Do you really want to know?
April 23, 2019 3:16 AM   Subscribe

My Search for a Boyhood Friend Led to a Dark Discovery A surfeit of ugly knowledge is a feature of our age. But when information is everywhere, some things are better left buried.
posted by bongo_x (83 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
Warning—this is a pretty sad story.
posted by Bee'sWing at 3:56 AM on April 23

Sad, with no resolution. Also, multiple paragraphs about burying a tin box.
posted by rainydayfilms at 4:27 AM on April 23 [13 favorites]

This could be a harbinger of things to come. Maybe it would be better if information didn't want to be quite so free?
posted by Chitownfats at 4:38 AM on April 23 [1 favorite]

Warning--this is the first half of a pretty sad story.
posted by mmoncur at 5:05 AM on April 23 [3 favorites]

posted by Jahaza at 5:28 AM on April 23

(Iunno, I liked the multiple paragraphs about the tin box. They make it feel like the very beginning of a much, much longer and more detailed story — one that will eventually give dozens of equally-detailed paragraphs of resolution. Cutting that expectation short is what makes it work as a story about not getting what you were counting on.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:44 AM on April 23 [20 favorites]

Oh, wow. The abrupt ending just gutted me. As someone who listens to a lot of long-form podcasts about things like unsolved crimes, I realize I'm now conditioned to thinking about getting resolution, and knowing that the author will be happier not knowing one way or the other is understandable, but also really difficult to deal with.
posted by xingcat at 5:48 AM on April 23

Oof, I can relate. CW for suicide and mental illness below.

I did some googling of my high school best friend recently, nearly 20 years after we fell out of touch, and found that he had just died of suicide. In an instant I remembered a lot of his behavior and reframed them from "he could be a jerk sometimes" to "he struggled with mental health his whole life," as suddenly data from my youth popped into my adult brain and was processed with knowledge and empathy and experience. I reached out to his wife to share some stories, good ones and only okay ones, and said something like "in the hope that you can recognize the man you loved in the boy i knew" or something like that.

It was hard information to gather. But I disagree with the author of this piece's conclusion, that some information is best buried. Some information is just hard to dig up, and you don't know what you're going to get until you open the tin, and then you do your best with what you've got.

But that finding doesn't line up as nicely with the plot device of the author's treasure chest, location now unknown.
posted by entropone at 5:50 AM on April 23 [21 favorites]

Somewhat reminiscent of the documentary 'Stevie', which covers a much shorter period of time but is staggering in its tragedy.
posted by Jessica Savitch's Coke Spoon at 5:50 AM on April 23

Every once in a blue moon I try to track down a boy I knew from my church back home. We were kinda thick as thieves in our youth group, to the point that people were teasing us for having a crush on each other; I think they were right, but I was just way too young to know that that's what was happening with me. I ran into him a couple more times during my high school years - he went to a different high school - and that was that. I really want to know what happened to him, but he has been notoriously difficult to track down, even in the days of social media.

My fear is that perhaps he ended up in a very sad and bad place and that maybe the universe has been sparing me that knowledge.

(I don't have the best luck with tracking-down-old-contacts - this January I randomly googled an ex from 20 years ago and discovered that he'd just started serving a 6-year sentence for possession of child porn.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:11 AM on April 23 [8 favorites]

I get impatient with these sorts of speculative pieces about acquaintances who died tragically. Reminds me of that infamous xojane article by the woman who was happy her troubled friend had finally killed herself. What if: it's not about you. Two friends of mine from high school died in dark circumstances and the mere idea of writing an entire article about it-- thereby centering myself in their story-- turns my stomach.
posted by coffeeand at 6:30 AM on April 23 [29 favorites]

posted by sockermom at 6:33 AM on April 23

Also, a relative of mine killed himself and if I ever found out some stranger who barely knew him, or had known him 20 years ago, had written about him, I would be very angry. I barely felt entitled to my own grief. The nerve of some people.
posted by coffeeand at 6:34 AM on April 23 [1 favorite]

I loved this piece; the writing is spectacular. I was very happy to see the author has 30 books out.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 6:46 AM on April 23 [2 favorites]

I'm kind of with @coffeeand here: write about your journey to find an old friend, and write about the shock of losing the friend you had when you learn about how his real life turned out, and even write about investigating his current family and their loss. But using real names, real facts, real pain to get there is not your choice alone. The facts are there for the taking, sure, but they are not free of connections to other real people and may come with a cost that is not charged to your account. Be aware of others, be kind.
posted by Cris E at 6:51 AM on April 23 [11 favorites]

This brought to mind some ugly childhood things, things I carry with me, and I’ve come to understand I’ll never really be rid of.

For nearly all of my elementary school life, my best friends were the kids in my neighborhood. One kid in particular, though he was older than me, we were incredibly close. Like commingling of LEGO’s, sleepovers at each other’s house, even though we lived half a block away. We shared books, we explored D&D together, learned about computer games together.

And, at the end of the summer before I started junior high, he, and the rest of the people that were the entirety of the social world I knew, they informed me that we couldn’t be friends anymore, now that things mattered. We could hang out during vacations, but I was not, in any way, to approach them as friends at school.

It was the end of the world to me. It was legitimately the first, though sadly not last experience I had with suicidal ideation. I was twelve fucking years old, and this was the beginning of five years of hell I wouldn’t have survived without, what I’ve since come to understand as and abnormally strong level of support from people that, when we’ve talked about it since, have been shocked by how central a part they played in my survival.

Flash forward, and I’m in my mid twenties. I’m living my own life, one that I’ve built in s foreign country, with friends, actual friends. I have the love of a woman better than I can imagine deserving. And I get a mail from my mother, who if nothing else, has enabled the bullying, dismissing what I’d told her, taking their side against her own son, letting me know that my old best friend wanted to get in touch with me, after all these years, and that she, without asking me, had given him my phone number. And the fucker called me, he was in the midst of some sort of twelve step bullshit, and he was calling me? At this point ten years later, asking me to forgive him, because I was some fucking step on his way to being a better person? I said as much to him, that, at the moment we spoke, in spite of the pain I endured because of him, I was happy. I was loved. And I had no intention of passing on some sort of magic absolution for the damage that, now thirty years later, I know I’ll never truly escape.

And, hanging up on him, as he asked for forgiveness to complete whatever step he needed, I didn’t feel like I’d conquered anything. I’m fact, it took me months to recover. Weeks before I went out with friends again. And I don’t trust. Anyone. Ever. And that it was my mother, psssing along my number without asking, I can’t ever imagine an apology coming from someone who would think that was acceptable without first asking.

