An Open Letter to My First Internet Friend
For the purposes of this open letter, the subject will be addressed as Courtney. –Ty
You may remember me if you stopped to think about it, I don’t know. I wouldn’t be surprised or too offended if you didn’t though. Until I happened to read about your obscure hometown last year, I hadn’t thought about you in years.
Looking back on things all this time later, I realize I reacted poorly, though it was under false pretenses that you could have prevented.
I was much younger when we happened to meet each other in that online chat room years ago. The whole thing was rather new for me, and not especially enjoyable. The percentage of people online that are dull, or mean, or total wastes of my time is about the same as it is in so called “real life.” (Or IRL as people used to say.) But when you and I started talking, I knew something was different. You were funny, you listened to what I was saying, you shared my disdain for the way most people acted, both on line and offline. Public chats led to private messages. Then emails. Even snail mail here and there. Then you asked for my number some months later, and thus began, (with far less awkwardness than is normal for me) a long, at times intense telephone friendship. A few times a week we’d talk several hours into the night about all kinds of subjects. I even talked you through a few life events that were, according to you, difficult to deal with. And you were there for me, most of the time, when I was simply tired of being alone.
Then one day we broached the subject of meeting in person. So deep were our conversations over the months and such trust had been built up, we both, it seemed, felt that it was the next logical step. We knew each other. When we decided to go for it, I remember how enthusiastic you were. I remember how excited you were, along with me, when we would talk about the sort of things we could do when I came to your town. The people you’d talked to about me who wanted to meet me. The possibilities. My planned visit was the subject of most of our conversations for about a month I’d say. After some shuffling, we had a date picked that would work for both of us. I sunk what little money I had into the bus ticket to take me to your town. You knew where the bus stop was.
I guess a highly insightful or more astute person than myself would have put things together right about then.Maybe not, I can’t be sure. Nonetheless, even I knew things had changed in just a few days.
You didn’t respond for days to my email telling you I had the ticket. When you did, it was friendly, and played the part of excited, but was uncharacteristically short. The same with our phone calls over the next week or two. Again, nothing in your voice that I could detect indicated anything, but I noted the shortness and the less frequent nature of the calls. But being in college, I knew about how busy life could get at certain times of the year for a student, so I thought little of it.
About a week before the date on my bus ticket arrived, though, I started got a bit concerned. I asked you for specifics about my visit. Where you’d find me, what you’d be driving and all of that sort of thing. This wasn’t just excitement for visiting, this was important information. And you weren’t responding. Days went by, my departure time drawing ever closer, and still no word from you. I knew you had been going through some difficult personal circumstances, and I wondered if that had kept you away. I hoped everything was all right when I’d leave you voice mails about once a night in the days leading up to my visit.
About two days before I was supposed to leave, I made my part of the mistake. I left several messages on your voice mail throughout the course of that day. I can understand, looking back over the years now, how that would have made you uncomfortable. Again, a more astute person would have probably just given up days before, having come to the realization I had yet to come to. But you have to understand that because you had been my best friend for a year or so by that point, and had at least claimed you looked forward to my visit so much, I had no reason to suspect otherwise. I trusted you, and assumed you trusted me. So that final day, when I left you too many voice mails at one time, it was not out of anger, or a desire to control you. It was not because I felt I owned you or could run your life for you. It was, quite simply, because I was worried. Given everything that we had been through up until that point, I figured your lack of response, almost as soon as I bought the bus ticket, was due to something unfortunate having happened to you, or maybe your family. I didn’t have a specific picture in my mind about what that could have been, but I was still operating from a place of trust. So when you just never got back to me in regards to the grand plans we had made, I felt justified in assuming something beyond your control had happened, and I just wanted to know you were okay.
That’s why I left you so many voice messages that day. That’s why they were hurried and anxious. And in a moment of confusion and concern that had been building to some degree all that week, thinking foolishly that somehow my presence would help you with whatever was happening, my final message stated something along the lines of, “whatever is happening, I’m coming, regardless.”
Quite a while later I realized that could have been construed as a threat, though it was far from it. But as I mentioned, at the time, I was getting worried.
The following afternoon, you called me for the first time in two weeks. Contacted me at all for the first time in just about one week. I was thrilled to hear your voice and to find out what had happened.
