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I’ve spent the past couple of weeks moving and haven’t checked my email in a few days. Finally, I’m more or less moved in and I sat down to write a post. I paused to check my email and suddenly what I was writing seemed too frivolous to continue.

For about five years I had an email correspondence with a man in Germany. We probably averaged about two or three emails a week, but it was not unusual for us to write every day for a week or a month at a time. Eventually, I came to think of him as one of my closest friends. We flirted more than a little, but we never met. It’s hard to describe how I felt about him. I had affection for him that went beyond being purely platonic, but the fact that we never met prevented it from turning into a full-fledged love affair, but flirtation always lurked in the background. When I saw the movie Catfish, I felt a little disappointed because I thought that they missed the opportunity to explore a more profound question. What does it mean to truly know someone? Why do we like the people we like?

Then last September, he stopped writing. At first, I wondered, but there had been times in the past when he told me that work got busy. He also confessed to emotional problems, specifically depression. However, the longest he had ever gone without writing was two weeks. As we moved into October, I began to wonder. I wrote multiple times and resisted the urge to write many times more. I cried into my pillow. Walking down the street one evening I saw a street sign with the same name as the town in Germany were he lived. I had to momentarily brace myself against a building. I reviewed in my mind every word of the last email he sent and my response trying to find some offense that I could have made.

My sister insisted that something had happened to him because, she said, he would not abandon me so easily.

Several days ago, his brother sent me an email which I only just read this evening. I did not know his brother, but I recognized the surname and immediately knew why he had written. My friend died last September.

It’s hard to describe what a loss I’m feeling right now.

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I made a couple of references recently to a friend who no longer returns my emails. I didn’t write any details about him because, I’ve always had the feeling that he was a private person and wouldn’t appreciate any obvious references, even though I’d never use his name, or anyone else’s, without permission.

Since he was the last close friend I had on whom I could rely, this leaves me without any substantial emotional support besides my sister. This evening, I was half-tempted to reach out to a few people I don’t know well in an attempt to… well, honestly, I don’t know. An attempt at reaching out for the sake of reaching out, I suppose. So, I guess this blog is a weird mess of different stuff anyway, so some awkward emotional self-exposure couldn’t harm it any.

We met through a dating site. My experiences on dating sites have been far worse than my experiences dating the old-fashioned way. That wasn’t what I expected. At first, I thought internet dating would be perfect for me and I was the first among my friends to try it when there was still a stigma attached. Oddly enough, that period was actually okay, if not as great as I’d hoped. You see, there are a few ways in which I am not in the big fat middle of the bell curve and I thought that the internet, by allowing a person to contact  more people than only those in one’s own narrow socio-economic, and regional, group, would allow me to meet people who may share some of my less common characteristics. Okay, as long as I’m confessing to embarrassing things, I might as well admit that I once joined Mensa because I was lonely. Okay. Whew. That’s a lot off my chest. Please don’t hate me because I used to belong to Mensa.

Yeah, so I thought that the internet might be a way to meet some really smart guys who might just also be available, and I might even be able to weed out the ones who just want to hold hands and cuddle without having to date them for six months first.

Well, since then I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about why internet dating works so poorly, and if anybody with the requisite skills would like to collaborate on trying to create a totally different type of dating site based on some crazy notions I have, there’s a contact form on my about page, although I should tell you that everyone to whom I’ve described my idea says that we’d get no users. Anyway, back to me…

One of the problems with dating sites is that you have to put down a whole list of requirements, height, weight, age, hair color, eye color and… location. So, I put down “anywhere,” which perhaps isn’t quite true, but it has enough of an element of truth. There are probably places I wouldn’t go for anyone, but for the right person I could go pretty far, especially now that I’ve gained experience and have realized how few and far between those right people are. One of the people who kept popping up on the little list of “people you might want to meet” was a programmer/journalist from Germany a couple of years older than I was whose profile made me laugh a little. Prior to internet dating, many of the men I dated were younger. After the rise of the internet, when your age would be pasted right next to your face, I found that approaching a man who was born six seconds after I was would get me a response of, “You seem wonderful and I bet you’ll meet a wonderful man soon, however, I want to meet a younger woman.” Actually, I’ve gotten that from men as much as ten years my senior, all the while being approached by guys fifteen years younger in person. Now, why couldn’t any of those young ones have had something in common with me? Meanwhile, this guy had something about age I could relate to. He wrote something to the effect of, “Your IQ must be at least 120 plus our age difference.” That might sound weird, but that’s a little bit how I feel about it, although I might say 135 plus our age difference. I’m not against dating older or younger men, but the further they get from my age, the more we need to have in common. If a sixty year old man, or forty, sends me an email saying, “You’re cute. Let’s meet,” I think to myself, “Let’s not.” However, if someone the same age sends an email saying, “We have X, Y and Z in common,” then I think it’s great. Also, since there was no upper limit on IQ, I figured it implied smarter was better. Men who feel that way frequently like me, so I was encouraged. So, I wrote. Actually, I wrote, “Boy, you’re easy.”

