Friendship, the internet and calling the police

I called the police this past weekend. No, not my local police. I googled the PD of a smallish town in another state way across the country and called them. Why? Because one of my Imaginary Internet Friends was missing. And I wanted them to find her.

I know, that sounds a bit crazy. It felt a bit crazy too. I even thought to myself, You’re calling the POLICE. They do not have a sense of humour. What are you going to say to convince them you’re not a total whack job?

First, let me explain the whole “Imaginary Internet Friends” thing, which is what my kids started calling them way back when I first discovered what a blog was. I’d be reading and writing blog comments — laughing and fascinated and completely distracted from real life — and the kids would say to each other, “Geez, mom is talking to her imaginary internet friends again.” Insert dramatic teenaged eyeroll. “Next she’ll be sending email to herself, convinced it’s from real people.”

[I wrote a post a few years ago about the time my daughter and her best friend sat down and warned me about my highly dangerous internet behaviour. It was hysterical. You should go read it [here]. But be sure to read the comments, from back when this was on blogger and there were word verifications, because they’re even funnier and it will give you a good idea of who these imaginary friends are. And why I love them.]

How we all met is a long strange story, but we ended up creating a group blog of our own, maybe three dozen of us, in a quiet corner of the internet where we share the various concerns of our daily lives. We’re not fascinating or entertaining, we’re just friends. And we notice when someone doesn’t show up.

But I could just imagine how badly this might go with the police. I mean, how exactly do you explain internet friendships? That you’ve never met this person and yet are worried sick that something awful might have happened simply because she stopped commenting on a blog?

So I called and a woman answered and I said something like, “Hi, I live all the way across the country but one of my imaginary friends lives in your town and she hasn’t commented on our blog in almost two weeks and that’s just not like her and she doesn’t answer her phone or respond to email and she lives alone and so I was wondering [quick nervous breath] can you go check on her? I have her address from a cookie exchange we did a couple years ago…”

There was an awkward pause and I just know the woman was turning to check for hidden cameras or looking to see whether I was calling from prison or thinking maybe I’d put a hit on this person and was trying to obtain verification of a dead body before I made the payoff. [Yes, I write fiction.]

I imagined her saying, “Sure, lady, right away. And tell me, what is YOUR name and address, we’ll send someone right over.”

But the woman was very nice and just said, “Yes, we can do that.” Which made me even more nervous. Like, this is real.

She asked for the address and phone number. Oddly, she didn’t ask for my friend’s name, but I gave it to her anyway. Then she asked whether I knew her race. I thought, Why on earth does she need to kn– And then I realized, hell, they might need some way to identify her. This awful thought, the hard realization that the police might actually be walking into a house with a DB or a crime scene, had me so frazzled and upset I started rambling. Before she could even ask, I told her how old my friend is (educated guess) and that she has dogs. I figured that was something a police officer would want to know. I felt bad when she asked what kind of car my friend drove and I had no idea. I mean how ridiculous is it that I know the name of her horse but not what kind of car she drives?

The woman assured me that checking on my friend was no problem, better safe than sorry, and they’d send someone right out and call me back.

While I waited, stomach clenched in twisted knots of bile, I imagined all sorts of horrible things. My friend’s last blog comment was that the repair guy was coming out the next day to install a new water heater. Maybe he moonlighted as a serial killer. Some people do, you know. Or was involved in the drug trade and crossed someone and they caught up with him at her house and then eliminated the only witness. Or he had a nasty temper and there was an argument and he hit her with a wrench and then left her there, unconscious and alone. Or maybe he was just incompetent and when she turned on her hot water the next morning, her entire house exploded. [Did I mention I write fiction?]