I guess, after all that, what I’m trying to say, is that sometimes, it’s not about you, and that sometimes, by trying to reach out and rediscover your past, or to try to make amends, you’re only ripping open old scars to expose bright wet pain that had never really gone away, that the bearer had only just learned how to carry in silence, because that was the best of all alternatives.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:04 AM on April 23 [114 favorites]

"How many others have flippantly Googled an old friend and discovered something ghastly?"
A few years ago I discovered that the residence of one of my childhood best friends, who introduced me to science fiction and Japanese pop culture—and with whom I also lost contact with in a move—was declared a public health hazard and razed to the ground. The whole thing seemed so humiliating and sad that I just sat down and cried. (No, I never tried to contact him—the event was several years before I learned about it. I didn't know his current location or what services he might need. I fear that makes me a bad friend and that haunts me as well.)
posted by octobersurprise at 7:05 AM on April 23 [3 favorites]

The lost treasure is a good metaphor.
posted by M-x shell at 7:06 AM on April 23 [4 favorites]

Sad, with no resolution. Also, multiple paragraphs about burying a tin box.

Burying a box that he didn't take seriously enough to go back with a metal detector after he realized the guy died. Who is this person even?
posted by corb at 7:06 AM on April 23 [17 favorites]

I had a very dear friend when I was an early teenager, 12-15 about. We were penpals/online friends and I carried one very inspirational letter from her in my wallet for at least a decade. I found her on Facebook and was dismayed at the person she grew up to be. Snobby, self-important, dismissive.

Not the worst finding, though, as two different people I knew well when I was young are now in prison for murder.
posted by Ruki at 7:18 AM on April 23 [4 favorites]

Content warning: all of this. Suicide, murder, all of it.

Also, a relative of mine killed himself and if I ever found out some stranger who barely knew him, or had known him 20 years ago, had written about him, I would be very angry. I barely felt entitled to my own grief. The nerve of some people.

I've got two minds about this -

For one, I'm still feeling betrayed by The Virgin Suicides and the portrayal of the girls and who owns the stories within. I'd read that as a teen, picked it up because I'd survived a suicide epidemic in junior high, and couldn't figure out why I felt so alienated from the prose until much later. And that's a fictional story! Reading about someone I knew described as this weird, unknowable person would make me angry, yes.

(As a note - finding out that someone who you had been told had died from suicide had actually survived the attempt via facebook a decade later? Also weird. But going into how and why seems like too much of a betrayal of them - for one thing, I've never told them that I had been told they were dead.)

On the other hand, I also know someone who, when we were both teens, was shot and then disfigured after death - they'd beaten his face off with a baseball bat or other blunt object. A chance of fate meant that I was in the pictures that the funeral director tried to use to reconstruct his face from his remains - she couldn't. As far as I know, the murderer was never found, it never made the news other than a 'gang related shooting', and nobody ever really cared. I didn't know him well, we were dance partners in a mutual friend's quincenera (the mutual friend's family owned a funeral home, thus the connection and the pictures), I only vaguely remember what he looked like, but I was still very affected by his death. Certainly not more than people who knew him well, but the fact that someone my age could be murdered and the general consensus seemed to be that it was his own damn fault, all of those questions about what he was doing - and I don't know if he was involved in anything. I could try to find out, but it's been nearly two decades and I don't think it really matters, because I don't think there's anything a teenager could do to deserve that kind of death. There are times when the audience are people further out in the ring, not the close family of those involved. At what point is it okay to talk about, and how can you do it while also respecting the close family's wishes.

I hope that Petey isn't his real name. And maybe contacted the family before publishing to get their okay. That seems like the least one could do.
posted by dinty_moore at 7:23 AM on April 23 [7 favorites]

something similar happened to me 4 or 5 years ago - just randomly, i found out that someone i knew from college had killed himself in the mid 80s - i had visited a facebook page dedicated to the place and out of nowhere it was mentioned

it made me question everything i knew about my college days - he was the one who was self-assured, going places, artistic, able to talk people into things, able to go anywhere in the world and land on his feet

i was a total emotional mess that people didn't really want to be around and doing some pretty self-destructive things

so the end of the story was that i survived and he didn't, exactly the opposite of what anyone, including me, would have expected

it was such a weird feeling especially considering all the other tragic things that happened then - it all happened so long ago that it didn't really feel like grief but it made me wonder just how much i really understood about anything back then - i could ask what happened? but it was plain that i might not have understood it was happening right then in front of me - or did it happen 7 or 8 years later, which is a time i know nothing about except that he left
posted by pyramid termite at 7:47 AM on April 23 [8 favorites]

Also, I definitely knew someone - not that well, but knew them as a person - who died in one of the banner mass shootings. Two someones, now that I think of it. Statistically, I don't think that it's even that uncommon at this point. Navigating the tightrope between personal and public grief is odd, but I don't think that means that we shouldn't 'politicize their deaths' or anything, or that only their families are allowed to mourn.
posted by dinty_moore at 7:47 AM on April 23 [2 favorites]

This does seem like it would have been appropriate to use 'name changed to protect the privacy of the surviving family members' but that doesn't appear to be the case, as it isn't labelled that way.

I don't think, though, that family members have exclusive over how people are allowed to remember their loved ones. A certain amount of care is owed for their feelings, yes, but people exist in the larger world and they touch and affect other people, sometimes in profound and lasting ways. This wasn't just a passing acquaintanceship, it was an intense friendship at a formative time.

After a mass shooting, there's sometimes some random person from the shooter's childhood who shows up on all the chat shows and makes it clear that they didn't actually know the person very well but are willing to talk about them anyway. That's a kind of crass opportunism that feels really gross. I don't think this is that.

It could have been done in a more sensitive manner, but I don't think it definitively shouldn't have been done at all.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:50 AM on April 23 [9 favorites]

There's a difference between discussing someone randomly included in a mass death and someone who was murdered personally, for whatever personal reasons. In the latter case it's perfectly normal to compare how you knew them and what you learned later about their life.
posted by M-x shell at 7:57 AM on April 23

Are we actually arguing that a writer shouldn't discuss the case of someone who probably sexually assaulted a disabled person because it would distress the person's family? Because it kind of looks like that from here. Maybe I'm not understanding something.
posted by praemunire at 7:58 AM on April 23 [4 favorites]

Is the point of the piece that The Internet is Bad Because It's Easy to Learn Things That Make Me (the Author) Sad?

Because in what way does that honor his friend? Has he just turned a story of friendship and a tragic ending into Today's Hot Take?

It bothers me, and I don't agree. If you have any connections to people you used to know, by the time you hit middle age you will hear similar stories; people you knew suffering from crime, bankruptcy, drugs, divorces. Doing things you wouldn't have imagined they could when you knew them decades before. Obliviousness to the fates of people you once knew is not some kind of privilege we are owed.

