(First published in The Mayo Review, Spring 2015)
Shall I tell you what it is like to have friends in other places?
We share so much of a common soul, yet live so far away. In my case, in another country, half a world distant, my jungle shores, your Midwest corn or Southern heat or European je-ne-sais-quoi. We have spoken often yet, frequently, we’ve never met. I’ve read the writings that let me into your mind, stories all the richer for knowing the person who wove them.
I sit in my attic overlooking the sea and read your words, peer at your pixellated face on the screen, try and fail to speak of the scope of my life. Here, I’ll put a fisheye lens on my webcam. Can you see the whole world now? Forever we are running into limits, but here I am tucked up in bed, reading your books, sifting your thoughts.
I wander my beaches in a winter wind and wonder, will you ever join me here? What will you think of it all—will it live up to the hype, will it be as you thought it might? Perhaps it’ll be a different thing altogether, with you in it.
There have been chat sessions, video calls, and emails back and forth. Social media banalities, glimpses in painstakingly chosen images, random statements, discussions. It all counts in varying degrees to make a friend out of a far-off stranger.
Shall I tell you how it is to visit one long known thusly?
There is the clash and hubbub of arrival, a bus terminal or airport maybe, a first formal meeting. We keep distance carefully. We are familiar, but how will this work in person?
In the first days we discover mannerisms and personality that could never transmit digitally. We laugh, nervous to begin with, then more easily. We play games, and walk, cook and eat shared meals, shop and dine a little. This, then, is your life—with me strangely in it for a little while.
We bespeak the writing. Passions rise as yes, you know exactly what I mean, and I you. Giggling, golden, over something fresh that happens when we’re in the same room. Learning to interpret nuances of expressions too subtle for the internet.
The corn is your ocean, swaying in the wind, rippling over gentle hills in long waves. Oh, land—beautiful, but not my own. Straight roads and flat places and signs in mileage and odd-to-me driving rules, peculiar naming words, everything custom order, and many other things I’ve never experienced before. I pack it all into my head. I’ll write about it later.
Your windows are all vertical, your screen doors are glass, your house is coated in…plastic? Your food is often strange to me; you speak foreign words in an accent that, sadly too often, I have been taught to mock. I must be extra careful what I eat in the Land of the Free, because processed foods too often have ingredients best avoided and even what seems good may have something undesirable in it. Also because buffets are cheap and my eyes can get the better of my stomach.
I become more comfortable with all these things as time goes by, day by shining day. But I have a home too, a home that misses me very much, where the waves cry out to my muse in their sunshine-tinkly-sparkly voice or their thunderous-stormy-bass voice, or with no voice at all except for the hushing of the wind. That is my water, and it wants me back.
Shall I tell you how it is to go home?
Sadness crests like a tsunami just out of sight. One more departure. One more teardrop seaglass gem for my collection of ephemeral jewellery. I won’t really be gone, not with all the connecting we do almost every single day. We’ll talk richer now for having breathed the same air awhile.
Oh, we’ll still laugh at the differences, tangle over dialects and varying grammars, poke at cultural references, recall with fondness the times of shoulder-to-shoulderness. We’ll make wild plans to travel again, to meet in even stranger places. Make and shake and break like shards in the winds of fate. Will we ever even meet again? I’ll walk my beach and think, you could be here. You could.
Then, beyond all of these strangenesses we find we are the same; then the human spirit connects across cultural divides, across language barriers, across distance (I have stepped in your earth now); then we can read each other like a book. Then I know what you are thinking even when you are in pixels on a bad connection that is good in all the ways that count. That makes all the partings bearable and pays me back in full for the lack of you in the constant now.