I’m going to tell you something I don’t even tell my own family. D and I first got to know each other by chatting online. It was 14 years ago. Holy cow. Wife, is that even right?! I thought she was clever (even if I didn’t like part of her screen name, “gtr”, which, she assures me was meant to refer to “guitar” but instead made me think of “gutter”. You all, there’s a huge difference between guitar chick and gutter chick, if you know what I’m saying.) but I had no idea what she looked like. 14 years is pre-Facebook and still nestled deeply within small communities who didn’t readily share photos via email. We didn’t build up a powerful, emotional relationship before we met. In fact, I’d say we didn’t build up much of a relationship at all. She played music, I wanted to hear music. Done. And, as you know, very, very done, even though it took us another five years to get here.
When my family asked me how we met, I lied. “I went to hear her play.” Technically true. But what they were asking is: how did you come to occupy space together? You mean you spontaneously went to a show (yes, mom, that happens) and then you went up and just…talked to her? Yes, that also happens. But I assure you that my mother and I both know that it doesn’t happen to me. At this point, the story is gospel. Gospel enough that it slides off my tongue every time someone asks me how we met even though meeting online isn’t such a thing now, 14 years later.
I lie about you guys all the time. Did you know that? Oh, you’re “a friend” or “another mother I know.” Sometimes you’re “I read an article about” and just as often you’re “friends of ours in DC/New York/Portland/out of town.” I can’t bring myself to tell people how we know each other, even when I’m telling them how awesome you are. Ok, I’m not stalking you. But you do come up. It’s never more apparent to me than it is when something monumental happens in our community, like Caemon’s passing. And to be clear, in my community I include everyone – there’s no “claim your kid at the door” rule. As people, we want to grieve and celebrate openly, but I still notice a stigma around knowing someone virtually. If a coworker notices I’m tearing up while thinking about the loss of a little boy, their response is different depending on our relationship. Did I know him personally or did I just read about him? What difference does it make?
I’d like to think my friends are more enlightened. Unfortunately, I know they aren’t. One friend has made it clear that she doesn’t place my friendship with you on the same level as my friendship with her. She has a tone when she refers to people who “blog” but by that she means “people you don’t know”. Funny though, in a way, I know you far better than I know her. Sure, some folks who write online do it in a way that chronicles their day. Others write hysterical thought pieces about something they saw or did. Still others tweet in a way that builds a relationship, even if our bond is tenuous. Maybe it’s a string of comments. Or an email with a supportive thought. For some of you, I’ve been reading what you write since before you were married, before you were divorced, from before. For those that read, I promise you know me as well as some of my family. I’m far more open here than I am with them. No judgement.
Let’s not disparage the virtual. Let’s not devalue our community. Obviously I’m preaching to the choir. We may not hit it off in person or our politics may divide us. Frankly, both are perfectly okay with me. Is it really so important how we met? I said all that to say this: I value you and your families, even if we’ve never met. When you celebrate, I’m truly happy for you. When shit hits the fan, I hope everything will be okay. I stick up for us both when my friend takes that tone. I wish there were no such thing.
Also, I’ve used a lot of italics here and that is because I feel strongly. Very strongly. So I’m making up for eloquence with italics. I know you won’t judge.