Would it be better for no one to remember this person existed, that they had dreams, and were happy sometimes? I can't believe that.

I've lost two friends to suicide, and other people I used to be close to have become so ideologically different that we don't speak anymore. That doesn't negate our old friendship or our memories, and I don't want it to.
posted by emjaybee at 7:58 AM on April 23 [5 favorites]

"How many others have flippantly Googled an old friend and discovered something ghastly?"

I do this all the time. A random name from childhood will pop into my head and I'll go on a quest to find out where this person is. It's very strange to find a Facebook page of someone you haven't seen since you were five years old. You recognize the face, but they've lived a whole life since you saw them. You see their kids, their wife, get a sense that they're happy or maybe not so much. Sometimes you find they're a racist with shitty politics. Sometimes you find they live in the same town you do and maybe you'll run into them some day. Old girlfriends are married with kids, old teachers are retired.

But I also found out one kid I knew was murdered by his wife, set on fire. He owned a model train store. Another guy was in an avalanche and is now a quadriplegic, a guy who used to own the flight school I went to spent two years in jail after trying to pick up a "15 year old girl" who was actually a cop in a chat room. A couple of months ago I found out the richest kid I knew as a kid died recently. I have no idea how.

Old friend's lives are weird. They just continue without you, or don't.

I live very close to Wellesley college and if there were a few more details I'd probably go on some obsessive quest to find that box.
posted by bondcliff at 7:59 AM on April 23 [9 favorites]

Every once in awhile I checked my old hometown newspaper. Turns out two girls I went to school with died of the same cancer that I survived. One of them was my only friend during a rough patch. That was hard to read.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:05 AM on April 23 [4 favorites]

On the "he's just making this incident about him" take -

I'm not sure how much of that is "Because Internet" and how much is human nature. If you get a nasty shock about someone you used to know it can kinda mess with your head a bit; I am indebted to the people who happened to be in MeFi Chat in the few minutes after I learned about that ex who was in jail, because I was knocked for a loop and wanted to do a brain dump, and for whatever reason that's where I did it. The dude in question was a "glad we broke up" ex, and I wasn't hurt by the news, but it was a big "holy shit I cannot make this equation match" moment that I needed to wrap my brain around some. And that's what this was reading like to me - it was mental processing trying to bridge the gap between "this was my experience of this person" and "this is the person's current reality".

Agreed that there definitely should have been a names-changed aspect, though.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:07 AM on April 23 [3 favorites]

There's a difference between discussing someone randomly included in a mass death and someone who was murdered personally, for whatever personal reasons. In the latter case it's perfectly normal to compare how you knew them and what you learned later about their life.

As someone who has experience with both: not as much as you seem to think? With a mass shooting, there's also a weird disconnect between what you know about a person from having interacted with them, and then the flattened version that suddenly everyone knows about. They're reduced down to one picture, one tumblr post of information, and then everyone is told to remember their name.

With the murder, it seems like everything else that they've done is also flattened down to one moment, the moment of their death. If they're a white girl, everything else about them is deemed unknowable and the subject of a true crime podcast. If they're PoC and male, everything else about them is deemed suspect and a reason for their death.
posted by dinty_moore at 8:08 AM on April 23 [7 favorites]

I hoped the writer might have fictionalized the name and perhaps a few other elements, but was able to find the article about the murder within a few searches.
posted by bunderful at 8:16 AM on April 23 [2 favorites]

I occasionally Googled an old roommate from college in the 80s over the years and never found a trace of him. Almost everyone else from that era showed up on Facebook but never "Bill". About a year ago I did it again and a link popped up with his obituary from six months before. It described him as a "self-employed laborer" and said that he died suddenly at the age of 51 and that he was still living in his hometown in rural central Pennsylvania with only his sister listed as family. I'm guessing that opioids were involved, since 51 year olds don't usually die suddenly but I don't know.
posted by octothorpe at 8:19 AM on April 23 [2 favorites]

Which means the author is not telling any secrets.

For most of my education, I went to schools that were about 90% black and mostly poor. It's been pretty grim over the years finding out about the ones who didn't make it--either violence or deaths that seem like they might not have happened to people with more money and better lifelong health care. Whereas as far as I know there are no such tragedies hanging over my classmates at the expensive, mostly white private school I finished up at.
posted by praemunire at 8:21 AM on April 23 [7 favorites]

I stopped searching old friends and acquaintances after finding out that an online friend from the early 90s who had been a huge support to me then in dealing with depression and other issues had died alone in a hotel room by suicide a few years earlier.

Meanwhile, this:

over the course of a year, the letters lost weight and became sickly, and finally our friendship passed away peacefully in its sleep

is as evocative a description of gradually losing touch with someone as I have ever seen.
posted by Flannery Culp at 8:25 AM on April 23 [16 favorites]

I liked this piece... my mother died somewhat tragically, and a family friend wrote an article about her in the local newspaper that I found to be both an inaccurate portrait of her and unflattering to boot... although he clearly meant well. I was still touched that he wrote it, and grateful. You want to own and protect memories of lost loved ones, but you also feel like the world needs to record their loss more than it ever (in my experience) does. They're conflicting desires. Often I really don't want to hear someone talking about my mom until they start, and then I don't want them to stop. Anyway it's difficult to argue a childhood friend has no claim to say his piece just because fifty years have gone by. I remember being eight far better than I remember being thirty-eight, and in many ways whatever I am now is made up of more of the eight-year-old me than the thirty-eight-year-old me.
posted by lefty lucky cat at 8:28 AM on April 23 [16 favorites]

I've googled tons of old friends to see what happened and 9 times out of 10 its the standard life but every now and again something turns up that makes me stop and send love their way, if only in my mind.

The best frienemy from 8th grade, her husband and the father of her 5 boys was killed in a very odd and unusual car crash in an area where he wasn't even supposed to be. Regardless of what bitch she was to me in 8th grade, she doesn't deserve the speculation in the comment section of the local news that he was cheating on her at the time of the accident.

Adorable young woman from college who fell in with some bad friends and flunked out died last year. The obituary mentions that the family was happy her "pain was over." She was such a sweet and bright light in college, and it hurts that I didn't notice it was gone.

And then, there's the boy I dated in high school who shot his wife's 18 year old boyfriend and managed to not only get out of jail with time served but get custody of his two kids.

