This shit started when this friend I’ll call W was coming to visit with their new SO. The last time we saw W, they were at the end of a relationship, and it was rocky and bad; words were exchanged, disappointments voiced, phone calls avoided and emails unreturned. Breakups are ugly, I get it, but seriously, people, you know the rest of us can see you?
So ok W was coming and bringing the new SO and we were getting floors vacuumed and the sheets changed when W texted me to say the new SO was sick and they weren’t coming after all. Which meant we could stop vacuuming. Which was, despite the disappointment, sorta ok. We had agreed to take care of The Graduate’s GF’s fuzzy little dog for the weekend. He’d be our houseguest. Something else to do.
I was out in the yard with all the dogs when I got a text from my brother asking about an article that the Search Engine Monopoly suggested to him, written by J, one of my internet friends. My brother was like don’t you know this person and I was all sure that’s J. Is that a real friend my brother asked and I did not hesitate to say yes.
I never like set out to have internet friends. I had them before I realized, really. When I moved from Seattle I felt disconnected from most of the people I saw every day. It was like we were dead to them. Of course, no one warned me. I just set off on my adventure with all my family, pets, and possessions, and no one wondered whatever happened to us. And that first year, we lived in North Dreadful, which had its downs and downers. And then we lived in the city, and there was a hurricane. But somewhere in there I made a Twitter for my cat, and ended up with some pocket friends.
J was one of the first people I talked to regularly on Twitter. Back in 2012, he caught me at peak cussing-on-the-internet, and RTed me as @HamsterRelish “what kind of twat says “va-jay-jay?” it’s VAGINA.” We go way back.
I talk to J on three platforms, I told my brother. I’m looking forward to having lunch with him. (Not because we had plans to have lunch, but because I always imagined I would have a reason to go to J-ville and we would have lunch. Maybe get a mani-pedi. You know, friend things.)
But then standing in the yard watching three dogs run around I got to thinking about J and wondered why I hadn’t seen a post in about a week, which was unusual given that we were connected on three platforms.
And it was a Facebook post, to J’s wall, from J’s longtime SO, that said something about J being gone and that sure as shit didn’t make any sense.
So I looked up J’s mother. And she had a post saying that J’s last words were “Just love each other.”
J could tell me which peanut butter cookie recipe to use and follow it up with a hilarious 80s song reference. J wrote beautifully about being a therapist, and had a plush vagina pillow on the couch at work. J encouraged my revolting and fanciful ideas about cat-milk-cheese. J tried on all the funny hats at Target. J could take down a Twitter troll and make them cry uncle. J called bullshit on homophobia, on racism, on sexism. J knew what Bundt cakes to make. J had names and numbers for mental health specialists. J took selfies with a mud mask on his face. J knew more about suicide than anyone I know. J knew when people’s husband’s employers were in the news and that not all news that seemed good actually is good. J knew how to DM me on three platforms, and did.
Your internet friends are pocket friends. They live in your phone. They know your pet peeves and your enthusiasms. They are real friends you see all the time. They go everywhere with you.
So where the fuck was J.
I checked all three platforms.
It didn’t make any sense. He was just there the other day, when the truck full of axe body spray exploded in Texas. When he walked his dog.
I’ve had other friends disappear on social media. Sometimes they come back with another name. Sometimes they don’t. I’ve even had an acquaintance in Australia die. But this.
I hearted the posts from his SO and his mother.
And within minutes the algorithm was showing the posts to our mutual friends. And by the end of the day I was juggling DMs from mutual friends on three platforms.
Are you ok.
I am ok. Are you ok. I am gutted. I don’t understand. No, me either.
Luckily, in my weird little privileged world, there are always dogs to walk and horses to ride, and I kept going. Horses demanded my attention. Dogs, dogs, dogs. I was a little out of it, and had to tell my horse trainer, but we got to work, because I had regionals to prepare for. My new horse and I qualified for the championships, ok sure only at training level but it was coming up. An important horse show seems stupid and strange when you’re upset about someone who died, but also good and simple and true. We worked to get there. We were ready.
But then right after I’d left the barn my mare spooked and got a big cut on her hip. The barn manager texted me right away. She called for the vet and sent me a photo. It looked like a clean slice. Not too deep.
We got home and headed out to walk the dogs. Eggi was too excited for words and kept licking my face and bumping into Captain. The Houseguest looked fuzzily nonplussed, but I fitted him with his little blue collar and leash. I handed the Houseguest’s leash to the Bacon Provider, and took our two dogs myself. We were doing the short loop, through the woods. We were about a half-mile from home when I heard the Bacon Provider make a sort of hiccuping noise. I turned around to see him holding a leash, attached to a little blue collar, buckled into a neat round loop with no fuzzy dog in it. The Houseguest was booking it back down the trail towards our house. Now the Bacon Provider is not accustomed to fuck-ups, and takes things v seriously, and he took off running after the fuzzy little punk, despite my attempts to explain that he really should not chase the dog. DON’T I shouted CHASE HIM to the empty woods.
Then I was alone in the woods with my two dogs, and my phone rang and it was the vet. She had sewn up the hole in the horse. I asked about the upcoming show. “Well,” said the vet, “if it were on her leg, I’d say no. and if it were on her face I’d say no problem. You should stick to light work for the next few days and we’ll see.”
Sticking to light work.
Horses are stupid.
But what happened.
There was a guy, fixing a thing, with a power tool. It made a noise. The horse scooted.
Is she ok.
She’ll be ok.
Don’t you have a show coming up.
Back at the house, the Bacon Provider and the Houseguest looked like nothing had happened. I thought about posting something about how naughty the Houseguest was on one or three platforms but thought his owner might be sad to learn he was being a pain while she was away.
A couple days passed and the Bacon Provider left for a business trip. My horse and I stuck to light work. By Tuesday it was clear the stitches were holding nicely. But the stitches are right on her hip, and if she stood the wrong way on the trailer ride she might open it again. I made the decision to keep my horse home from the show. Even though it was the championships. Even though we worked so hard to get there. Even though.
I got a text from my husband sitting on his plane where he saw W’s ex who boarded after he did. Had W and the new SO made it for the weekend, they would have very likely all run into each other at the airport. JFC people the rest of us can see you. Be good to each other, even if you have to let someone go.
I walked all three dogs by myself.
I got in bed early and put a mud mask on my stupid sad face.
I got a text around 10 from my neighbor. She was away and the person who was supposed to do barn check hadn’t. Could I go over and throw the horses a flake of hay? Of course I could. I washed off the mud mask. Real life friends and neighbors are important. I went in my pajamas. Her horses were fine.
I miss you, J.
2 thoughts on “Mud Mask”
I don’t remember how I found J on Twitter, but it was at least several years ago. I think his suicide essays were the first longer form thing of his that I read.
J sent me book recommendations when my mother and I had a multi-hour screaming fight after 5 good years of detente. J was all set with local therapist recommendations when I did a phone interview with Radcliffe’s Schlesinger Library and teased me that he was going to drop in to tell them to shortlist me already. J gave me permission to use photos of Maggie so I could include recurring shots of an adorable therapy dog in my presentation on teaching about date rape, and sent me better copies of the ones on a platform.
Last week I saved some of J’s photos from that platform, including some of the funny hat ones. And the one of him and T together — you know the one I mean, right?—- breaks my heart.
And I am sending good thoughts to your horse.
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