So when the woman called me back, within a very short time, and told me in an officially calm sympathetic voice that in checking their log she saw they’d had a call from that address four days ago and the fire department had responded and transported someone to the hospital . . . well, I heard “fire department” and sort of forgot that they’re usually first responders no matter what, even if all you did was stub your toe, and was totally convinced the house had exploded. I vowed right then, that repairman was going to be so fucking sorry the cartel hadn’t gotten to him first. I imagined the worst. We’re talking fireballs and third degree burns and smoke inhalation and a coma and skin grafts and–

But wait, the woman was still talking. What’s that? Would I like the name and number of the hospital? Oh hell yes.

So I called the hospital and they transferred me a couple times and I had a few bad moments wondering how I was going to convince the hospital staff to tell me anything — since they have even less sense of humour about privacy than cops do — and debating how plausible it might be to claim I was her long lost next of kin. But then they asked whether I’d like to be transferred to the phone in her room.

This is when I realized things were maybe not quite as bad as I suspected.

So when my imaginary friend answered the phone, sounding all weak and tired, even though I’d never actually heard her voice before, nor she mine, I’m pretty sure the first thing I said to her was, “What the HELL are you doing in the hospital?”

Turns out it was a bad case of pneumonia that went really fast from I-don’t-feel-so-good to help-me-I-can’t-breathe and she’d called the EMTs. Which, considering the alternatives I’d come up with, was damn good news. Because she was pumped full of antibiotics and recovering.

But this whole thing has me thinking about friendship. And what it means and how it develops. I’ve been thinking about these imaginary friends of mine and wondering whether any of us would have taken the time or made the effort to introduce ourselves and get to know each other in the real world. Sadly, I think the answer is no.

On the surface, we’re all very different. Different ages, different interests and professions, different physical appearances, different politics and religions and lifestyles, even different nationalities. I’m not sure any of us would have found each other in the course of real life. And yet, we all connected online and forged a common bond and have been friends for many years — based solely on what we think and what we have to say. No, not even “say,” but what we “type.”

We share a rather twisted sense of humour and a passion for reading and a commitment to discourse without discord. Several of us have even met up in real life and discovered the joyous indulgence of the five-hour lunch and have realized there isn’t a conspiracy to harvest our organs for the black market after all. And we like each other. Hell, we’ve come to love each other. Enough to call the police.

And then I happened upon this TED Talk by Brene Brown. She’s very funny but also very wise and she talks about expanding perception and offers some important insights about the power of vulnerability and courage and authenticity and even shame. And how important those things are to forming human connections. She says: “Connection is why we’re here. It’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives.” Really, go listen to it. It’s only 20 minutes and well worth it. What she says about people who are “whole”-hearted I think describes my Imaginary Internet Friends very well.

Many of you reading this ARE those above-mentioned friends. Feel free to chime in with your thoughts on friendship and the internet and whatever else comes to mind. If I could turn word verifications back on for you, I would.

What about the rest of you? Do you have Imaginary Internet Friends? People you know and love but have never met? People you’d miss terribly if they ever disappeared? I hope your answer is yes, and that you treasure that gift as much as I do.

By the way, if you ever have to call the police, try not to mention the word “imaginary.”

24 Comments

Filed under deep thoughts

24 responses to “Friendship, the internet and calling the police

  1. Wapakgram

    I am one of those imaginary friends. I can’t imagine getting though the past several years of my life without the rest of them. It seems as if they have always been there. When we do meet in person, the conversation just flows on from where we just typed out our world yesterday.

    KDJ was brave enough to invite us over to her house. And of course, we went….not an organ harvested among us. And we have all stayed friends, even after meeting up. We choose our imaginary friends carefully.

    It was a fine thing you did there KDJ. A fine thing.

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  2. jenb

    As usual, KDJ, most beautifully and eloquently written. It now would be impossible to imagine life without these most remarkable people.
    As one of our dear ones who lost her battle with cancer said to me, ” we are so lucky and fortunate to have been included.”
    Yes indeed.

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  3. McB

    Maybe we’re just lulling her into a false sense of security and planning to harvest her organs later.