I am happy I know these things and I also envision old friends doing the same with me. Good luck to them though, says the girl with a name so common it should be an alias.
posted by teleri025 at 8:35 AM on April 23 [3 favorites]

There’s a friend of mine from elementary school, he was always kind and funny and sweet and was bullied horribly by the other kids. But we were friends, until we went to different schools. I googled him every few years for a while, never found a thing. Until last year when I spelt his last name wrong and suddenly a photo of someone with the same first name and the very distinct facial feature he had popped up. I went through his twitter and it’s him, it’s definitely my old friend. He’s doing fantastic, clearly loves his job, travels all over the world, has some great friends. I’d love to reach out and say hi but he’s changed his name and moved to another state, so I’m assuming he wanted to get away from his past. I won’t bother him, but every few months I look at his twitter and am feel some vicarious joy that’s he’s living such a good life.
posted by lepus at 8:48 AM on April 23 [18 favorites]

My best friend from high school seems to have vanished. We were tremendously close for a few years, did everything together - I'd walk a few miles over to his place in the morning, watch him shave, and we'd go out and cause trouble, go to shows, talk about girls we liked, make up stupid dance moves, sneak into the movies, you get the idea. I ended the friendship late in high school after he went from being a casual substance user to a serious substance abuser who couldn't talk about anything else, since if I'd wanted to be around someone who was intoxicated all the time I could have just stayed home.

It didn't occur to me until years later that this might have been due to an emerging mental health issue, but at 17 and trying to sort out my own shit I wasn't able to deal.

My casual googling over the last few years has turned up nothing. He has no online presence at all. He has no criminal record, at least not in our home state. No one we know in common seems to know anything.

A few years ago a friend said he saw someone who looked like my old friend out at May Day, with a woman he didn't recognize and a couple of kids, and I hope so much that this is him, I hope so much that he's okay.

But I don't know, and since he has no online presence I can't find out.

If something happened to him, I would feel fine about writing about it. I don't really get the perspective where people would be offended if someone else in a person's life wrote about the importance of that relationship, perhaps especially because I know so many people who cannot safely have their parents in their lives - chosen family and close friends are the ones who can give a real accounting, and families too often want to sanitize the realities of our lives, erasing us in death when they can't in life by demanding control over our narratives, picking out the parts they like and smoothing over the rest. I liked the article. I liked the author's descriptions of the loss of something precious, the careful attempts to bring their friendship into the future that failed utterly.
posted by bile and syntax at 8:54 AM on April 23 [4 favorites]

If something happened to him, I would feel fine about writing about it. I don't really get the perspective where people would be offended if someone else in a person's life wrote about the importance of that relationship

I want to state, very carefully, that I totally do understand where you’re coming from, and a part of me can wholeheartedly agree. I didn’t name names when I related my story, because, one, privacy, and two, in some ways more importantly, they don’t matter. They are characters in the story being told. The person telling the story can’t, really, deep down, claim to be telling the story of the other in question, rather, they can only tell the version of the story where that other impacted their own life.

The people whose perspective you don’t get are the ones who don’t accept that the other people in a person’s story are the plot points that get the teller from point a to point b, and honestly, how charitable I’m feeling on a given day has a lot to do with which side I find myself on.

I mean, these are all people. Everyone we meet every day is a real person, with their own struggles. But when we begin telling stories, they start becoming characters in our tales, and we lose something there.
posted by Ghidorah at 9:20 AM on April 23 [5 favorites]

All of these stories remind me of the time when, back in my childhood town for some holiday, I decided on a whim to check the Sex Offender Registry to see how close any sex offenders lived to my mom's house. Fortunately the answer was none nearby. Instead, I discovered several high school classmates listed on there, for some pretty horrible crimes.
posted by UltraMorgnus at 9:25 AM on April 23 [1 favorite]

the other people in a person’s story are the plot points that get the teller from point a to point b

This is true to some degree of every story, and every narrative we tell about ourselves, unless, I suppose, we attain enlightenment. Human beings are solipsistic, and I'm not sure how we could not be, given the fact that we are, in fact, permanently trapped inside our own heads, with even the vaunted escapes--literature, history--requiring the filter of our own perceptions and experiences. The passionate loves of our youth become the subject of anecdote. After a few years, even great traumas become foundation stones in the story-of-me. There are strong arguments for disciplining that solipsism in many many circumstances, but, in the end, for all of us, the narrative actually is "all about us." It's not a pleasant thing to think about, from the point of view of subject or of plot point, but it's true.
posted by praemunire at 9:32 AM on April 23 [5 favorites]

Also, multiple paragraphs about burying a tin box.

so many paragraphs about burying a tin box that you've got to assume the guy was getting paid by the word.

but ...

The lost treasure is a good metaphor.
posted by philip-random at 9:34 AM on April 23 [2 favorites]

I know this is beside the point, but I keep wondering if a metal detector could help find the buried treasure.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:36 AM on April 23 [2 favorites]

This plus the recent ask about podcasts makes me think of an episode from The Anthropecene Reviewed. The narrator described his desire to look someone up to see if they were okay, and putting it off for a long time because he was afraid of what he would find out. It was excellent.

Here it is.
posted by bunderful at 9:53 AM on April 23 [1 favorite]

And, at the end of the summer before I started junior high, he, and the rest of the people that were the entirety of the social world I knew, they informed me that we couldn’t be friends anymore, now that things mattered. We could hang out during vacations, but I was not, in any way, to approach them as friends at school.

This happened to me too. It really fucked me up, although it was only one in a series of really-fucked-me-up events. At the time, I thought to myself that since I was such a toxic outcast it only made sense for them to protect themselves - which was true, basically - and wasn't especially angry. I don't know how I feel about it now.

But in any case, I'm not in touch with anyone from my childhood and don't plan to start now.
posted by Frowner at 10:08 AM on April 23 [9 favorites]

My lost tennage friend has little to no internet presence that I could ever find (the odd telephone book listing that is probably them, mention in a grandparent's obit, that sort of thing) but I once found a trove of pictures of them on Flickr, dated two years after our last contact.

The owner of the Flickr account was not a person I recognized and someone I could not recall ever having met nor heard of (the account had what seemed to be a "real" name attached to it). Two years did not seem enough time for my friend to have become so entwined in the life of a person I had never even heard of. It was so crazy!

But after a few minutes, I found I couldn't keep looking. I mean, I miss this friend at least once a week but it's now been decades since we've talked, corresponded, or anything. Realistically, I'm not missing this friend anymore--I'm missing who we both were, who maybe we both wanted to be, who I thought I was, who I thought they were.

But the shock of those pictures (ordinary tourist shots of an outing of some sort, snaps from a party) and the disproportionate force of my "who? wait? why are you there? and with people I've never heard of?"--it was sobering. I have never googled an old friend again, unless I would unequivocally invite them to dinner without having tried to talk to them first.
posted by crush at 10:31 AM on April 23 [2 favorites]

I once Googled.the name of a woman for whom I once bore a profound crush when I was in my 20s. We were friends for awhile and then drifted apart. Which I came to find that she and her sister, who I also knew, were killed in a car wreck in the 80s. That left me bearing a.profound sadness. I lost my appetite for such.searches then and there.
posted by y2karl at 10:53 AM on April 23 [5 favorites]

I used to do this a lot, and mostly I don't any more. The results are often weird, uncomfortable or unsettling.

