Wednesday 24 Aug 2016

Goodbye, My Friend
AJ Robinson

 


" ... we never know when death will shake us,
And we wonder how it will feel."

The passing of a friend can hurt a great deal, and thus that song is quite appropriate. What of a friend you never truly met? In our modern high-tech, high-speed world, we have the ability to connect with people literally all over the world. We can tweet and ‘friend’ someone, chat via Skype and IM or exchange emails, images and videos.

Yet, we never meet him or her, face-to-face, in the flesh.

Jane was such a friend to me. We met online in a writing group back in 1999. We would exchange notes about our writing, post stories back and forth. Slowly we came to know each other.

Initially, we took it slow. We were nothing more than screen names to each other and, thus, we kept personal information secret. After all, these days, what with identity theft and all that, you do have to be careful how much you reveal about yourself to a stranger. Even a stranger you call friend.

Then I met her husband and we likewise chatted. We started to IM, instant message, for those unfamiliar with the term. We would just shoot the breeze about nothing in particular.

I shared my love of Martha’s Vineyard and they looked the place up online. They told me of their life on the northern coast of England and we started to exchange pictures of the places we loved. Then she revealed something important: she was stepmother to her husband’s little boy.

As a new mother, to a son of about five, she was uncertain about certain things. As a man who was good at thinking like a kid, hence my ability to write good stories for children, I gave her some advice. It worked, and she was grateful at being able to connect with him better. I became his overseas uncle.

Our friendship grew from there. We worked together on writing jobs, which was invaluable to me when my engineering company went out of business, during the Great Recession. I was unable to find other work and Jane got me writing jobs that actually paid good money.

I helped Jane with the same. A sort of international partnership developed. There were times when that money was the difference between making ends meet and facing real troubles.

Over the years, we saw each other through many trials and tribulations. My wife’s health troubles, Jane’s first pregnancy, her new job, knitting stuffed animals, and so on.

Yeah, we had bad times like any friends. There were fights and disagreements, trouble with work. Yet, we always worked through them and stayed friends.

Looking back, now, I don’t remember many of those fights. Only the good times stand out, which is as it should be. The way we used to laugh about the subtle differences between proper English and American English or our different slang and word usage still makes me smile.

When I put the term “saltwater taffy” in a children’s story we were collaborating on, she was mystified. On my next visit to Martha’s Vineyard, I made a point of buying a box and sent it to her. The whole family loved every bite.

My wife and I saw a performance of the Broadway show, “Mamma Mia!” I told Jane all about it. She wasn’t impressed, not a bit fan of ABBA, but decided to go see it based on the enthusiasm I expressed and all via nothing more than my words, mind you.

The next time we chatted, she declared herself and her husband “Mamma Mia! Converts were both her and her husband.” They had loved it.

Still, through it all, we never met, not face-to-face, at least. We exchanged a few photographs, but that was all. Interesting to think you can have a strong and lasting friendship with someone you’ve never met.

I still have some of our chats, saved as text files. It makes me smile to re-read them now. I have her on my friend list on Facebook and she’s still in my IM.

When I open my IM, her icon is still there and active. I guess her husband hasn’t closed her IM, yet. Seeing her little icon makes me smile, makes me feel like she’s not gone, not really.

Yet, I know she is and, thus, the end to that song fits quite nicely:


"You can go now,
Goodbye my friend."

Until we meet again, my dear friend, save me a table at the pub, right by the window. We’ll raise a glass of hard cider and talk about our latest books. After that, a trip to Martha’s Vineyard, and I’ll show you all my favorite spots.

Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.

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1 September 2016 through 4 September 2016

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