    The nice thing about getting to know people before you get to know them is the absence of preconceived ideas. You get to know what they think without the tribal barriers we all unconsciously put up. And you find out that people, for all the infinite variety, are pretty much the same. Except for those IIFs, who are exceptional.

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  4. me

    I have dibs on her kidneys.

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  5. cc

    I find myself talking about the trials and tribulations of my imaginary friends as much, if not more, than I do my “real” friends.

    As to would we have met without our point of origin? No. I would have been polite if I had met one of you somewhere but I seriously doubt it would have been anything more than the most banal of surface conversation. Which would have been a loss but would have been reality.

    This group has shared the loss of parents, spouses and pets. We have encouraged people, well one person, to follow her dreams and go to school in a different country. We have welcomed grandchildren and survived weddings and bought homes. And we have been a cheering section when day to day life gets conquered or when life starts conquering.

    Without this group the last few years would have been much less fun and more stressful, I never would have seen Portland or had cherry towels hanging in my kitchen.

    And with this group I’m heading in the direction of late for work. Chat later and KDJ, thanks again for being the mama hen and keeping count of your chicks. Your across the country call was a good thing.

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  6. Damn. You mean I could’ve made money off of inviting you guys over? NOW you tell me. (And her, too.) Hmmmn… how much do harvested organs sell for, do you know?

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  7. You totally nailed this on the head (to use an overused cliche). I have several imaginary Internet friends and despite the fact we rarely speak face to face and Skype gives me grief on my laptop, they are my rocks. I couldn’t live without their instant messages, emails, blog posts and comments, humorous look on life, etc. I’d be just like you, on that phone, calling, calling, calling to try and find out what in the world was going on.

    I, too, have had the chance to meet one of my imaginary friends and we gabbed for a few hours wishing we could have a few more. It is the BEST feeling in the world. I love my imaginary Internet friends. 🙂

    This was just an all around huggable post. 🙂 Thank you. 🙂

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  8. Btuda

    While reading this, I kept thinking about how the so-called experts are saying that we are becoming more and more disconnected as a society and have less live social interaction. Methinks that perhaps we are evolving to incorporate different forms of social networks. I think it is working because yay a happy ending and everyone is ok and no one was locked up in the looney bin.

    I absolutely love love love this post.

    But hmm I cannot seem to remember what brought me to this land of imaginary friends doorsteps. Currently I suspect aliens.

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  9. KdotLdot

    We are created to be a social people. Without social interaction, we tend to have problems. I think one of our strengths is our adaptability. As our local direct interactions have diminished, we have found other ways to connect. There are many other of internet groups which have sprung up. We found the one that meets our needs best. This makes us not only imaginary, but very smart too. I cannot imagine not being an imaginary person now. I am so grateful for all the other imaginary people who now walk with me whenever I need them to. Good phone call KDJ.

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  10. Oh, how nice to come home from work and find all these comments from friends, new and old. Um, wait, not old — familiar.

    It’s interesting to me that the first bond this group formed was through laughter. You all are some of the most seriously funny people I’ve ever known. And hella smart. And that led to sharing other, perhaps more difficult, emotions. And I agree with everyone who said they’re not sure how they’d have gotten through the past few years without the support of this group of friends — whether that was someone lending an ear or a strong shoulder.

    And I was totally planning to cosh a few of you upside the head while you were here and see whether there were any re-useable parts, but you all were so alert the entire time. As if you were bracing for imminent attack. Or aliens.

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  11. Damn, I love writers.

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  12. I do think you can forge real friendships online. I haven’t been blogging long enough to have formed any deep friendships there (though a few have started budding) but I do belong to a parenting forum where I can say I have met quite a few BFFs. We all started chatting a little over 4 years ago when we were pregnant with our first children. Now 3 kids later (for me and many others) we’re still there. I couldn’t imagine my life without those ladies. And yes, I would call the police if I noticed an extended absence. In fact, we came up with a little system called “Bus Buddies”. We were morbidly wondering if something terrible happened to one of us, how would we know? So we enlisted our husbands and said, “If I get hit by a bus and die, you MUST text this person so she can tell the other girls”.