I learned an elderly artist friend of mine passed away this way and it was pretty traumatic.

I've also discovered people on sex offender registries and with alarming criminal records and all that kind of horrible stuff.

I also had an ex look me up once, after something like 8ish years. We met up, went out for a beer and shot some pool. We were pretty much engaged and headed for marriage at one point, and even were seriously talking about kids. (Jesus, we were still kids.) We broke up due to massive trust and fidelity issues. After playing pool they propositioned me, even though they were engaged to get married that weekend. This brought up a lot of trauma about that relationship and my response was pretty much "Oh hell no. I told you years ago I don't cheat, why do you think that would change?" and I haven't talked to them since.

And in a very real sense I was also thankful that it happened, because it definitely closed the door on whatever traces of crush were left and provided a lot of sudden if traumatic closure.

Most of my friends from my youth that I want to talk to I still talk to and we're really close, like closer than my actual biological family close, and I am very grateful for those friendships.

Some of those friends have grown far, far apart.

One good friend went full on dark side of the force all into advertising and marketing, and surprise surprise I can no longer really tolerate his weird hipster alpha male schtick and lifestyle, and my anti-consumerist broke-ass hippy shit probably irritates him just as much. I know he likes his life just fine and he is, by any measure, a success and well off for it. Sure, we could sit down for dinner together and find cool things to share and talk about, but I don't call him up for a reason. Because our lives are also a sketch in how privilege and money and stuff works, how he was able to go to a very high end art school while I ended up homeless and struggling with depression and being trans in the same time frame - and this part of my life is invisible to him or somehow my fault, so, no, I don't really feel like I need that kind of judgement in my life.

Another is a relatively famous pop mixed media artist, to the point that I see his work in public on phone cases and laptop skins and such, or sometimes in an art magazine. We grew apart because in most of the ways that count, he never grew up and as far as I can tell he's kind of a sexually aggressive or abusive schmuck - which isn't surprising because we used to see his pecker all too often as a prank or joke. He's one of those childhood friends where most of my memories seem to involve trying not to actually murder him for being irritating.

In my circle of friends we just had a huge rift happen over politics. Someone whom we all thought was reasonable took a hard line apologist and aggressively centrist "both sides" stance on fascism and the current state of politics, and it ended up with a lot of people mutually unfriending each other on the FB and not talking any more.

Other old friends have their families and lives and I like them just fine, but I'm not sure how much we have to talk about, so we don't, and that's fine too. Some of them are even involved in music or arts still and I enjoy following them from afar and subscribing to their newsletters.

I also reflect and consider I am relatively rich in friends and somehow I always have been, so I have the incredible luxury to have some choice in my friends and companionship, and that most of these friends all understand me pretty well, that I'm actually an introvert and that I'm dealing with a lot.

Being here and now works for me. Sure, it's good to learn from and remember the past, but it's also probably not super healthy to spend much of your life stalking graveyards.
posted by loquacious at 11:42 AM on April 23 [3 favorites]

This thread inspired me to briefly make a tiny attempt to look for the boy from my church group again. I had the usual no-luck-at-all outcome.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:45 AM on April 23

"How many others have flippantly Googled an old friend and discovered something ghastly?"

I found out that my college ex-boyfriend hasn't died from the brain tumor he told me had (spoiler: he didn't actually have a brain tumor).
posted by cooker girl at 11:50 AM on April 23 [5 favorites]

I was once on this very site when it occurred to me to look up the last person I ever laid hands on, back in seventh grade. He had been spreading rumors about me, and I picked him up by his collar and held him against the wall to clarify the matter.

This was a funny memory up until I found out that he died at about age 21. I don't think he ever saw 9/11. He was a bratty kid -- the teacher paddled him when he was little; he played mailbox baseball when he was older -- but he wasn't a monster or a Brett Kavanaugh. I remember how small he was, how his shoulder swayed, whispers of something that might be wrong with it. I don't know how he died. He had just married.

I know some fantastic people from my childhood and -- through an unbelievable stroke of privilege -- from my high school. (One has just declared for the Democratic nomination, which is, you know, everybody loves him, but he's not bringing anything that Mayor Pete hasn't got except for a grudge with Pelosi, which -- never mind.)

Mostly, though, I don't look up the childhood friends I don't know because I don't want to see their candy-sweet Trumpist-lite church-of-Chick-fil-A social media lives. (And "sweet" is the best option. I also don't want to see the nasty memes they've shared about liberals or AOC.) This reveals something hideous not about them but about me, which is that I am still, in some part of me, the insufferable snob who clings to the idea that she's better than most everyone else her age in town because she knows the difference between a bas-relief and a relief en creux.
posted by Countess Elena at 12:16 PM on April 23 [8 favorites]

Me best friend from elementary school was named John Smith, so I've never even bothered trying to track him down.
posted by Rock Steady at 12:24 PM on April 23 [8 favorites]

Yeah, I knew a guy named Eric Raymond and I can't search for him without that asshat hacker dude coming up.
posted by bondcliff at 12:25 PM on April 23 [3 favorites]

Ghidorah: I am really sorry about what happened to you; I've had some betrayals/abandonments by childhood friends, but nothing where they formally declared me persona non grata. I do want to say that, in the twelve-step program that I'm part of (i.e. AA), we don't go around asking people to forgive us; steps 8 and 9 are pretty clearly about us making amends to people we had harmed, "except when to do so would injure them or others". It's not about them letting us off the hook, and if they don't, well, that's part of what we have to live with.

As far as the general topic of keeping up with or looking up the heroes and villains of my childhood and young adulthood goes, there's nothing especially dramatic. One of my bullies in junior high went to prison for life as a result of participating in a robbery turned lethal, but that was no big surprise, given what I remember of him. There was someone who went out of his way to make my last year of college hell, for no other reason than it raised his standing in the eyes of his asshole friends, and I used to remember him occasionally and idly fantasize about some kind of revenge, until a few years ago, when I Googled him and found out that he had died over a decade earlier; for whatever reason, the obituary hadn't been online the first few times I'd searched for him. I didn't feel any kind of schadenfreude, just chagrin at having wasted emotional energy on a dead man. Another personal villain of that era (a former friend who ended our friendship in about the most obnoxious way, for the pettiest and most hypocritical of reasons) is an artist who has had their work published, but never seems to quite break through to real popularity. And many people who I'd like to at least know whether they're still around seem to have vanished into the ether; it's impossible to tell if they ever even had any internet presence to speak of.
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:42 PM on April 23 [3 favorites]

I had a Facebook memory pop up Sunday, a post on my wall from someone who I'd dated almost two decades ago and broken up with because she went from "we're casually dating" to "I can't live without you" in a hot minute. Every now and again she'd reach out to contact me, telling me how happy she was with whomever she was dating then, we'd talk for a week or so, and then she would profess how much she still loved and needed me, and i'd apologize, tell her that that's not where I was or what I was looking for, and break contact again.

