THE COMPUTER ROOM
The Computer Room
In real life, I’m eight and a half years old but on babynames.com/messageboards I’m closer to 31.
It’s summer and I spend my days at my best friend and next door neighbor’s house, upstairs in her computer room, surrounded by our sleeping bags. Her name is Liz.
I love the computer room at Liz’s, because I love the internet and playing games like The Sims. My family doesn’t have a computer yet. Some nights, we play The Sims until after midnight, because it’s summer and there’s nothing to wake up for.
Liz likes to kill her Sims with fireworks, but I like when mine fall in love and make a baby.
We keep the TV on TLC all day because we’ve decided we’re too old for Disney Channel but nothing else is interesting yet. Liz watches Trading Spaces, where two neighbors swap houses and redecorate a room in each other’s homes. She even tried to sign us up on tlc.com but they never wrote us back.
My favorite show is A Baby Story because I like the babies on the Sims so much. In every episode of A Baby Story, a couple is pregnant and then gives birth and then names the baby. I know all about giving birth from watching this show. I know about a c-section and an epidural. I know about breastfeeding. My mom didn’t tell me about any of it, but it was easy to figure out, from the show.
When a Sim gives birth, the computer screen zooms in on her, even if you were far away, doing something else with another Sim. She waves her hand around and makes a concerned expression. Then she kind of spins into a cloud of pixels and suddenly is holding a baby. You have to buy the baby a crib and stuff because if the Sim doesn’t have one, it’ll put the baby on the floor. And if you do that enough times, someone will come and take the baby away and then your Sim becomes depressed, which is really hard to come back from, without using a cheat code.
Liz uses cheat codes all the time, but I try to play Sims honestly.
After Liz shows me tlc.com, back from when we tried to sign up for Trading Spaces, I go back to look at A Baby Story. You can click on all the couples and see a photo of their baby now. Most of the babies are just a little bit older. Sitting up and stuff like that. I see one from an episode I just watched. The baby is named Mackenzie, which I think is just beautiful. I’ve never heard of anyone with such a pretty name.
I close out of tlc.com and return to Liz’s family’s search engine of choice, Yahoo. I type into the search bar, “baby names”, using just my index fingers and I learn that the name Mackenzie means “son of Kenneth”. Ew, Who is Kenneth?
My mom works all day in the summer which is why I spend so much time at Liz’s house. Liz has an older brother who’s home for summer too but he’s old enough to watch us. He doesn’t though, he just plays the Nintendo in his room.
While Liz makes frozen tater tots in the oven for our lunch, I look up more baby names.
My own name means “smart” which I like. Liz’s means “god’s promise” which makes me think about rainbows. I learned in Sunday school that those have the same meaning. God’s promise.
My Sim is pregnant again because I made her Woo-Hoo in the heart shaped hot tub 9 times in a row until her sleep bar was so low, she had to take a nap and missed her job at the newspaper.
“What are you gonna name it?” Liz asks me, hopping around on the couch behind the computer, holding a soda. A big plate of tater tots covered in ketchup sits on the carpet in front of her.
This question gives me an idea, because I now feel a responsibility in this choice. Now that I’m becoming somewhat of a name expert. I make an account on babynames.com. Momof4expecting. I act like I’m a Sim or maybe like I’m on TLC’s A Baby Story. Like I have a real big belly of my own.
Hello namers, I am a mom of 4 and I am pregnate again. I do not know if it’s a boy or a girl but we hope girl. The others are named Allie, Kayla, Lance (after Lance Bass) and Carly. What should I name the new baby?
I type all that out and read it back over to make sure I sound like a real adult woman who is responsible enough to have four children, a loving husband and a computer of her own. I hit send while Liz jumps around behind me, licking ketchup off her fingers.
Liz and I once pretended to be her brother on his ICQ messages. We sent the same message to his whole buddy list, just saying “hi wazzup”. Some people answered and we giggled about it but she got too nervous to keep it up.
