Strangers

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It’s a weird place, this internet.

For those of us who live part of our lives online, whether it is through a blog, micro-blogging or social networking, we know how easily bonds can be formed with people we only know through words on a screen. Sometimes maybe a picture is attached, but for the most part, it is just the written word.  Yet, we form attachments.  We feel like we know people.  Should some of online buddies disappear in the ether, we would be affected.

And sometimes it goes even beyond people we directly exchange words with.  It could just be online person whom we follow at a distance.  We know of them, but they don’t know us.  We lurk and we follow their lives, and we come to care about them in a weird, voyeuristic way.

There’s a young man that I follow on Twitter.  We are both fans of a popular podcast, and he became friends with the hosts so he was often mentioned or called in on the comment line.  I read his blog, and when I joined Twitter, I chose to follow his tweets.  Other than the fact that we both enjoy the same podcast, we have nothing in common.  He’s a young, newly out of the closet, gay man living in San Francisco and partying like the fresh, young thing that he is.   I marvel at how many clubs he seems to go to in a given night.  I watch with an old, sad heart as he rides the emotional roller coaster of the dating and mating game. But, lately, he’s seemed pretty unstable. His messages speak more of being lonely, depressed and broke.

Less than an hour ago, one of his Twitter messages said he was going to go kill himself by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge.  My heart sank even though I don’t really know the kid.  My words would mean nothing him.  But, I tried anyway and sent him a message.  I’m sure dozens of others did also as he is followed by hundreds of people.   I don’t know if he was serious, or just being an attention whore. But, you have to take these these threats seriously.  I called the Golden Gate Bridge district to give them a description of him and even sent them a picture of him I found online.  It was all I could do.

There have been no more tweets from him since the suicide threat.  Maybe I’ll never know what happened to him.  Who knows?  Maybe tomorrow morning he’ll twitter a message “Damn I was drunk and depressed last night. Gotta get to the gym to work off the drinks.”  That would be reassuring.  I hope the kid gets the help he needs.  It’s great to have lots of online “friends”, but we also have to have flesh and blood people in our lives who we can count on to be there when we need them.

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16 responses »

  1. this is an awful terrible beautiful story. all we know about this person is your description ~ so we’re at least 2 steps removed from an actual being who may or may not be anything like his picture and words let alone your words.

    “My words would mean nothing him” but your words about him mean something to us and so indirectly mean something to the humanity in us all.

    Most profound is that you have been moved and so have opened the door for us to be moved as well and how can that not be a blessing? Great pain always contains this possibility doesn’t it?

    My guess is a serious suicide attempt is not preceded by a twitter ~ not to diminish the perception pain but something more subtle is going on which points back to all of us.

    Without your words none of this is possible.

  2. Yes

    Well. I hope he turns out okay, this kid. Even though I don’t actually know if he’s ever really existed or not. It still hurts your mind, doesn’t it? Which means there is hope for all of us. There is compassion there. There is buddha nature.

  3. This medium does help you connect to people in a different way than face to face. It allows more expression and exposure…as well as less…depending on how much one is willing or able to share.

    Hope you will once again hear from this on-line friend.

  4. suicides are most common amongst young males, so I’d say you did right to take this seriously. And I really hope you hear from him again and that he gets some help. What a worry.

  5. There is a certain amount of protection when emotions are protected by a wall of written text. We can express ourselves more freely, with little fear of over exposing ourselves. In some ways we can hope this is simply that, one person expressing his feelings and nothing more than that. The other extreme is much less desirable.

    Hopefully, when our own actions are dictated by genuine concern, hopefully we never have to second guess ourelves.

  6. Update: Sunday morning the kid checked-in with a Twitter – he’s alive and well, but still broke and lonely. If he was looking for attention, he certainly got it. Looking at the Twitter people’s reaction to his Twitter-icide threat, they ranged from mocking, to frantically concerned, while others are just angry. Me, I’m relieved.

  7. Your last sentence says a whole lot, LB.

    This whole post made me realize how hilariously typical it is of me that my official suicide plan includes instructions to one of my friends regarding how to post to my blog, and a request that her last act of friendship will be to post a message letting my readers know I’m dead, so they won’t worry about what’s happened to me. Because, you know, reading that I’m dead will make them all feel so much better ?!

  8. OOOhhh MacTavish is dead an his brother doan nowit an his brother is dead an Mactavish doan nowit an both ovems dead and they’re in the same bed and neither won nose that the udder wonz dead.

  9. I’m glad he’s okay. You did the right thing. I don’t fool around with suicide threats. They are always a call for something. They shouldn’t be ignored.

    I’ve said this before. My brother committed suicide. I know the havoc suicide brings into the lives of the one who is gone. It’s never good. It always leaves everyone wondering what they could have, should have done.

    I’m glad you cared enough to act.

  10. David – Your comment really underscored for me the relationship we do feel we develop through reading and sharing each other’s words. I physically flinched when I read you mention your “suicide plan”. And I thought how incredibly sad I would be if I ever hear that you did kill yourself even though we have never met. You are a uniquely revealing writer, so I do feel like I know you, and my life would be less for your loss.

    But, as far as your “plan”? I don’t think it’s silly. If you were to up and disappear from your blog, I think a lot of people would be very upset and worried. Your story would come to an end with an ellipsis rather than a period. Even though suicide notes can be incredibly cruel, at least the ones left behind have some understanding of why. The end result is the same – someone they cared about it gone, but at least it gives those who are left behind something to work with in terms of their own healing.

    Corina – I’m sorry for your loss. That must have been awful for you and your family.

    I went through a period in my life when I was fairly suicidal. No one took me seriously. And even though I never made a serious attempt, I remember how tenuous my grip was on reality. So, yes, I take suicide threats very seriously and have gotten myself involved on more than a couple of occasions with situations where people have expressed suicidal plans. Have I over-reacted? Maybe. But never have I regretted getting involved.

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