He wrote back.

Partly, I kept writing because the men in New York City who were contacting me seemed to be demanding to a crazy extent. I wasn’t tall enough, rich enough, young enough, educated enough- why date a kinda cute girl  (well, middle-aged woman) next door when there are so many twenty-year old neurosurgeons who moonlight as exotic dancers just waiting to cater to all the emotional and sexual needs of a horde of IT professionals who realized at forty that playing hard to get isn’t a good idea when no one’s chasing you… but I digress.

So, M. seemed, by comparison, relatively normal. He was vulnerable, imperfect and grumpy by his own admission. He only had one photo posted, and that was a head on shot that showed nothing but his face. In fact, it looked like an id photo might look, although it wasn’t. He clearly wasn’t hideous, but it wasn’t enough information for my interest to be based primarily on his appearance.

So, did I actually think something romantic could develop with a man living on another continent? Yeah, I confess, I did. You see, I’m not that into monogamy, although I confess I haven’t given it much thought in a few years. However, the idea of having a man who was a friend and lover, yet seeing him once or twice a year, was not in the least bit inconceivable to me. I can conceive of many things. I don’t have a preconceived notion of what a relationship should be.

Our early emails, and by early I mean the first six months, were beyond flirtatious. We had very frank discussions about what we would be willing to do with a partner in bed. There were even a couple of things he told me he had always wanted to try but none of his previous girlfriends were willing. I told him that, if we ever met, we I would try them with him. For the record, one was something I’ve done and another was something I haven’t done.

As I already said, I could see that he wasn’t perfect, and he had been single for an unusually long time. Meanwhile, I continued to write to other men and go out on the occasional date.

Finally, I asked if he would like to visit me in New York. I did phrase it as a chance to visit New York and stay with a friend, mainly because “fly to the other side of the ocean and see if we find each other physically attractive” seemed a bit high pressured. I figured, once he arrived we could play it by ear. I’m at least as good as the average person at telling if someone is interested in me and I could trust myself to not throw myself at him in a way that would make us both dreadfully uncomfortable. In fact, with me, and I suspect with M. as well, if there’s a danger it could be that we might each be too reticent.

He wrote and told me that he did not like to fly and an eight or nine-hour flight to New York sounded like pure torture. However, there was no reciprocal invitation and he didn’t sound exactly filled with regret. Suddenly, it hit me, the painful way it only does when you realize it though disappointment, that I had developed quite a degree of affection for him. I called it a crush, because I didn’t know what other word to use. “In love” is too specific. Without meeting in person, I don’t know if I could truly fall in love. In any case, I suddenly realized that the possibility of anything more romantic than our flirtatious emails was highly unlikely. I threw myself on the bed and sobbed and wondered if it was too painful to be friends. I think I might have cried a couple of days in a row and then I decided that I could work through this disappointment and we could, in fact, be friends. Over the course of the next year, the flirtatiousness faded to the background, although every once in a while it would return.

That was four or five years ago. We have continued to write frequently, although the regularity has varied. There have been times that he’s fallen silent for a long time, but when I’ve written to ask if he was okay, he’ll write a short note saying that he’s fine but work is busy, etc. He suffers from depression and I do worry a little, although he hasn’t had a major episode in years.

So what events could have led up to this recent rupture? Since he hasn’t written, if something has occurred on his end, I can’t know. I was long, very long, in returning an email to him. When I finally did, I did not hear from him quickly, but that in itself was no surprise. Then I wrote an email asking if he was okay. No response. Then I wrote another that was a little bit more blase and chatty. No response. Then I wrote a pleading one. Then an angry one. Then, this evening, I wrote a whiny, tearful, pathetic one. If he had asked me to stop, I’d be bordering on being a stalker.

