when i was 10, my sister got sick of my constantly-dying, needing-a-sharpened-pencil-pressed-in-the-reset-hole tamagotchi and made me a neopets account.
here, she said, these can’t die. it’s true: i just signed into my account in 2021 and my pets are STARVING and there is a single, emotional teardrop dragged and dropped onto their faces; but they are still ALIVE, years and years of neglect later. i feed them parts of a free omelette – you can get one once a day at 12:00 pm from the GIANT OMELETTE – and they go from STARVING to STILL REALLY HUNGRY. one of them rejects it because she doesn’t LIKE broccoli and You should’ve known that by now, she cries, I’ve been your pet for years.
i’m out of free omelettes.
i’ll come back tomorrow, i tell my kougra, a tiger painted grey and depressed on purpose. 11-year-old me made a million neopoints and decided to spend it on a really expensive digital paintbrush that made my pet tiger fucking permanently sad. in retrospect: what the hell?
a curious thing, though: i used to have four pets, and now i have three.
now, my missing neopet is someone else’s pet. in someone else’s account. her About Me reads like she’s always belonged with this person, when i know for sure that i came up with her name, created her in the Create-a-Pet section, bought another very expensive grey paintbrush from neopoints i made playing Meerca Chase for hours on end (i made it onto the leader board), and did not put her in the pound (there’s a pound in neopets for abandoned and lost pets. i know i didn’t ABANDON her because when you do leave your pets, they beg with you via pop-ups not to: do you know where we are, are you sure you want to do this, have you thought this through??? you click Yes I know what I’m doing, Yes I’m sure, and Yes I’ve thought it through, now go away!).
i wonder: how did i lose her? there’s no teardrop on her face; she must not be starving. is that how that works? it feels like that rush of looking up someone you might’ve loved on linkedin; they seem to be doing well, they got the promotion and seem to be well-fed, but how happy are you a step closer to the dream job you always wanted? how well-fed are you, really?
i submit a ticket to neopets’ support center: did someone hack my account just to leave my 543,000 neopoints and my other pets to steal one pet? or can pets just run away if they’re sick of you? did she put herself in that goddamn pound? is this website and these .pngs that sophisticated and has it always been? can i see if someone else’s pets are starving—or is that private information?
someone from neopets’ team lets me know they’ll get back to me in a few days.
i get some more free omelettes in the meantime. play some games, buy some books to read my pets to raise their intelligence level (this helps them in the arena, where they can fight other neopets for money), build them a tiny house, visit some fairies, do some quests. i like this tiny corner of the world where things can starve but never die, be forgotten but still survive. they can move on. they don’t disappear; i can still find them if i try hard enough. if i remember them well enough. i am so unbearably sick of grief.
i refresh my inbox, once more, over and over again. the site takes a while to load, freezes a few times, logs me out, lets me back in, and i start over: another omelette, another quest, one more day of waiting, miss, please, this email is sent from an unattended mailbox, replies may go unread, we will get back to you when we can, please be patient, please wait, just help yourself at this point, thank you for your patience.
jennifer ly is a vietnamese-american writer from los angeles. she misses going to concerts. you can find her at jently.net.