Five years ago this past Sunday, I re-friended her on Facebook, and she posted to my wall how happy she was to be able to talk to me again. A few weeks later, I unfriended her again, because the pattern repeated. That's the last time I heard from her.

When the memory popped up, I clicked on her name, just to see how she was doing... and it's a memorial page now. She died a couple of months after I unfriended her, and no online resource mentions a cause of death.

The worst part of this is that I don't know if staying in contact with her would have kept her alive. The WORST worst part is that I don't know if my own addictive issues were the driver behind the contact/break-contact cycle. I do know that she was on my own list of people to whom to make amends.
posted by hanov3r at 12:49 PM on April 23 [6 favorites]

I recently looked up the endocrinologist responsible for my fifteen-year-old autoimmune disease diagnosis; turns out Dr. Q. had health troubles of his own, and passed away last year.

Also: After a checkered career featuring disciplinary actions and probation, Dr. Q. was finally expelled from the profession in 2014 for gross negligence -- due in part to the frequency with which he misdiagnosed this particular disease.

Back to the drawing board, I guess.
posted by Iris Gambol at 12:59 PM on April 23 [8 favorites]

There was a thoughtful piece I read recently, "Facebook: Where Friendships Go to Never Quite Die," which stayed with me for this line:
You’re no longer sharing life experiences or creating memories with these weak ties, but as you live your separate lives, you’re forever in each other’s periphery.
I have been re-examining my relationships to social media this year -- and the people whom I allow in my social media spheres, either by following them on Twitter or remaining friends on Facebook. (See also: Kondo-ing your Twitter follows.) I keep asking, "Would it be so bad to let people drop out of my periphery?" and then the self-involved follow-on question, "By choosing to keep this person in my periphery, what stories am I telling myself about who I am?"

Our weak ties make self-mythologizing much more difficult if we have any honesty at all. The author here seems to be grappling with the shift from fact-free solipsism to a world where there is always someone surfacing to say they knew us when.
posted by sobell at 1:00 PM on April 23 [6 favorites]

I don't look anyone up. Well, once a year I look to see if my father is dead yet. But that's as far as it goes.

But I never look up the old friends or lovers. I'll be sad if they're doing horribly. I'll be sad if they're dead. And I'll probably be sad if they're doing better than I am. Since sadness is an almost guaranteed result, there's no point.

I did have a few on FB, but I've unfriended all of them. What's kinda fun now is having near-strangers on my friends list. I get glimpses of lives that aren't connected to mine. I get to be supportive or chatty. Almost the same as keeping the old friends around. But it's completely free of baggage since none of these people were in 3rd grade with me or were my college drinking buddies.
posted by Teegeeack AV Club Secretary at 1:40 PM on April 23 [2 favorites]

I grew up in a rural area in a small high school where pretty much everyone grew up together and stayed somewhat local. However, most of my immediate friend group were the ones who went to college, and ultimately ended up in white/pink collar jobs in "OUT OF STATE". I now understand why people of a certain age start to read the obituaries first. We've had several of our classmates die early from overdoses and "accidents", so the facebook reunion group we all belong to has now become an impromptu obituary page that is periodically updated. It's an ennui mashup of past, present and (lost) futures.
posted by Hermeowne Grangepurr at 1:49 PM on April 23 [4 favorites]

People from my public school cohort who I've looked up have:

- become famous rappers
- become hedge-fund partners
- murdered people
- become sex offenders
- gotten involved in MLM scams
- developed and recovered from serious drug problems
- faded into obscurity
- died
- had, as far as I can tell, uneventful lives
- ????

So many people pass through our lives as children that the chances of any one thing or another having happened to one of them over time gets pretty high.
posted by grumpybear69 at 1:59 PM on April 23 [1 favorite]

I find myself sort of bothered by the converse: I've only been contacted by someone from my past once or twice, and those were more fleeting work acquaintances than real buddies. I'll admit this makes me think that I have not left a deep mark in anyone's life...whether that is true or not is a different story, of course.

I try to not google people from my past too often, and then I have "rules"...mainly because what I have is idle curiousity, but with ADD it's pretty easy for a task like that to become a hyperfocus and then that's...weird. "Why did I just spend ______ hours searching for so-and-so when all we did was share a Spanish class together in high school and their name just randomly popped into my head?" Would that person even remember me? I mean, I would be unlikely to remember most of the rest of that room full of people.

I liked the story, though I felt the construction of the treasure box seemed a bit contrived...maybe because I cannot imagine the activity having more than a couple of hours half-assedly spent on it before something more interesting bit my buddies or I. Maybe I had/was a half-assed friend.
posted by maxwelton at 2:22 PM on April 23 [1 favorite]

Of the, like, three names I remember from the hundreds of my elementary school classmates, one is a person who has been featured on mefi numerous times under a different name... I'm pretty sure. But that person most likely wouldn't remember me or respond to a random "hey I was your classmate once" message ("so what?"). But it's fun to check what they're (publicly) up to lately sometimes.

Other than that I have no interest in looking up old acquaintances; I'm not that sentimental and they're essentially new to me by now anyway after all this time. Might as well just meet some new people.
posted by ctmf at 2:36 PM on April 23

My fifth-grade crush, who has a very unique name, is doing cool things but kind of looks like every other guy now, instead of the dreamboat that I asked to be square-dance partners with.
posted by PussKillian at 2:50 PM on April 23 [2 favorites]

My sixth-grade crush is a gay drag performer in the Boston area. I sure know how to pick 'em.
posted by Melismata at 2:53 PM on April 23

My best friend from fifth grade did a suicide by cop back in the early nineties. He was headed back to prison on a parole violation and the rumor was that as a fairly small person he had a particularly difficult time of it inside and couldn't face going back. I learned all that before there was an internet to nose about in, but I've continued to poke around because most of my past life people are pretty boring and not much pops up that could be any worse than DN's fate.
posted by Cris E at 3:25 PM on April 23

My childhood sweetheart committed suicide while out on bail charged with murdering his wife. (Police reports say he confessed in the notes he left behind.)
I found out because our mothers still kept in touch.