“It’s dishonest.” She said which I thought was funny given how many cheat codes she uses.
I don’t know if he ever found out.
I print off lists of names in order of their popularity which is something I find on babynames.com and is something that fascinates me.
I think it’s fun to memorize them and it makes me feel “smart” like my own name implies. The #1 name in 1992, the year I was born, was Ashley. I know 6 of them. I’m #211 which makes me feel unique.
“Names are boring,” Liz says, picking up the throw pillows on the couch and tossing them to the side. “Can we play Trading Spaces again?”
We play Trading Spaces by having one of us cover our eyes while the other rearranges the computer room. Liz likes to print photos of the Backstreet Boys from Yahoo images and tape them on the walls.
“Surprise!” she says when I open my eyes, revealing a new photo of Nick Carter and a different arrangement of pillows. This time they were stacked one on top of the other in the middle of the couch.
“It’s beautiful!” I say, doing my best to act so surprised. “I love it in here.”
My Sim gets more and more pregnant, even though I am doing my best to not fast forward the time. Even when they’re all sleeping.
I log back into babynames.com to see what all the other mom’s think of my big naming dilemma.
AldermanFamily07 says “Hailey for a girl and Brice for a boy.”
JThomas80 says “5 kids wow! What are their middle names? Taylor seems like a good fit, either gender.”
I look up the meaning of Taylor which is “tailor” and feel disappointed.
Hailey seems like a good choice but is also the name of a girl who was in my class last year who I didn’t like very much. She was always the first one to get to the swings at recess and would sit in the middle swings, holding onto the ropes of the two on either side, saving them for her best friends. This never seemed very fair to me and also meant that I never got to go on the swings.
I couldn’t name my Sim baby after a person like that.
Momoftwinz says “I can’t believe you named your baby after Lance Bass.”
I tell Liz that I didn’t get very many good suggestions on the website and she says “move over.” I roll away from the keyboard and she takes my place, standing up in front of it with a wild look in her eyes.
She clicks, “new post” and from my account and types
Help urgent, in labor right now!!! Need a name right now!!!!! Nothing dumb
I gasp and then giggle as she hits send.
“Get off the internet, I need to call Cam!” Liz’s brother yells from down the hall.
“Who’s Cam?” I ask as I disconnect, clearing the phone lines.
Liz rolls her eyes. “My brother’s dumb friend.” She powers down the computer. “They started a dumb band together.”
“Liz!” He yells again.
“We’re offline!!!” She yells back, even louder. I wince.
Liz falls to the floor, dramatically, spreading her arms out like a snow angel. “I’m bored.”
Between TLC episodes, home improvements to the computer room and lengthy sessions of The Sims, Liz and I don’t usually have a lot of time for much else.
“Maybe I should go home.”
My mom has been out with her boyfriend the past two nights, so I haven’t slept in my own bed in days.
Liz sits up. “No!” She grabs my wrist. “We need to get back online and see if anyone has replied.” She grabs her jelly sandals from under the desk and starts slipping them on her feet.
“We’re in labor.”
I think about my Sim family, frozen somewhere in time. It really wasn’t urgent at all. The baby wasn’t growing without the computer on, plus we’d saved the game. Everything would be just as it was whenever Liz’s brother was off the phone and we could get back on.
Liz throws me my own shoes. “Let’s walk to the library.”
The library is just a couple of blocks from where Liz and I live. I used to go a lot as a younger kid, back when my mom didn’t work so much and didn’t have a boyfriend. She would take me and Liz to story time and let us each checkout a book. When the library got computers, my mom would take me with her to print out her resumes and look at her match.com profile. I loved to sit in her lap while she scrolled and scrolled.
Liz and I walk in. The library is dimly lit and smells old, but familiar.
“We need a computer.” Liz says confidently to the lady at the front desk with big gold glasses and a curly, too short, haircut.
