After 15 years of the Internet, I thought I’d heard from pretty much everyone I’d ever crossed paths with since being born. But the other day there was a comment on a video I’d uploaded to YouTube: “did you attend Flathead H.S.?”
I recognized the name. We’d been close friends during my freshman year. All the girls back then loved the way he danced. Once he was helping work cows at my folks’ ranch and got kicked in the chin by a calf. He said he still had the scar. During our brief e-mail correspondence that was pretty much the high point of our shared memories.
It was good to know what became of him, but I don’t think we’ll be staying touch. No reason we should. Internet reconnections are like that: you are delighted to hear from somebody and then in the awkward span that follows you realize there’s a reason you lost touch. His dad was in the Air Force and got transferred the following year. My folks moved not long after. Neither of us ever thought to write.
That’s OK. When you recognize a familiar name and say hello, it’s not really about trying to reforge a friendship. It’s more about reassurance — that your youth really happened and that everyone you knew is growing older too. No one gets a pass. My friend from Flathead High School is in his 60s now, just like me, with kids and grandkids, and probably a waistline, and a lifetime of memories that don’t involve the fatuous dorks we were back then. Way too much to explain over coffee. I remember his easy way with the girls; he remembers the time we rode horses and he got kicked by that calf. I guess neither memory has much to do with who we’ve become.
In the earlier days of the Internet, there was a lot of talk about how it would transform the physics of human relationships. But it hasn’t really made much difference, has it? Yes, people can meet up on Match.com and hail old friends across the decades, but any real relationship still requires physical proximity once in awhile. It still needs the real smiles, and frowns, and laughter and dubious glances, as opposed to the emoticons that are supposed to represent them.
At least that’s been my experience. I don’t think I have any real friends that I can credit solely to the Internet. (Facebook friends don’t count.) How about you?