The people I'd most want to find have extremely common names, and the fact that many women my age change their surname upon marriage makes matters even more difficult.
posted by cheshyre at 4:28 PM on April 23 [1 favorite]

For a more positive story, I found a high-school friend when I was assigned a text book in grad school written by him. He has a very unusual first name so I when I got the book, I emailed him through his publisher and asked if he went to my school and sure enough, same guy that I had hung out with twenty five years earlier. He's living a pretty normal life as a software engineer and technical writer. Sort of a boring story but at least not a tragic one.
posted by octothorpe at 4:47 PM on April 23

My sixth-grade crush is a gay drag performer in the Boston area. I sure know how to pick 'em.

Terrible idea: you tell me who it is, I go to their show, tip extravagantly, and tell them you sent me.
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:47 PM on April 23 [13 favorites]

I do want to say that, in the twelve-step program that I'm part of (i.e. AA), we don't go around asking people to forgive us; steps 8 and 9 are pretty clearly about us making amends to people we had harmed, "except when to do so would injure them or others". It's not about them letting us off the hook, and if they don't, well, that's part of what we have to live with.

Yeah, what I learned was it's my duty to apologize, they don't owe me forgiveness and that's really none of my business. It's pretty easy to understand why other people wouldn't see it that way and that's just part of it.

Most of the weird stories I learned about people I used to know didn't come from the internet, so there's that. But I don't do Facebook, so there's a lot less of that popping up unless I go looking for it.

I did contact someone years ago and they were shocked because they thought I was dead for decades, a reasonable assumption. They also didn't really want much to do with me, also reasonable.
posted by bongo_x at 6:21 PM on April 23 [2 favorites]

I recently heard that someone I knew eight or ten years ago died, and I certainly wouldn't wish to un-know that. The slightly disorienting thing is that I got the way he died (which was predictable) but not when, so it could have been last month or it could have been 2016 (the last time I can see evidence that his band was active)?

I guess I do have a guy I knew who... I hope things have turned out well for him, I worry they might not have, I probably could just call one of a couple phone numbers and ask but something makes me not want to do that?
posted by atoxyl at 7:35 PM on April 23 [1 favorite]

TW: suicide, molestation

"How many others have flippantly Googled an old friend and discovered something ghastly?"

In the mid-90s, when I was a lonely middle schooler on AOL, I spent a lot of time on RPG clubs online. I was 12, 13, and there was an older guy in one of the clubs, maybe in his late 20s. One of my characters was a tween boy, and this guy also played a tween boy, and we role-played them kissing each other and stuff. You can probably see where this is going. He'd gently nudge me to get more and more explicit with the stuff we'd write over email and in chats.

I didn't get what was weird about this at the time. I was queer, genderqueer, very closeted, teased, and exceedingly lonely. My dad had died about 4 years before and my mom was physically and verbally abusive. I had maybe one friend at school. I was flattered that a smart adult was taking an interest in me. When we weren't cybering as teenage boys, we'd talk about books, philosophy. He was an Episcopal priest, married to a woman with a physical disability. He would inappropriately confide in me about their lives, their sexless marriage. His secret bisexuality.

One day he messaged me, upset. He was trying to help this boy he knew through the church, he said, who had come out to him as gay. He's gotten him a cell phone so they can talk and discuss this boy's struggles. But the boy's parents were upset about this. I remember fretting over my "friend" and how unfair this was over dinner one day. My mother, in her inimitable style, told me it all sounded creepy, that this guy sounded like a creepy. I was defensive. Of course I was. This guy never harmed me directly, never asked to meet. He lived halfway across the country. He was my friend.

Eventually, I drifted away from the role-playing club we were in together. I started high school. Made real life friends. Went to college, graduate school. One day I get an email. It's my old friend. He says he sometimes wonders about me, and another girl he used to chat with in the same club, around my age. He mentions that he and his wife have adopted. I feel unsettled but unable to pin point why, and let the conversation fade away.

Maybe two years ago, I'm randomly googling people, and I google this guy. His facebook comes up. He was recently jailed. For molesting one of his adopted sons, and another boy at church, after grooming them by buying them phones and electronics. His wife's facebook passionately declares his innocence, calls it a witch hunt. Then she reveals that their adopted son, now in foster care, has committed suicide by hanging.

I don't know whether it's better to know or not know, in a way, because what happened to me when I was 13 confused me. I had never been able to point to what happened as sexual coercion, as pedophilia. It was fiction. I was curious, thought I was an active participant, thought that he was my friend at a time when I needed one. Now I see that wasn't the case. I was a victim of a monster. It took a lot of processing after discovering this, but I guess I'm glad for the greater context. Maybe. Sort of.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:39 PM on April 23 [21 favorites]

Well, this post convinced me to finally go search for my best friend from kindergarten. I always meant to try to find him and see if he still remembered me. We were basically inseparable until his family moved away in second grade. I’d never been able to track him down for sure, since his name is too generic, but tonight I hit on trying it in combination with his father’s name. It worked. I found my old friend.

He died last year.

I realized, after reading his obituary, that even after 35 years on separate paths we still shared so many common interests. We’d still probably be friends if we met each other today.

I’m sorry David. I wish I’d found you sooner.
posted by Guernsey Halleck at 8:40 PM on April 23 [10 favorites]

PhoBWanKenobi, thank you for that. It was truly moving, and I'm sorry your mom let that go on.

I was targeted by older men online in the '90s, and I thought it was the price I paid for being openly female. I was defiant and nasty or funny about it, but the thing is, I tried to talk to them. I didn't just block them. I thought they would treat me decently if I outclassed them. I remember one guy in particular who was open about the fact that he was grooming me, and one who was not, but who had quite a lot to say to a teenage girl for all that. I should have just refused to engage, but they were literate and funny, and one apparently had exciting connections. I wanted to have exciting friends. I wanted --
posted by Countess Elena at 9:00 PM on April 23 [3 favorites]

After reading this post, just for the heck of it I Googled an old friend from high school that I hadn't talked to in more than 40 years. After a couple of false starts, I turned up a LinkedIn page for him, showing what looked like a nice career in engineering that included nearly 20 years teaching at a state university.

Then I searched again, using his name and what I had learned was his current place of residence, and turned up news stories indicating that in the mid-2000s he'd been arrested, convicted, and served a year in prison for being caught up in a police sting in which cops posed as underage kids and went online in chat rooms, trying to get men to solicit them for sex.

My old friend corresponded online with what he thought was a 14-year-old girl, but who, when he showed up to meet her, turned out to be a police officer. He got sacked from the university, went to prison, and after getting out, seems to have been doing consulting work in his field.

So, that was a thing that happened, and I'm not sure what to make of it.
posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner at 10:21 PM on April 23 [1 favorite]

A friend I was really close with for most of my elementary school years ("Sam") later became infamous for something unusually awful you may have heard of, even if you wouldn't recognize Sam's name.

