I think I lost a friend this week. It's really hard to tell, over the Internet.
In 'Net life, people come and people go, much the same as in Real Life, but quicker. And they lie more often, too. You never know for sure if they really have a dog, or are just saying it because you have one. But sometimes, an Internet relationship lasts longer than normal. Some- times, you feel like the person on the other end of your keyboard is truly REAL and what they tell you is true.
You like them. They become somebody you look for notes from every time you boot your computer up, and you seek their advice. You begin to know what's normal for them and what isn't.
You begin to care about them as an individual, and really want to know how their day went, how work was, how their mom and dad are doing.
Then one day, there's no note. They're just gone, sometimes forever.
Mostly, you never know what happened to them.
I've had my share of these during my time online. One of them vanished this week, one of them recently came back into my life, one of them was very public about her cancer and impending death, and one ... one of them I want to share the story of today.
We used Commodore computers back then and she and I were in a writing class together. She went by the name of Odap Flo, and I didn't know much else about her. She was on AOL, she lived somewhere on the east coast, she wasn't young, and I liked her writing style. She once explained her name: Odap was an acronym which stood for "Our Diversified Alcoholic Personalities" and the Flo was from her real name, Florence. She'd been sober for many years, and she said writing and the contact with people over the 'Net helped her stay that way.
We traded email, our writing, and jokes for a couple of years. It was rare for more than a couple of days to go by without some contact. We traded addresses, and I added her to my YearEndLetter list, back when I mailed hard copies out.
Then the contact stopped. My email to her went unanswered, and none of our mutual friends claimed to have heard from her. A week went by, and I contacted AOL. They would have her home number, I was sure, and while I knew they wouldn't give it to me, I thought maybe I could convince someone to call, check on her.
There isn't much compassion in a corporation.
The silent week became weeks, and then silent months. I sent snail mail letters to her home. The year ended and I sent out a YearEndLetter. More silent months rolled by and no one heard from Odap Flo.
The people I know in Real Life told me it was common for people to just up and vanish. After all, it's the 'Net, they said, and you didn't really expect her to keep in contact forever, did you?
Well, yeah, I did. We were friends.
Another year passed and I sent out the next YearEndLetter to her house. This one came back. It was unopened, but written across it in very-permanent black ink was the word, "Deceased."
I'll never know how Odap Flo died. I'll never know who that person truly was. But I liked her, and even today I miss her.
I've been neglecting my life lately. The construction on HexHouse has eaten many of my usual "free" hours and my chore list continues to grow on a daily basis as I shove things to the next day and the next day and the next.
I've been neglecting my friends, too, and I think maybe that was a contributing factor. I don't know what happened to my Internet friend this week. I don't know if it was something I did, or didn't do, and I don't know if he's okay. I don't know if I should try to ask, or just leave him alone. I don't know if he'll even accept email from me. I don't know if he's another Odap Flo. I hope he isn't, and I wish him well, even as I miss his almost-daily contact.
Sometimes I forget people are our most important asset. Sometimes I fail to recognize a friend's need. Don't be afraid to clout me upside the head if I need clouting -- occasionally I'm so wrapped up in what's happening under my nose that I forget to look up.
If you're on this distribution, you are my friend. Remind me of that, if you think I need reminding. Remember that, yourself, in case I forget to tell you. And tomorrow, pay attention to one of your own friends in remembrance of Odap Flo.
Copyright 2013 Michelle Hakala