I guess by now you all know how much I adore Social Media.
Not just that it’s fun and immediate, and a source of constant, wonderful input; but that it’s entirely possible to build meaningful relationships there. Proper ones. Friendships which nurture and encourage and support and provide…well, everything good about a friendship which hasn’t to do with the In Real Life bit – the hugs and face-to-face time and going out for coffee – that kind of thing.
I’m all for it.
And in fact, when you think that years ago, people’s worlds were so small that they were only friends with those within walking (or riding) distance, and when someone moved away, they were totally reliant on letters to continue the relationship, and that worked, without anyone suggesting that the friendship was any less real because the two parties didn’t see each other face-to-face any more.
We’re better off now, because at least we can upload photographs of our latest escapades and it’s entirely possible to link your concept of a person’s physicality with their soul, conveyed through words, over Social Media, and have a functioning friendship. It is for me, anyway (though I admit, as time goes by, I do like to find out the little, niggling details about someone which would be known factors if we were face-to-face friends – how tall they are; what their voice sounds like; what hand they write with – those small, physical markers which help us to classify and organise our thoughts surrounding a person – our map of them, if you will)
I had a wonderful friend for several years in this way. She was a blogger I started following because her writing spoke to my heart, and one day after many comment-box exchanges, we got properly in touch. It was a very exciting moment for me, seeing as I had her up on such a high pedestal, but she turned out to be very relatable and normal, and not at all lofty. We soon became firm friends.
She was absolutely the best, and we were friends on Facebook and Twitter and would email one another several times a day. We never got as far as Skype, but some people are funny about that, and it didn’t matter. She wrote so beautifully, I felt as though I was there with her. We just ‘got’ each other. Sometimes it felt as though she was the other half of my brain, and she’d say something which perfectly encapsulated the thing I’d been struggling with. Or I’d manage to write something to her which made her jump into happy capital letters, sprinkled with smiley faces and exuberance.
She was very popular though, and gradually, I began to feel a little side-lined. Her blog had turned massive (I was pleased for her – it absolutely deserved to – each new post was filled with wonder and beauty and language which made your brain ache with pleasure) and her Twitter following had edged into the tens of thousands. Facebook too – she had more friends than anyone I know, and although I felt special because we definitely still shared something which was more than whatever it was she had with others, she just had a little less time for me.
To say I was upset was to put it mildly. Not only was I sad at the increasing distance between us, if I’m totally honest, I quite liked basking in the reflected (real or imagined) glory of having such a ‘famous’ friend. I admit, I sometimes used to ‘name drop’ that I knew her really well, and that we were great friends, all the while feeling like such a loser – a hypocrite trading on a faded friendship.
One day I emailed her everything. All my thoughts and feelings – my anger at her pushing me to one side as she tried to gain ever more followers and ‘likes’; my hurt at her discarding me now I no longer appeared to be anything more than a distraction from her mission; my sadness at losing her wonderful presence from my life – not being able to Tweet with her from my lunch break, or know that I’d come home to an email from her, brightening my afternoon like drops of molten sunshine.
It took a couple of days, but she replied. She had been stunned and honoured by how deeply I felt, and that she’d been feeling guilty because she felt the same way, and knew that she’d been all the things I’d accused her of, and that she had dealt with that guilt through avoidance rather than engagement. She said she felt bad about that, and had taken measures to fix the problem. She ended with a dose of the ‘old’ her – the one I knew – the excited capital letters, actions described in stars (*wraps you up in enormous hug*) and a plethora of smiley faces.
She was back.
Properly back. And it was beautiful. The next year or so, our friendship not only survived the falling out, but benefitted from it. It was a negative point we could both refer to with humour and a united front of “Let’s not allow that to happen again”, and it became a patch of water under the bridge, which though not current, provided a point of bonding.
I wasn’t sure how she did it, either, but she seemed just as active on her blog, Twitter and Facebook accounts. She even joined Pintrest and had SO many followers there. Once again, I revelled in our friendship and enjoyed the benefits of that reflected glory, this time lived large for all to see.
Until one day I got a panicked series of emails, too quick to respond to sensibly, saying goodbye. Not just a short goodbye, but forever. She said she loved me and cherished our friendship more than I could ever know – that I’d brought sunshine and loveliness to her life with my words and my person and through caring so genuinely much about her. She called me her BFF, and sprinkled a handful of smiley faces – not enough though – I could still feel the tinge of impending doom and crashing finality to her words. She really meant it – it was over.
I felt like the bottom had fallen out of my world – she’d come to mean so much to me.
It wasn’t even to DO with me, she said – it was circumstances at her end – and this was it. She had to give up the computer and never return. I didn’t understand it at all. I cried real tears of hurt and loss as I read. Her emails seemed so panicked, and I was terrified that something awful had happened to her – that there was some horror or threat I didn’t know about – that she hadn’t shared with me – and which I was too far distant geographically to be any use at helping with.
To be reduced to such enforced impotence was the most frustrating, harrowing feeling I think I’ve ever had.
Like every human in a friendship with someone, I wanted to go over there and help fix it. I wanted to hug her and tell her it was okay and that I was there for her.
Tweeting it just isn’t the same. I get that.
No email, Facebook message or Tweet ever elicited a response from her again. Her followers were also outraged. Her blog eventually lapsed and disappeared (I cried again then, even though I’d saved all her posts to my computer) and it felt as though she was gradually being erased from the internet.
I took to trawling Google for any news of her, still so worried that something had happened.
One day, I found the creepiest article, which spuriously linked to her name.
Firefighters in her home town had broken into a small, isolated house after the local residents realised they’d not seen the owner for a while. She was a recluse, they’d said, who was rarely seen in daylight hours, and kept herself to herself. She was youngish and appeared to be a bit socially ‘backwards’, as any attempts to interact with her had always been rebuffed.
When the firefighters broke in, they discovered piles of mail, drifts of dust and spiderwebs – a house which looked long unlived in. But they could see a flickering light in one of the rooms, so went to investigate.
There they found an awful sight – the body of a woman, perfectly preserved and dried out, sat on the sofa with her still-functioning laptop working away on her exposed femurs. Both hands were still poised on the keyboard, and her head, cushioned on a pillow, was still inclined towards the screen, as she sat there, a crispy smile gracing her shrivelled lips.
They said there was evidence surrounding her of hundreds of empty bottles of soda and food packets. They reckoned she must have near enough lived as she died – sat in that corner of her house, plugged into the internet.
They took her away and tested, finding that she’d been dead for over a year, and yet…the email account she’d been using had been active and had sent an email that very day.
The firefighters were baffled.
And as I read the description of that final email – a heartrending goodbye to a distant friend, who she knew she would have to leave forever I felt creeping terror on the back of my neck – it couldn’t have been…