There are still eight or ten or twenty e-mails I’d meant to respond to, though I don’t really have it in me to write that all out again. So I copy the two long paragraphs from this last e-mail where I list all the bands I like and describe how discontent I am with my job, then quickly make some selective edits to personalize them. Hating your job seems like such an uber-relevant topic today that even the ones that barely offered anything about themselves will get my commentary on work in return. It’ll force them to offer some substance back.

And there. Ahhh. All these date prospects! This feels so nice to know responses to responses will be coming in. I feel impervious to loneliness. And by the time I send the last e-mail, a couple more responses have already come in.

“Holly?”

“Yeah?”

“One hour until bill close. We’re going to run it a little early this week.”

My face rouges over in guilt as soon as my boss walks away. All these receipts I haven’t entered won’t be reimbursed for another week. I scurry through entering a few more but there’s no way I can possibly finish this stack. Eventually I can’t help it and open the browser, half-hidden behind the accounting program, and get to those new e-mails. But they’re all from the more average guys and I send word back, quickly and in brief spurts, about the school I went to, where I’m from, a bit more about general interests and bands, just enough to keep hearing back from them. One guy gets an exact copy-and-paste from a response to another guy.

As soon as I send this, a very fine, fine feeling comes over me when I see that the promising guy has just written back. He offers this long list of bands he’s into and there are enough ones from my list of near and dear bands that I just know we’d connect wonderfully in person. I tell him how much I love so many of the familiar groups he listed.

This guy seems so bright — he politely asked as much about me as he tells about himself. I should take my time and make sure I send a more thoughtful response, something to hold his attention. But I feel this compulsion to keep the instant connection that comes from quick rounds of back and forth. So I respond more quickly than I should to his very witty and meaningful message. I feel like I’m already his girl and that he’ll always know what I’m talking about, even if I spit it out with too much excitement. And I also sort of feel like I’m already seeing some of the other guys, too, except for the technicality of not having met in person. There’s some guilt over this — several of these e-mails read like we’ve never had so much in common with anyone else ever before. But the temptation to write all these people at once is too great and the dorky fulfillment so easily accessible. I’m “cheating” before ever committing, but it’ll all shake out.

I get back to work for all of a minute before I refresh Hotmail again. But — shit — nothing. There should be a new message, but there isn’t. I click back on the accounting program and look at something I’ve half-entered but don’t do anything with it. I can’t wait for new messages anymore. My mind’s scanning everything for something — new e-mails, new articles, weather updates on a perfectly sunny day, new comments on profiles. It’s all interesting and it’s all dross and it all draws me in with equal compulsion. All this skimming of the Web feels like an hour of hearing ten seconds of a song before someone skips to the next one.

Maybe The Onion will seem more worthwhile — quick but witty. So I go there and open the lead article, “Bush Blames National Debt on Cost of American Revolution; Blair Agrees to Pay,” and I notice that I’m reading half of the first paragraph and maybe reading a word or two from the rest and I’m registering the shape of words instead of their meanings and just scrolling and clicking and not really processing a thing. My eyes can’t attach to the lines I’m trying to read. Paragraphs are only rendering as graphic shapes, just something to legitimize the real draw of the page, which is the fact that something comes up when you click. The piles of words take patience before they accumulate to an effect, but if you click on some of these words then something else comes up right away. The mental errata, in itself, is enough. When the simplest of words rhyme, when you answer the easiest of trivia questions, a part of the mind lights up. It doesn’t matter how inane the content is. And the reason you click on something, really, is just because something else will come up.

When I refresh Hotmail one more time, the promising guy’s response is finally there and I get all aflutter opening it and don’t quite catch what he’s saying until I read it two and then three times. “I’m not exactly sure what to say after you addressed me as ‘Daniel’ and then sent a message that had absolutely nothing to do with the e-mail we just exchanged. I don’t know. I’m not sure if you’re writing a hundred other people or if you’re a friend playing a joke on me or if you’re even a girl. I have no idea. This doesn’t seem real and I don’t want to continue. —Hendrick.”

My head feels like a crowd of conversations taking place at once, eight different people saying hello at the same time. This is horrible. Did I really just do this? Did I really send what I meant for Hendrick to Daniel? I sort of remember their e-mail addresses, but their names haven’t stuck in my memory yet. Both names associate with the same picture in my head, the same presence of a new boyfriend that I haven’t actually met that I’ve already blown it with.

I could read the other new responses that just came in and distract away this disorienting guilt, but they’ve lost all significance now. It’s just after five and I should leave. I look around at my work station, suddenly conscious that I’ve just spent eight hours at a blank-looking desk with no personal items anywhere — just strewn paper and this old air-conditioner-sized Dell monitor. Everything needs to slow down. Less needs to happen. A smaller number of thoughts need to mean more.

As I’m closing windows and logging off, I notice I’d left up that story about the Gaza Strip. I can’t read this right now. But I still feel like I should.