I remember the day I found out, from someone else we went to school with, that Sam had been involved in this very terrible circumstance. For those of us learning this alarming news about someone we'd shared elementary school lunches with, it kind of felt like that was the really beginning of the end of our childhoods. Our loss of innocence isn't a worthwhile story to tell, though. The real story is that for Sam to have been involved in something so heinous their childhood must have ended years earlier, possibly without anyone noticing. Did I notice? Did my peers notice? We did, even at our young age, but we didn't necessarily know how to articulate exactly what was wrong or how to get help for our friend. What happened instead is that our friendships with Sam ended with our scorn, rather than us compassionately telling a trusted adult that things were getting weird.

Sam's name isn't supposed to be linked with their past because their identity has been concealed to protect the privacy of Sam's family members. A couple times every year, I'd Google Sam hoping that someone hadn't shared their secrets by their name. For years, it had held up, but the Internet eventually learns everything. Now, Sam's Google results are more or less dominated by their whole sordid story. I'm not even sure if this story ought to be told. Sam's story, from a legal perspective, ought not even exist, so it can't be our story in which to inappropriately centre ourselves, either. I, for one, don't want Sam's story to exist, not for Sam, not for me, not for anyone involved. I've spent my adult life with Sam (good or bad) redacted from my childhood.

I came of age professionally during The Rise of the Personal Essay. A good many of my peers built their writing careers placing themselves at the centre of other people's misfortune; Sam's saga was one such opportunity for me to do the same. As much as I want to say I didn't do it purely out of respect for Sam's relatives, to be honest I just didn't want to deal with the headache of potentially having something in my portfolio linked to having Sam's identity resurface. If I had known from day one that the Internet would never keep Sam's secret...maybe I would have been a bit more like those Columbine classmate forum posters?
posted by blerghamot at 11:03 PM on April 23 [3 favorites]

One guy I've known since 4th grade I'd kept up with off/on over the years. He stayed right where we were when we met (wrong side of the tracks in a white-bread Chicago suburb) while I headed south -- Florida -- then back a couple of years and then Texas since '77 with the occasional back/forth for another decade. He is a very unusual guy, very, very savvy, clever, and I can't remember where I first read it but it's become mine now to observe how it's difficult for clever people to not take advantage of those of us who are not clever. And that's assuming that perhaps they don't *want* to take advantage, while it seems that most enjoy the fun. We were close but really, there is no being close to this guy. Still, an unusual guy, and interesting, successful in construction and then real estate, also, owned (owns?) a few hundred apartments, which are great hedges against the up/down of construction/real estate.

Google told me just how clever he is -- he'd been partners with his brother, who died, and left him in charge of taking proper care of his brothers widow and children, The Good Uncle, who'd hosed them for TONS of money. They took him to court, won handily, and the bastard appealed, and that's where it stood when last I checked.

It was amusing to talk to him and not let on that I knew what was up, but in time it wore thin and I just cut him out of my life. Good riddance.

I don't have nor want Facebook but I've had friends check up on some old sweeties, just because. It was fun to see their lives progressing nicely, good people living good lives.

One old lover is a writer (she'd correct me and say "Author." and you could hear her capitalize the A on Author) and married a musician and they together have put together this wonderful show, and they have a real great life going on, they're here in Austin when not on the road and, Austin still being a small town, I've run into her a time or three, "Hello hello how are you?" etc and it's nice. She was/is easy to look up if/when I'd want to, has an online presence.

A massive crush from high school, I heard grapevine that she'd had some troubles, cocaine, and even prison, a complete surprise -- she was pretty normal, young, though I if anyone know the fast turns life can take, and take you with it, a chip of wood on a fast-moving, twisting stream. I know just a little bit of her family life, her parents and siblings, prison had to be hard for them all. That piece just seems so far fetched. Cancer took her, in her fifties. Her name was unusual enough that it was easy to find her obit, and even her birth record (!) which came out of nowhere, I was all "WTF?" I put her birthday on my calendar; she'd have been 64 this past Saturday. I wasn't lucky enough to have ever held her hand -- I would have given anything, everything, my voice trembled even to talk to her, my dumb heart trembled even to see her -- but I hold her in mind on her birthday. I met her fifty flippin' years gone by now, and as beautiful as she was I know Time would have talked to her same as it has to me, but her eyes were so, so beautiful -- they were the softest, most luminous brown -- and if you're going to love for beauty you'd best look at a persons eyes, because that's the one thing that holds.
posted by dancestoblue at 1:31 AM on April 24 [2 favorites]

Heh, I just looked up my one friend from daycare, the only "girl" in the place who was okay being friends with a "boy." Turns out we both transitioned, which seems entirely correct.
posted by nebulawindphone at 4:44 AM on April 24 [10 favorites]

My best friend from elementary school died of cancer the year after we graduated. We'd drifted apart by then so I only heard the news after it happened. This all happened pre-internet and so as a result there is nothing at all about him on line. No old dormant web page, no Facebook memorials, not even an obituary.

It bugs me. It feels like he never existed. I'm not the guy to build a memorial page to him (he died over 30 years ago) but it would make me feel better if I could google his name and find something about my old friend Bruce.

I may very well own the only digital photo of him in existence, since I scanned all my family's old Polaroids a few years ago.
posted by bondcliff at 6:28 AM on April 24 [3 favorites]

PhoBWanKenobi, thank you for that. It was truly moving, and I'm sorry your mom let that go on.

In a way, my mother didn't--she might have tried to outright forbid the interaction after she told me she thought it was creepy. But her actions (which often included isolating me from friends because she was uneasy letting them have much influence in my life) definitely contributed to my having social holes that I desperately needed filled. It's not normal for tweens to have one to zero RL friends. I needed people who thought I was interesting and who wanted to spend time with me. That isolation, abuse, my broader resulting depression made it easier for a predator to take advantage of me. I think it works that way with a lot of young queer people, especially, but bright young outsiders generally. An important part of grooming is isolation. I was already isolated.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:19 AM on April 24 [8 favorites]

Still zip online for my father but a possible address from a few years ago. Probably for the best. #ghostdad
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:00 AM on April 24 [2 favorites]

I grew up in an rural and destitute community in the Southwestern US.

I turned forty this year. Nearly half of the men in what would have been my high school graduating class (I finished high school in a different state) have died.

I don't look people up any more.
posted by aspersioncast at 1:32 PM on April 24 [7 favorites]

On the other hand, one of the kids I used to hang out with in my neighborhood is now the principal owner of the Boston Celtics.
posted by e1c at 7:38 AM on April 25 [1 favorite]

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