Today I found out about a friend’s death, and I’m so disoriented that I find my emotions swirling here and there. I might be able to leave impressions scrawled on the page, but at the moment I can barely have a conversation with those closest to me.
I regularly read about how unreal the friendships we make online are. That they’re ultimately superficial. Those of us who think we really know anyone from what they post on their blogs or sputter on about by way of various microblogging possibilities – the likes of us are questionable to the population at large.
‘This isn’t real life,’ I hear them admonishing us. ‘You’re wrapped up in a world of holograms. Make-believe.’
And in some ways, I suppose they’re right. It’s easy to forget that. That none of this is real. That we’re just avoiding life while we post photos of our children or dogs. Somehow we missed learning interpersonal skills, so we crawl into our caves and approximate a life with total strangers half a world away.
It’s not natural.
But here I am weeping over the death of a woman I’ve only gotten to know through electronic snippets of her life. A guest blogpost where she explained her fascination with all things British and how that came about. Photos of her new grandchild and the unmistakeable pride that someone she’d created had then created something so precious.
I know I don’t know her and she didn’t really know me. That we were just fooling ourselves. The way people do.
When I was visiting family stateside, she’d chirp that she was pleased we were in the same time zone. We could finally correspond in real time without having to do a bit of arithmetic to figure out competing clocks.
She liked my dogs. That’s the only reason she reached out to me early on. Saw a photo and thought, ‘Anyone who has such beautiful dogs, can’t be all bad.’ When she said it, I refrained from mentioning that anyone could purchase beautiful dogs. I mean really. Good thing we kept it all on the surface. Where things belong.
When her dog, Wellington, was gravely ill, I convinced her that I knew what that was like. And when he died, she was inconsolable. Somehow, I was able to create the impression that I knew what she was going through. Not really sure where that came from.
Something she found out about me became a recurring theme in our conversations. She was Anglican, or as it’s called over there Episcopalian, and found out that I have clergy in my family. She was curious and for some reason I talked about it with her.
Normally, the tone of the conversation was quite light and whimsical. Sometimes it went a bit deeper, but what was I thinking? She was just some lady on the computer screen. We didn’t even know one another.
There’s an odd sort of person – you’ve probably known one or two like this – who has an innate ability to make you think that you’re truly a friend. I’ve seen countless people online today, who were similarly hoodwinked into thinking they’d really known her.
Her make-believe tea trolley and her deft display of double entendre? All that was a ruse. To get us right where she wanted us. Believing we mattered to her. The trickster that she turned out to be.
Here’s the thing: it was worth it. All of it. Would I do it again? Of course I would. The fact of the matter is that I’d rather have that superficial, make-believe, whimsical friendship for just a few more moments than many of the day-to-day encounters I have with my neighbours.
Do I miss her? Of course I do. It’s inconceivable to me that she’s no longer there. But she never was there, right? Smoke and mirrors.
I’ll remember you Mildew. Your smoke and your mirrors.