    Anyway, it is quite amazing the friendship and community that can be forged with our Imaginary Internet Friends.

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  13. Joie

    One of my Imaginary Friends linked this on our message board tonight. You had me ROLLING with laughter and then crying happy tears because I do love my Imaginary Friends (though I call mine my Mommy Friends since we are [mostly] all moms of small kids). I don’t know what I would do without them and yeah, I would TOTALLY notice if anyone went missing. We have a great deal more than 12 of us, but everyone is close with someone and they will point out if that person is missing and then the hunt begins. 🙂

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  14. Believe me, Claire, we love you right back.

    “Bus Buddies” — hahaha, I love that term. I know a writer who uses the term “truck draft” to refer to the stage of a novel where it’s not really done but if she got hit by a truck, probably her editor could clean it up enough to publish it. Hmmm, maybe I should make an amendment to my Will giving log in info for my various accounts…

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  15. McB

    Aliens, definitely aliens.

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  16. cc

    Some of those organs that went to Portland weren’t worth the hassle of harvesting. She says with a whistle and a non-chalant toss of her head while picking up the margarita for more organ abuse

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  17. cbpen

    This is so great. And so are you guys. 🙂 Since my writer group broke up, one friend married, another moved away and another is just too darn busy, you have been there for me*. I hope I can be a writer like KDJ when I grow up. 😉

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  18. I agree with cc. If repurposed organs was what one wanted from me* they’d better have a backup plan.

    Besides this group, I have made many imaginary friends, often by happenstance. Several weeks ago I tweeted the need for a local, non-LDS aquisitions editor and POOF! one appeared, willing to take pitches at our conference. We started emailing and she joined our RWA chapter. I met her last weekend; and she didn’t even inquire about the possible conditions of my organs.

    And when she learned that I went to HS and was BFF’s with the owner of the publisher she’s with, I was elevated to Goddess status. Because I know that he is 1) infact a real person as opposed to a disembodied voice over the phone and 2) I know where he lives.

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  19. CC and SD, I’m right there with you. Unless, of course, someone is inexplicably desperate and looking for pickled and extremely jaded body parts. Because then I’m a prime candidate. :looks around nervously:

    Pen, I’m not sure I understand this penchant you have for lowering your sights. Do not make me come over there.

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  20. The group may not be much use when it comes to organs, but some of you were extremely helpful when I went looking for a piano. Close enough.

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  21. rssasrb

    Love the post. You say it all so well, KDJ.
    Can’t imagine life now without my Internet friends. I’m avoiding the word “imaginary” because a few years ago when I was just getting to know the group, I commented on my “imaginary friends” to my extended family and my Dbro looked at me and said “You do know how crazy you sound, don’t you?”

    So I have dropped “imaginary” from my conversation to avoid the men in white coats carrying large nets.

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  22. Merry: 8)

    RSS, I’m past the point of trying to fool my family. They know beyond any reasonable doubt that I’m a few crayons short of a full colour spectrum. I’m pretty sure it helps that my mom and all my siblings live in another state. And my kids think it’s sort of cool that their mom is weird.

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  23. GatorPerson

    I so very much agree that it’s been nice to meet before seeing each other. It’s so very offputting when people see my long blonde tresses and legs that won’t quit and long, sooty eyelashes. They always assume I’m a dumb bimbo and don’t look beneath the surface.

    Cosh me* in the head? I shoulda told ya those viney thingies growing on your oaks are valuable and need to be divided manually and put lovingly into growing medium to go forth and multiply. Oh, and kissed every day.

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  24. I have the same problem, GP. And isn’t is amusing when people mistake us for twins?

    But… but… that IS what you told me about those vines. I fondle them lovingly every day. And have been going to the dermatologist almost daily. Hmmm…

    [glad you’re safely back from overseas!]

    Like

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