The thrill was over in a few moments when you told me that your friends and family had gotten together, read my messages and listened to all my voice mails, and decided I was a danger, and that you should have nothing more to do with me.
Assuming I had not understood it properly, I sought clarification. Indeed, you were not merely telling me not to come visit, but telling me not to contact you through any channel ever again, that you would not be contacting me anymore, either.
I felt my chest tighten as I asked you how you could do this to me, after everything we had been through. Asked you why you had decided on such short notice to be done with me. You claimed then that it was your family more than you, but that leaving so many messages was “too much” or something like that. You said you had to go. I ended our conversation with the same cutesy catchphrase we had always used together. You actually returned the cutesy catchphrase, in one final moment of our two year friendship. Then you hung up.
I wept, and I don’d do that often.
So the first purpose of this letter is to apologize for all of those intense messages. I meant well, and thought you may have been in trouble, but still probably should not have left them. If my zeal freaked you and your family out, I take responsibility for that.
However, the other main reason I wrote this letter, is to let you know that it didn’t have to end that way. You allowed it to spin out of control like that. The messages part of the mistake was mine, but at least it came from a sincere place of concern. What you did, or failed to do, was deliberate and not at all necessary.
So it wasn’t obvious to me at the time, but it is now; you never had any intention of letting me come to visit you in person. You didn’t want to see me, and you, it would seem, merely pretended to be excited about the possibility. Perhaps you gave your assent, assuming I was being just as insincere about a visit as you were. But once I had the ticket, and you realized I was serious, you shut down. Took steps away from me. Threw up walls and tore down what we had built. You hoped, it seems to me, that be being evasive I would suddenly just wash my hands of the whole thing, eat what little spending money I had spend on the ticket, and move on. After two years of strict confidences and openness, and four hour phone calls, and sending gifts to one another by mail, I guess that was easy enough for you to do. For me it was so foreign, I didn’t even suspect it as a possibility until everything blew up.
Of course you had every right, as all people do, not to see me. You were not obligated to host me. Or for that matter call me, write me or have anything to do with me. But Courtney, why not just say that? Why not be an adult and say at the first mention of a visit, that you were not ready for that? No, you don’t have to tell the truth either, I suppose, but it certainly makes you less of a person for not doing so. Especially given that you had more than one chance to do so, and still didn’t. You just left me hanging. You were hoping I suppose, that I’d put it all together and just go. Yet your way of handling it, if that’s what you did, was the way of a coward and a child.
My heart was pained over that issue for about a year afterward. I couldn’t understand, and still don’t, how and why a person would pretend to trust someone, pretend to be fond of them and to care about them, when they so clearly did not. It’s not like you were getting any money from me, or some kind of particular privilege. All you were extorting from me in the end was me.
Of course people play games, and maybe that’s what you were doing, stringing me along for the pure pleasure of doing so. I can never know. I only know that your game, if you can call it that, came to an abrupt end just as I was about to come visit you. Did the stakes of your game become to high at that point?
Or wasn’t it a game to you? Were you perhaps sincere all the while, and suddenly found yourself scared of my coming to visit? I’ll allow for that possibility. I allow for the possibility that just like me and my overzealous messages, you too were a possible stupid kid who did a stupid thing. Yet to be honest with you, I think the bigger strike is still your own; it should have been no mystery that doing what you did would hurt another person. That is something you could have considered, and from what I can tell, you never did. If you did consider it and cared about the outcome, you came to one of the most absurd conclusions I’ve ever known. Furthermore, you never sought me out, even much later, to apologize for hurting me.
But, that’s long over, and all that truly remains of you within me now are the lessons on human relations. What not to do. What not to expect. To not trust until many more, much stronger reasons have been discovered. That, and the slight desire after all of this time to address you once more to offer the explanation of my feelings and actions that I was never allowed to give you back then. How you could fear I would hurt you after everything we talked about back then is beyond me. But certainly I cannot hurt you now. I haven’t the slightest idea where you are, and believe me, I don’t care, so don’t get skittish again.
With no ill will toward you per se, I bid you, at last, a proper goodbye, Courtney.
This post is part of the Open Letter Continuum.