How well do I know you?
I thought the years of communicating online were sufficient for maintaining a close friendship until I bought I Wrote a Book About You for your birthday last year. I thought that completing the open-ended prompts wouldn’t be too difficult since we have texted each other almost every single day since middle school. We have had a few in-person interactions, and I can still vividly recall memories from the summer of 2015 and even some from when we were children a decade ago. So I thought this would be enough to maintain our friendship.
But I was wrong. While most of the prompts in the book were about your personality and character, some prompts assumed that you existed in my physical world. One of the prompts asked what activities we enjoyed doing together. I spent what felt like a long time thinking of how to fill in the blank. Zoom calls sounded inadequate, and the word “Zoom” made me think of the pandemic even though the reason we had online video calls was distance, not COVID-19. Writing down “long, spontaneous text conversations” also didn’t satisfy me. Thoughts that I previously never considered started rising to the surface of my consciousness. If I hadn’t left Boulder, Colorado, what would we have done together growing up?
The birthday gift that was meant to celebrate our long-distance friendship only made me wonder what our friendship lacked. I thought about things we missed out on that other friends experienced together: celebrating graduation, going to prom, having sleepovers, and so much more. I know that it is useless to think about changing the past, but regret flooded me nevertheless. What was I doing that summer when we were in the same place? Why was I wasting time on your computer when we could have been doing something more meaningful? I took things for granted. I had assumed that I would see you again in a year or two. But the reality is that nothing in the future is certain.
I have to admit that after I mailed that book to you, I started questioning whether I could call you my closest friend. I know your insecurities, secrets, and aspirations, but can I really know you well despite having no day-to-day interactions with you? What are you like as a physical being?
I know that my question sounds strange considering I spent nearly the whole month of June with you five-and-a-half years ago. As the years go on, however, you gradually feel more abstract, as if you are just a part of cyberspace. I recognize your voice, but I read your text messages in my head in my own. Most of the time, I view your existence in the form of the active speech bubble in my messages app. I wonder what your college life is like hundreds of miles away, even the mundane things, like walking across campus or eating dinner with your friends. If you made daily vlogs, I would watch them religiously just to know how you are doing in real life.
At the same time, however, I wonder if the online nature of our friendship is the reason I am still friends with you. As much as I would like to think that I know you as a multifaceted person, the truth is that we can selectively choose aspects of ourselves to present online. Consequently, we can choose what to hide from others. I was aware of the fact that you disagreed with me on a number of things in middle and high school, but that never really bothered me. I just told myself to accept our differences.
Would I have ended up drifting away from you over time if we went to the same school? Would our differences have seemed more striking? To be honest, I don’t know, and that scares me. Yet our friendship still exists to this day, and I am grateful for that. You are the only person that I can talk to about my vulnerabilities and secrets. You know random quirks about me that I never share with others — pictures of my favorite stuffed animals, my mortifying elementary school diary entries, embarrassing iMovie trailers we made. Out of the friends I have made in the various places that I have lived, you are the only one that I have still maintained contact with since childhood.
Although each year only seems to prevent us from reuniting, I still cling to the possibility that I will see you again someday. I imagine meeting you in New York City, playing your favorite song Harlem by New Politics in the 125th Street station, pretending that we are the band members in the music video. I daydream about spending the whole day walking around New York City with you, exploring the various neighborhoods during our adventures.
Even if New York City doesn’t work out for both of us, my dreams won’t stop there. Maybe I can surprise you when I visit your college campus. Maybe I can fly back to Boulder and relive those simple summer days of early adolescence with you: walking around the neighborhood after dinner, appreciating the sunset’s vibrant colors, playing on the swings at the local playground, enjoying the relaxing environment of Boulder Creek.
I know that I have shared many of my thoughts and feelings in this letter, but I also want to know what you think. Have you also imagined a version of our friendship that was face-to-face? Have you worried about how awkward and mechanical our in-person interactions might be when we meet again? I wish that I had conversations with you about what distance does to our relationship because it is the lack of this discussion that makes me feel farther away from you. I think what I seek from you is not mere connection, but conversation, because these two words do not mean the same thing.
Your close friend,