it was — and so they began a friendship that occurred [more inside the brackets] than out.
This is not a catfishing story. Charlotte is not a 45-year old bald man doing a dime in Chino with 20 minutes-per-day Internet access, and Anthony is not a bored housewife trying to amuse herself. This is simply the story of how two people meet despite 5,330 miles between them. This is simply the story of how dumb you can be while you’re still smart. This is simply the story of how old you can get while you’re still young. This is simply the story of how two young people met and fell in love in the 21st century.