It’s been too long now for him to be on vacation.

Is he alive? Is he ill? Those sound too melodramatic and feel too much like denial.

So, basically, I feel as if I lost my best friend.

Suzie Q’s mother ran a hand laundry and her family lived in the back of the store. They were among the last people I knew to have a party line. For you young’uns, that’s when several households shared one phone line. If you picked up the phone, someone else might already be using that line and you could hear the conversation. Likewise, they could hear yours. One of the people who shared a line with them was an older woman, unknown outside of the sporadic contact over the phone. Suzie Q told me not to talk about boys over the phone because that woman listened in and reported everything back to her parents, who kept her on a tight leash. She was usually only allowed out for a specific purpose, like a movie. Lazy Saturday afternoons hanging out on Cherry Bomb’s porch were not on list of approved activities, and it wasn’t long before I got used to Suzie Q’s absence and started developing an independent friendship with the other girls.

All human associations build natural hierarchies. I’m not going to hedge that statement by saying “most” or “usually” until I personally come across one group that functions differently. Cherry Bomb was the center of this group. Of Polish descent, she bore a slight resemblance to Debbie Harry, with blond hair, blue eyes and prominent cheekbones. She, Cat Eyes and Sour Puss had been friends since elementary school. Cherry Bomb and Cat Eyes were extremely close, as if they were a binary star in which Cherry Bomb was the primary star. But then there was Sour Puss, and Suzie Q, and eventually I showed up. To extend the astronomical analogy, an n-body problem may result in chaos.  In the back of my mind, I was aware of this fact and tried hard not to step on Sour Puss’s toes as I, without intent or forethought, began to replace her in the hierarchy. My closeness to Suzie Q, as opposed to the central star of Cherry Bomb, didn’t help the way I hoped it would. This only made Sour Puss more of an outsider.

If Cherry Bomb was in a close female friendship with Cat Eyes, she was in a romantic relationship with Chuck E. You know the Billy Joel song, “Brenda and Eddie were the popular steadies, and the king and the queen of the prom.” It was junior high school, not high school, so there was no prom, but that sums up the relationship. Conveniently, Chuck E had a best friend, Hazy Davy, with whom Cat Eyes had taken up the summer before I joined the group.

Cherry Bomb lived in a craftsman bungalow and a Saturday routine would soon take shape, in which we’d sit on her porch, Cherry Bomb, Cat Eyes, Sour Puss and I. Suzie Q, who lived very close by, might join us for an hour or two. Eventually, Chuck E and Hazy Davy would show up on their bicycles. Frequently, this was not long before Suzie Q would have to depart. As evening descended, the two couples would start to do things like hold hands and Sour Puss and I would pick up the cue that it was time to leave. As the two single girls being abandoned by the friends with boyfriends, I tried to make some overtures of friendship towards Sour Puss and she responded in a friendly manner. However, one weekend, when Chuck E and Hazy Davy arrived on their Bicycles, there was another with them, let’s call him Sheep Dog. I’m calling him Sheep Dog because he was larger than the others, but in a gentle, loping way. He had blue eyes that were almost always obscured by light brown hair that hung in his face and a modest self-effacing manner. I almost didn’t notice him until he walked up the steps of the porch. He would soon become by first real boyfriend.

Along the southern edge of our town ran a road we called Broadway. If you followed it towards the east, it would take you to New York City. This road separated our town from the one in which the boys lived, all the boys except Sheep Dog. Sheep Dog’s family had moved about forty minutes away by car, in the same state, but another county. Every once in a while, he’d persuade his older brother to drive him back to their old town so he could visit his friends. That’s why I hadn’t met him before. His demeanor was true to his personality. He was a gentle person and a bit shy.

Trigger warning: Excessive emotionality

This is liable to be the sappiest post I’ll ever write. Take a look at this picture:

A chipmunk eating birdseed out of my hand.

When I show someone this picture, he or she usually starts lecturing me on how it’s not good to touch wild animals. I know. Normally I don’t. This was a very special little chipmunk that I called Scarface.

