Friendships across the cables

Someone once told me “If you haven’t met them in person, spent real face time with them, you can’t really call them your friend.”  I can see how some people, particularly non internet people, could think this.  What I can’t do is agree.

I have been an internet person for years. It started with AOL and the message boards.  I met some fabulous people in various “communities” there.  We all had a common interest, mainly writing.  At first they are just faceless words on a screen. You know there’s a living, breathing, person behind the words, but all you really know are their words. Little by little, however, you begin to know those people. You comment back and forth, you send emails, and friendships begin to grow.

As the internet expanded, AOL phased out and some friendships were lost. Others simply moved to new spaces on the internet.  LiveJournal. Tribe. Friendster. Myspace. Facebook. Twitter. WordPress. I believe that was the progression of my internet homes, perhaps with a few others thrown in here and there.

There is a certain aspect to the internet I find oddly comforting.  As an anonymous face somewhere out there on the internet, I can express some of my deepest thoughts, fears, tribulations.  I can spill all the things I would normally keep inside to a community of people who have no preconceived notions, no past history, no built in judgements. I am free to say whatever I want, no matter how dark or private, knowing it will be taken just for what it is – nothing more, nothing less.  It’s not that I don’t trust my “Real Life” friends, it’s just different.  Like writing a tell-all memoir under a pen name. Sharing my deepest thoughts and feelings and baring my soul to a sea of relative strangers, over 300 of them in the heyday of the blogging site I joined over 10 years ago.  I’ve always been painfully shy, almost frightened, of sharing my words with people, but behind the screen, in a community of like minded folk, that fear is put to rest and friendships bloom.

To say these people are not really my friends because I have never spent time with them in person is logical, but false. They know my stories, my trials, my tribulations, my successes, my heartbreaks, my loves, my anger, my fears.  They know my story as I wanted to tell it.  And I know theirs.

Over the years friendships came and went. Some carried over to other sites, some stayed just there, and some morphed into “real life” friendships.  Long emails were exchanged, letters were mailed, endless hours of phone conversations, and yes, even in-person meetings.  I’ve met people I grew to know and love across the internet face to face. A weekend in Washington to see about a boy, a deep and meaningful relationship from Chicago that meant more to me than I could possibly convey, a tour of London sights from a lovely English man, a dating relationship from a local area.  I’ve met fans of bands I’ve loved, had coffee with other writers, heck – just two months ago I met up with a wonderful woman and had the greatest time imaginable out in Colorado.  All with people I considered my friends before we ever met face to face.

I have laughed with people across the cables.  I’ve cried with them. I’ve relied on them for strength when I could not find my own.  I’ve reached out to them when I needed help.  They are my friends, whether we’ve met face to face or not.  The electric world allows us to reach more people than ever possible before.  Some of the people who know me the best are people I’ve not met in person.  I hold them all dear in my heart.

This morning one of these people was on my mind.  A woman I have known across the web for ten years.  I hadn’t heard from her in quite some time, since January, in fact. Our birthdays were only two days apart and she’d not replied to my message.  I hadn’t seen tweets from her in ages, hadn’t seen an update on either of her blogs, there was only radio silence.  She had been struggling when I last spoke with her. Life being as it is, sometimes it’s harder than it should be. Sometimes we are forced to struggle more than we should.

I went in search of her this morning and, much to my shock, found out she had passed away.  Just days after our last correspondence. She left behind a beautiful daughter and big gaping holes in all kinds of English fandoms.  I played back our last conversations, the marathon emails we had exchanged, the plans for her to come down this way and  visit some day.  I smiled to myself when I remember her vehement response when I declared myself a non-fan of Patrick Wolf and her insistence that I absolutely MUST give Doctor Who a try.

I regret we’d not been able to meet up when I was in Seattle or when she’d been in San Francisco visiting two years ago.  I regret that I’d not reached out harder in her difficult time, that there wasn’t something more I could do from two states away.

Even though we’d not met. Even though we weren’t “in real life” friends. The truth is “in real life” means little when it comes to some friendships. I may have never hugged her or seen that brilliant smile in person, but today my heart is heavy with the grief it feels for the loss of her.  It weeps for the daughter who will go the rest of her days without her mother.  She loved her daughter so much, was so proud of her, considered her one of her best friends.

Today my heart weeps for the loss of my friend.

Some people may never understand how it is you can call someone you know only across a screen, the phone lines, snail mail, email, what have you, a friend. But she, like many others, was just that.  She was my friend. And I will miss her.