“I’m sorry girls, the computers are only for 12 and up.” She tilts her chin down and looks at us over the top of her glasses. “Unless you have an adult with you.”
Liz frowns. “Well, you’re an adult, aren’t you?”
I wish the library was like the babynames.com website. Where I could be 31, if I needed to be.
“I’m sorry,” the woman says, turning around to put little white slips in some books. “Come back with a parent.”
Liz and I exchange disappointed glances.
“Do you have any books on baby names?” I ask, knowing that the books are for everyone, even if you’re only eight.
The librarian looks confused but starts typing into her monitor.
“Um, yes, I believe so.” Clack, clack, clack. “Aisle 7 in resources”
I check out two books and sit with Liz on the sidewalk, flipping through them.
“I want a name that means beautiful,” I say, turning the page. The book is old and rests precariously on my knobby knees. “Or loved.”
Sweat starts to bead around Liz’s forehead. She closes the book for me and says, “I’m hungry.” We fish around in our pockets for some change and decide to get Slurpee’s on the way home. The guy at the gas station on the corner is familiar with us and takes whatever change we have, usually. This is a benefit to being eight years old.
We slam the screen door to Liz’s house and kick off our shoes. Tired from the walk and the summer heat but beginning to feel the rush of sugar from the drinks.
Liz’s brother emerges from his room in basketball shorts and no shirt. He always looks like he just woke up.
“Your mom called,” he says to me, running his hand through his mess of hair. “She wants you to stay here again tonight.” I try and hide my disappointment.
“We can play the Sims,” Liz says, assuredly. She reaches for the book in my hand. “Let’s pick out the name. For the baby.”
Liz’s brother mutters something about us being “so weird” and retreats to his room. I’ve never seen the inside of his room, but I imagine that it’s dark and full of posters of the bands he likes. I’d guess that there are shirts in there, even though I have never seen them.
My Sim is going to give birth any moment and the moms on the babynames.com message boards still haven’t come up with anything good.
Liz and I sift through our replies, which are mostly just people expressing concern and wondering how we are able to use the internet while in labor.
The last reply is from DancerMom27 who says “I wonder if I’m too late. Have you considered Rose? Please let us know what you decide <3”
I say it out loud. “Rose.”
It’s so simple. I know the meaning without even having to look it up. Allie, Kayla, Lance Jr., Carly and Rose.
My Sim lifts her hand up in the air, grabbing at her pixelated belly.
“It’s happening,” I whisper. Liz takes a sip of her Slurpee, sucking up mostly air and the last dribbles of cherry syrup. She runs over to the computer screen. A blue box pops up, pausing the game. Congrats! It’s a girl. I’m prompted to type in the name, so I carefully press the R, followed by the O. The S. The E. Baby Rose. I make a small vow in my mind to love and care for Rose, as best as I can. When my Sim makes enough money at the newspaper maybe Rose could even have her own room, away from all these siblings. I begin to understand why Liz uses cheat codes to get more money. I want to give Rose everything.
“She’s beautiful.” I say to Liz, even though all Sim babies look the same until they eventually morph into toddlers. My Sim is ecstatic. Her happiness levels are sky high, even though she hasn’t showered in a while and needs to eat lunch. She rocks Baby Rose in her arms as plus signs fly out from atop her head.
I make sure to save the game, just in case.
“Happy Birthday, Rose!” Liz says, springing up onto the couch with her empty Slurpee cup. She does one jump into the air and lands seated, crisscross style. “Do you want to watch a movie?”
I nod and head to the bathroom, full of Slurpee.
When I return to the computer room, flicking sink water off my hands, Liz is printing out pictures of roses to hang up on the wall.
Emma Ensley is a fiction writer, figurative painter and graphic designer in Asheville, North Carolina. She grew up in North Georgia and on the internet and considers both places equally influential to her work. She has had writing published in Joyland, Peach Mag and The Nervous Breakdown. She is currently working on a collection of short stories.