The summer before last, I was living with my sister while trying to straighten out my career. At that time, I was taking some graduate level computer science classes. I was also doing a lot of work in my sister’s yard. Most mornings, I’d get up, take my coffee and have my breakfast sitting on the ground near the bird feeder with my camera. It was like an avian portrait studio. As long as you don’t mind that every bird has the same pose against the same backdrop, I have a whole lot of lovely pictures of goldfinches, house finches, house sparrows, song sparrows, white throated sparrows, chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, downy woodpeckers, red bellied woodpeckers, cardinals, blue jays, catbirds, doves, cowbirds – and I’m sure I’m forgetting someone. After a few weeks, my presence became part of the furniture. The small rodents also began to get used to me.

chipmunk

Eventually, I decided that the bird feeder was not the most aesthetically appealing backdrop. I started putting piles of birdseed in places that looked better to me. Apparently, it didn’t look better to the birds. The chipmunks, however, were quite thankful. There was one little chipmunk that would run across some railroad ties when I came out the door. One day, I was getting ready to do a little gardening. I put away my camera and started to put away the birdseed. The little chipmunk ran in front of me and stood up on his hind legs. I had my gardening gloves with me and I put them on, took a handful of birdseed and held out my hand just to see what would happen. I knew he ate birdseed, because he’d been raiding the feeders. I really assumed he would run away. Instead, he ran into my hand and and stuffed his little cheeks. From then on, almost every morning, I’d go out and sit in the middle of the patio with some birdseed and my little friend would run into my hand.

Chipmunks are not long-lived. Global warming is taking a toll on their populations. Little Scarface has gone on to that great burrow in the sky, but fortunately I got a few photos of him before he left us.

Close-up of a chipmunk with stuffed cheeks.

A school bus stopping on a road in a rural area.Throughout elementary school I had the same two closest friends, A and L. However, they were not overly fond of one another and we rarely did things as a group. Similarly, L had another close friend and, although we were far from enemies, we did not find one another’s company especially enjoyable. Similarly, there were a few other girls, and they were mostly girls when I was very young, with whom I would play from time to time, but I was never part of a larger group. My friendships were, and still remain to this day, one on one affairs.

This was forced to change with the arrival of junior high school. Not only did the populations of several elementary schools meld together, but we had a new addition to our routine, lunchroom. For six years, I walked home for lunch where my sister and I ate with our grandfather. Now we were required to eat in the school cafeteria, and even that would take on outsized social significance.

T and L hit it off well and we typically ate with two other girls, D and JS. However I was beginning to notice that some kids were maturing and other kids still possessed childish qualities. L and D still thought boys were icky, while T and JS expressed an interest that was very mild. All of these girls became interested in boys in time. This was a matter of immaturity, not sexual orientation. They listened to nothing but Beatles, a band that had broken up years before. They were easily intimidated by the “bad” kids.

I had been a bookish kid, a good student and was generally independent minded. I had a vague awareness that we were the nerds in the school, but the word had no sting for me and I didn’t mind. I don’t know if was pride, or a sense of self, but there was no way that I would turn my back on perfectly good friends in order to be more popular. What was the point of gaining the company of people you neither liked nor respected? It was probably more defiance of peer pressure than anything else that kept me demonstrating my friendship with these girls by sitting with them in the cafeteria everyday, because, frankly, they were starting to bore me.

One day, D asked me if I wanted to go to New York City with her to attend a Beatles’ fan convention. Her parents schlepped us all the way into the city. In a sequence of hotel rooms there were tables of vendors selling memorabilia and t-shirts, others selling records. There were young men dressed up to look like various members of the Beatles, circa 1964. D was beaming. “Isn’t this great!” she said to me multiple times. Each time I forced a smile. It wasn’t painful, just boring. D seemed to be in heaven and I didn’t want to spoil it for her. After all, she talked her parents into taking us all the way into New York City for this. I looked around me and thought to myself, “I guess this is what people mean when they call something ‘lame.’ ”

It would happen at an imperceptibly slow pace, but over the course of a year I would slowly drift away from them. There was never a falling out and JS would invite me to her batmitzvah, but the change was clear.

A had gone in the opposite direction. One day, seemingly out of the blue, she said, “Do you know what copulation means.” When I said no, she rolled her eyes Then she mentioned that she was taught the word by an adult man with whom she had become friendly. I never saw this man and at the time, I suspected he didn’t exist. Today, I’m no longer so sure. In any case, these conversations were making me uncomfortable, although I couldn’t have told anyone why. The growing distance between me and A would be an especially large loss in my life. We had met at about four years of age and had been best buddies since then.

Meanwhile, I started having conversations with a girl who sat next to me in art class due to our mutual interest in painting. S liked art, math and rock and roll.