Yesterday was one of those days where I got stuck on the internet. Amidst the flow of perfect photos of waves or talking porcupines, proud volleyball parents and twenty-fifth birthdays, caught in the regular tide pool of the mundane we share and we laugh at together — a post two degrees of separation away dragged me into the shallows.
Stuck in some tributary of reality, away from the rushing stream of life's own beauty and violence, where there is daily news of horrors that can be held at arms length, or at least held one voluntary click away. Stuck in some stream where everything looks like fact, but it's really just someone's rabbit hole and alternate reality — that internet where man never lands on the moon, where Buddy and Bopper land safely, where Tyree drops the damn ball.
"This is wrong," I said to myself, convinced it was a technical glitch, a supreme fuck up in the magical Facebook algorithm shuffling the wrong posts to the right person, spreading misinformation with all the confidence of a strip mall injury lawyer. I know about bugs, I've written my fair share, so it was easier to try to conceive of this as a misplaced curly brace or comma, rather than believe what I was reading as a tragic and final punctuation on your life.
The posts arrived, a procession of friends and coworkers gathered to share their shock and sadness. "Your smile", "Like a second Mom", "Words of wisdom", "Too young", "Another angel": each one like a drumbeat, loud and resonant, shaking my soul anew. Each beat slightly further apart, marking time from the moment you left, continuing into the night, pacing off to some infinite horizon where you'll never be. Each beat anguished in it's cry but fading into echoes of greeting card sentimentality. Each beat disappearing into the wash of the everyday, the selfies, and your old rival who has leveled up on Farmville.
We weren't just Facebook friends, of course. Our friendship was of another time, when a perfect day for me was just going to the record store, and owning a laser disc player was the apex of awesome. Those teenage years when our lives were somehow both simple and yet so inifinitely difficult. The years I remember now that felt like playing Space Invaders with only a joystick, and no "fire" button — school days made of avoiding attack, crumbling defenses, inevitable doom. Being seventeen was a neon colored, unremarkable mix of faux defiance, real ennui, and "I can't believe I just wasted another quarter".
We would laugh about the ridiculousness of it all now, if only you were here. We would look back with the benefit of history, and see ourselves as kids shouting from the cliffs at the edge of the Cold War, at our dwindling innocence when the only ice on the island was shaved, and when the colors in the sky were merely volcanic and not the firey remains of the Challenger. We'd laugh at how self-important it all seemed, and we'd wonder how all the years between passed so quickly. We'd catch up with moments proud and tragic, somehow trying to sew it all into a personal tapestry of redemption for the years yet to come. We'd avoid talking about politics or religion or music, knowing culturally we'd grown further apart, ignoring all of the ideology to chase down the memories from each other's eyes.
I would remind you, cautiously, of stories you wouldn't recall. Of details of how you'd raise your voice and shut me down, despite my own teenage indignance and flawed moral certitude, my own protests as limited and ridiculous as Twisted Sister's "We're Not Gonna Take It" (yes, that's the crap we grew up with, can we forget about that now?). Your noble defense of those under my attack, including your rivals, as bright and withering as the afternoon island sun. And you'd cackle at that memory, and insist you never cackle, and take down everyone we'd ever known with a wave of your hand and that wry smile.
After many years, and many miles, we met again on this crazy Facebook machine. "You're the top of my list to see," we both admitted, although that wasn't enough to draw the miles any closer — perhaps that was just me and my reticence to cross the globe to attend a reunion when you lived merely one time zone away. Dancing upon the surface, we shared the pleasantry of our families without scratching at the scars.
We wrote once about the public nature of the Facebook wall. "So you're saying I shouldn't profess my undying love for you there?" you joked. My inner inveterate smart-ass turned the discussion to a zombie Ralph Waldo Emerson, while you insisted "When I said 'undying', I didn't mean me: I would never want to live forever." I differed the ascii affection for humor, a reasonable trade on any day for me, although today it feels like a cut-rate bargain I would love to take back. "It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them," said Emerson (not the zombie one).
I wrote to you "I'd love you to meet my wife, there's a lot of you in her. And you'd love each other, or hate each other, still proving my point." You were flattered at the notion, and I will always wish you could meet. You'd be proud of me, I know. You'd be proud of me for not falling for all the bullshit we talked so much about during our long rides between the mountain tops, talking about how the world, our futures, and how relationships should be.
About six months ago you wrote on your wall about feeling hurt and betrayed. I answered, much like my seventeen year old self would, in song:
I see you're blue today
Clowns crapped on your parade
The whole world sees
Nothing at all
I raced to capture the song in all it's scruffy demo one-take splendor, and messsaged a link to you via Facebook. "Twenty-seven years since I've gotten a song from you! Forgot how they make me smile," you said.
"This is what Facebook sounds like," I said. "Hope you're feeling less wall-ful."
"Just a really really bad day, new relationships are bound to have a few."
"If you post about something more mundane, like a stomach virus, I'll write another, ok?" I offered.
Our last online asynchronous moment together: a shared giggle with a touch of either existential irony or your simple nod to me and my still latent disco ambitions, a simple "like", on an Elizabethean version of "Stayin' Alive."
But you didn't. You're gone now, Dorothy. And when the drumbeat stops the silence isn't peace. It's just the empty air where your laughter once lived.
Photo by Bruce Irving