I often log into my email and look at the list of people in my chat list. I’ve curated it down so that these are the people I care about the most — family, Kansas friends, New York friends, Boston friends.
I do this little dance, where I hover over their names. Sometimes I wonder why they don’t talk to me. It makes me wonder whether they’ve stopped caring about me — whether they’ve met new people, or hung out a lot more with the people who stuck around. After all, I suppose I did make the decision to leave them, while others did not.
But after thinking about clicking on their name to open a chat window, I almost never talk to them, even though I miss them dearly. They are all people who helped me through a difficult time in my life. They are all people who I haven’t spent enough time with. And they all live hours away, if not a full day, away from me — and because of that, I haven’t seen most of them in months, if not years.
It feels like being in a lucid dream, where I can see everyone working on their computers inside glass offices. But they don’t seem to notice me walking by, waving at them. I see them. They are there. But we do not connect.
All I have to do is click on their name and say hello. I just don’t.
I learned long ago that I’m a person who likes to spend time with a lot of people at once. So I’ve made a few close friends — the people on this chat list. And these are the people with whom I could rekindle a friendship within minutes, or at least it used to be that way. It’s been a long time and they are far away. I sometimes wonder if, now, it would take longer to revive those relationship. It even takes me an hour or two to get used to being around my family after not seeing them for months at a time. I have to remember that they intervene in my live because they care, not because they want to annoy the bejesus out of me.
Before modern air travel, families and friends usually lived in the same communities. The people you cared about were the people you stayed around. It’s how primates operate. We are social creatures, and we often make decisions based on our social needs. Many people I know operate this way. These people stayed in Kansas, and still hang out with their best friends from elementary school. And even though the world is a little smaller for them, I sometimes envy that.
We haven’t created any mechanism to fix the problem caused by moving halfway across the country or to freaking Connecticut, leaving being a gliterring array of friends around the world. Maybe that mechanism is to have a big party once a year, and invite all your close friends. But like I said, I don’t like to spent time with a lot of people at once. In other words, parties.
A few weeks ago, an old friend emailed me asking about things to do in Boston. We hadn’t talked in years, but we were able to talk as if we talked every single say, which prompted her to comment on how nice it is that we can pick up where we left off. This stuck with me, because it’s exactly what I hope when I see an old friend I care about. It’s the hope that nothing has changed.
But I know things have changes — that, if this were the old days, I would send them an instant message via AIM and talk for hours about the last few days of our lives. Instead, I’m left with minutes to talk and years to catch up on, which ends up being a cloud that hangs over any conversation. Amongst the things we have to catch up on are new careers, devastating deaths, divorces, marriages, successes and miserable failures — all of which I gleaned from the internet, or brief conversations that were cut short by things far less important. But in these conversations, I also have the task of updating the other person on my life, and I often don’t know what to say. What am I doing now? Where am I headed?
I don’t have a grand conclusion for this essay. But what inspired me to write it is this ominous error message that has taken the place of my friends list. I can’t get rid of it. I really should fix it. It says, “Something’s not right.”