The other night I dreamt of Ian. That in and of itself is not so unusual. I mean, my friends often make guest appearances in my dreams. But, no matter how surreal or nonsensical the dream in which Ian appears, it is never more perplexing or mysterious than what happened to our friendship.
Ian and I met about 18 years ago. We were both hired around the same time at this very esteemed, but very dysfunctional survey research company. We were hired as part of an effort to bring some younger blood into the company and to help bring it kicking and screaming into the computer age. There was a big divide between the old timers who smelled of stale booze and cigarettes and the new kids who were so excited to be working for such a well respected company. I was given a shiny new annex to manage, away from all the typewriters and lunchtime drinking binges of the main office. And while I was free to hire all new interviewers, I had to inherit a bunch of the old timer supervisors who relished questioning my every decision. “…that’s not how Bob would do it” they would whine. I was always tempted to reply “No, probably not, but then again I’m not a bitter alcoholic abusive old queen with a taste for rough trade, am I?”
And then there was Ian. Ian was my freakin’ lifeline there. Ian was smart, good looking, and like me, younger than the old school supervisors by a least a decade or so. He wasn’t afraid of computers, and respected what I was trying to do there (I had come from an academic and public health background in survey research, and I was trying to bring the same kind of rigorous methodology to this company’s political polling and market research). As we got to know each we would spend more and more time in my office talking and laughing. Mostly laughing. Even though he was born in the US, his parents had only just imigrated from England, so Ian had a very British sense of humor, which I adored. He had also inherited the British reserve, so while in the workplace we could bust a gut, he had very defined boundaries around his personal life. I learned early on that the closeness we shared in the office did not translate outside the office walls. I remember once we were chatting at the end of the day, and it was time to leave. We continued talking as we gathered our things. I figured we would at least walk to the BART (subway) station together. But, as we hit the door, he clammed up, waved good-bye and then strode quickly away. Odd bird, that Ian.
After less than a year with that company, I quit to join my former boss in a smaller, younger company. Ian left shortly after I did to go back to school in San Diego. I figured that was the last I would ever see of him. But, a year or so later, I get a letter from Ian asking me if I knew of any job openings. He wanted to come back up to the Bay Area. I don’t remember if I actually had a position open, or if I just created one for him, but I was eager to rehire him on both a professional and personal level. This time our friendship extended outside the office walls. In addition to spending our days together in our shared office, we would hang out in the evening.
Now, in case you’re thinking, “hmmm sounds like a bit of a budding romance there”, trust me, it was only in my dreams. Ian was a declared “asexual”. Sex, according to Ian,was nice, but it wasn’t worth all the nonsense that you had to endure to get it. It was emotionally messy. He had maybe one girlfriend his entire life. And this was a good looking, smart, funny guy. A catch, even. Besides, I certainly wasn’t his type. But, I was happy to be his friend. He was perhaps my only good friend at the time. He certainly was the person I spent the most time with.
Again, we both left this company around the same time. Me, I left for a better position at a different company just a couple of blocks away. And Ian left to finally pursue his ambitions to be a videographer. He had always been an excellent still photographer, so he figured maybe he could be a news cameraman. Via postcards, letters and email, Ian and I continued our friendship as he worked his way up in the local news markets – starting in the middle of nowhere in Nebraska, to eventually landing up in Dallas. And while he was certainly successful professionally, he wasn’t happy. He hated the politics and the petty ambitions of local news. He hated how he had to stifle his creativity. He never really developed any friendships along the way, so he spent his free time alone reading, writing lengthy emails to me, and eventually, drinking.
I forget whether he left his last job in Dallas because he was fed up, or because he needed to go take care of his dying father. I was always proud of him for being willing to go take care of his dad. For years Ian had refused to take his father’s phone calls or cash the checks he sent. All Ian wanted was an apology for the beatings his dad gave him, some kind of acknowledgment that it was wrong. When that wasn’t forthcoming, Ian cut him off. That was, until he got really sick. I’m sure it wasn’t easy for him, but he did the right thing. After his father died, he and his sister split the proceeds from the sale of his father’s very nice house in San Diego that was sold near the top of the real estate market. Ka-ching!
Ian then started traveling and living abroad. Our correspondence became a bit more sporadic since it was now dependent on his access to an internet cafe. But, he would share with me his truly incredible pictures. During his trip to Thailand he met a girl. And while he wasn’t effusive (at least to me) about the relationship, his rare emails were now peppered with the term “my girlfriend” and according to the last email I received from him, he was thinking of moving out to her home in the countryside to be with her – that is, if he wasn’t thrown out of the country due to the recent military coup.
Before he disappeared from my life, I tried to communicate with him via Gmail chat. The first couple of times I saw him online we would exchange a few lines of conversation. But, as he explained, he was on a dial-up connection at an internet cafe, so it was really slow and a bit frustrating to try and chat. OK, no problem. I didn’t take it personally. After that, if I saw him online, I would drop a line like “Just wanted to say hi. Hope you’re well. “ I didn’t expect, nor would I get a reply.
And then one evening, a couple of years ago, I saw him online and just said hello with nary an expectation of a chat. He did respond this time, but in a way that hurt me deeply. Before my very eyes, his name disappeared from my Gmail chat menu. In response to my “hey there”, he went in and changed his security settings so that his name would never appear in my Gmail chat menu. What technology giveth in terms of ways of connecting, technology can also taketh away. Ouch.
I desperately wanted to send an email and say “what the fuck, Ian?”, but my pride and my unwillingness to get hurt further got in the way. I expected that eventually I would hear from him. We had gone weeks between emails before. But no emails ever came.
I dreamt of Ian about a year ago and I dropped him a quick line to say hello, wish him well and to let him know I would love to hear from him. No response. I’ve since done some research online and it appears he is back in the States and living with his sister in Washington. If I were truly motivated to get to the bottom of this, I could probably track him down. But, it’s not like he could not have found me if he wanted to – my phone number and email address hasn’t changed in ages. The other day I looked through our emails prior to the great silence to see if I could see any clues, and I just don’t see any. It’s a mystery. For me, a sad mystery.
Damn, I miss that limey bastard.