In the middle years of the early web, which coincided with the early years of my middle school career, I engaged in a series of aspirational purchases at a Nordstrom’s Rack in Sacramento. It was winter break, I was 3,000 miles from home, and at that age, that’s as close as you’re going to get to tabula rasa.

The only purchase that really mattered was the dazzling lovechild of the puffy shirt Britney Spears wears in the cave scene of the “I’m Not A Girl, Not Yet A Woman” video and a calico quilt. That shirt was to speak to the person I would now be forever.

“Well,” my best friend said a week later, in the cutting light of our school cafeteria, “It’s certainly a choice.”

I spent late nights in my dad’s office, a charmless beige holding cell of adult paperwork and the family computer. I was a top-ten contributor to a fansite dedicated to a heady, chaste, and extraordinarily poorly branded fantasy series that remains completely unknown. I was serious, and prolific; the screen glowed largely in approval.

This was just before everything good dissolved for some time, when the edges of the world began to fog, then curdle.

But until then—and it wasn’t much—goddamn was I good at my job.

Emily Kennedy, too, lives in Brooklyn.