The internet is a strange place to be. It is both real and not real at the same time. Everyday we meet and interact with people over the internet even though we are sometimes thousands of miles apart. It doesn't make the interaction or the relationship less real, it is just different. Things like internet dating and friendships have become more acceptable and normal than they were even ten years ago.
I like many other people have friends that I met online. For the longest time most of them were just online friends. They lived in other states and countries, and while we shared common interests that build friendships, there was a distance that only the internet could defeat. We never spoke on the phone, we never were going to meet in person, we were only ever going to meet up in IMs and chat rooms.
Then something changed.
For years I have played in an online RP chat room. One of my college friends got me sucked into it, and I have been doing it ever since. I met a lot of great people through the room that ended up becoming very good friends. We talked about so much more than the game. We talked about families, relationships, work, religion, politics, and anything else you would discuss with a real friend.
With friendship though, especially for someone like me who is very physically connected to people I care for, internet isn't always enough. I was closer to some of these people than I was to some friends I saw face to face every say. I wanted to be closer to them. I wanted that face to face physical connection. A warm body to put with the person on the other side of the screen.
Distance was still a factor. Being a poor college student or newly wed didn't really give a lot of opportunity to run off to Indiana or New York for a weekend to hang out with these people I wanted to be closer to. Schedules also became an issue, as when they managed to be in Texas for other reasons, I was always out of town or working in some way. We always just missed one another.
Then one night I got an IM from one of my closest online friends Toni, who we always called Dana or Zuul. She wanted to call me on the phone. At this point we had known one another probably six years and had never spoken on the phone. I immediately gave her my number.
We talked for hours. At one point she had to go plug her phone in and sit on the floor beside the power outlet so we could keep talking. My phone got so hot it became uncomfortable to hold to my ear. I hadn't talked on the phone like that since I was in high school and practically lived with the phone connected to my head. I can't remember a thing of what we talked about, but we talked all night long.
A few weeks later I got another call from my friend, but this time it wasn't to chat. She wanted to make some changes in her life. She was unemployed and unhappy in Indianapolis and wanted to try something new. She wanted to move to Texas and try to start over. Her sister and brother in law lived in Dallas but they didn't have room to let her stay with them. She needed someplace to stay and wanted to know if I would let her live with us until she got one her feet.
I was torn. Part of me wanted to flat out say yes. This was one of my closest friends, and I had had friends who took us in when we moved to Dallas so that we could have the chance to get on our feet. Paying it forward seemed like the right thing to do. On the other hand I had never met this person before. We had been friends for a long time, but I had never physically laid eyes on her. Was this wise?
I told her I had to clear it with the husbeast. I was really not sure he would be alright with letting a stranger live in our house. To my surprise he didn't even bat an eyelash about it. He told me yes without much thinking about it at all. He was ready to pay it forward.
So I told her yes. Dates were set, plans were made, and all there was to do was wait the month for her to get there. I was a nervous wreck. I cleaned and organized and prepared and fretted the entire time. I had no idea what I had gotten myself into or if it was a good idea. I wanted to back out of it every day we waited for her to arrive.
The day she came our AC died. It was the end of September, but in Texas that doesn't mean a lot. The house was clean and ready for her to arrive, even if it was hot. We went to a friends dance show and out to dinner since she was going to be late driving in from Indiana. I could barely focus on the dancing or the food, I was a mess.
As we sat close to midnight in our incredibly warm house, a breeze filtering through the open windows, I was sick with worry over whether this was a good decision or not. What if she was a slob? What if we didn't get along in person? What if she is some sort of crazy person? What if, what if, what if.
We saw her lights as she pulled up, and we went out to meet her. I had seen pictures of her, but I still really wasn't certain what to expect. This adorable little woman came rolling out of her car, stiff from a 13 hour drive, and all tired smiles for finally being at her destination.
There was perhaps a half second of awkward verification as we looked at one another, finally seeing this friend after so many years of not meeting. That half a second faded and so did my anxiety. We hugged and all of those what if's faded away, and I couldn't remember why I had been freaked out in the first place. I knew this girl, and she knew me. She was one of my best friends and I was so happy to finally have her with me.
She only stayed with us for nine months before she went back to Indianapolis. There were lots of reasons she left, mostly because of her boyfriend, now husband, who was still back home. She got to do both faires with me, become part of our circle of friends, and grow closer as friends in that time. I wouldn't trade any of it for all the money in the world.
I was sad to see her leave, and there really isn't much of a day that passes that I don't wish she was closer. I get to see her once a year when she is down to work an anime convention here in Dallas, but that isn't nearly enough time.
We still are friends through the internet, but I discovered something by having her actually in my life for a time. I discovered that while internet friendships are great, once you make that solid connection, it really pales in comparison to what you can have in real life.
I am grateful that the internet allowed me to find this friend, and others, and I am grateful that it allows me to continue to keep close despite distance. I am just a little sad that I can't have more.