My Facebook connections seem to compound by the day, but I couldn’t feel less connected in general. It’s a little disjointing, this proliferating collection of re-connections with people who have known me at different enough times, in different enough ways, that I’m starting to feel like a whole collection of people.
Yesterday, a picture of me appeared from when I was 18 or 19 at a party. The friend who posted the picture was someone I was close to in college – one of my first truly smart, fun and magical girlfriends, who also guided me into some of the best American literature classes I took in college. I lost touch with her until Facebook, where I found her still looking beautiful and young and with a brand new baby.
There are four of us in the picture. Three of us (including me and my friend) are looking at a Polaroid and laughing. I couldn’t remember the third too well. I Googled her name to see if I could find a better picture. She was easy to find. When I saw her face again, I remembered this long, thin Southern girl full of energy, big laughter and a skill for all kinds of clowning – although that’s about all I remember. It seems she’s lived a pretty remarkable life, holding down an organic farm, making art and working extensively in the rebuilding of New Orleans after Katrina and the Gulf Coast after Ike.
Late last year, she was in a horrible car accident. Her family has constructed a web site full of tributes to her life, and a gut-wrenching Caring Bridge diary about her current condition.
The fourth woman has her back turned to the camera, but I would know who she was from her roll of long blond hair, even if she wasn’t identified.
She was a New Yorker, like so many people I went to college with, a few years older than me and apparently a minor child star, although I don’t think I knew that last fact until years later. She was heady and clever and seemed sort of intellectually untouchable to me. Although we were more friends of each others’ friends than friends to each other, she suggested that I read Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper and Jean Genet’s Our Lady of the Flowers, and I did. She’s not someone that I imagined ever gave me another thought once we left our mountain valley campus.
“You and I don’t know each other all that well, and I’m not asking you to tell me anything,” she once said to me, after we’d run in the same social circles well over a year. “I have enough of my own shit going on that I don’t need to hear anyone else’s. But I can see that you’ve seen or been through something life-altering, something that seems to have rocked you pretty hard. I don’t know what it is, but it’s all over you. You look scared.”
She was right. I told her so. And because what I had seen was a friend, in shock, shaking, with neck and wrists cut open by his own hand who was still, gratefully, alive, I couldn’t talk about it and I didn’t. Yes, I told her, something awful has happened, and no, I can’t say what.
“Isn’t it great to know that you’re porous, like a sponge?” She laughed, a sharpened sympathy about her. She hugged me – being reassuring while maintaining a distance – before going on her way.
A couple or a few years ago, I read in my alumni magazine that she died, at age 36, of a brain aneurysm. She was gone, just like that. Her mother, who had submitted the information, said that she had been happily married when it happened. She also said that, as an organ donor, her daughter’s final act saved the lives of several other people.