I have one of the most famous lost friends in old-school furry fandom, Bart Fox. Bart and I, and the fanzine we worked on together, predate FurryMUCK. When we were both in college we were close to best friends. Around 1991 I had to move back home to Hernando County, and Bart and I lost touch. Then it seemed he'd started to avoid me as I got increasingly agitated about finishing the 'zine's fourth issue. He denied actively avoiding me, but several other people said, no, no, it isn't your imagination--he's avoiding you.
Yet, I never quite gave up. After I'd moved back to Tampa, he and I got back together and saw each other pretty regularly. We both got Disney annual passes and went often enough that a few of the waiters at the resort restaurants were sure we were a couple. We seemed to be getting the unofficial gay couple discount, so we never denied it, either.
I don't think he really intended to fade away again. Bart treats being difficult to contact as an art form, though. I think in his mind when he's getting too much stress, he insulates himself not as much from the source of the stress as from the entire communication medium the stress is being delivered on. Phone, MUCK, e-mail. And, as another friend has opined, Bart just, well, likes being mysterious. It's not unusual to find out he'd been on vacation for weeks while you were trying to get hold of him, or that mutual friends had spent a week visiting him. I used to joke that I'd see him more often if I moved out of state.
So eventually the e-mails became sporadic and he stopped regularly answering the phone--okay, he never regularly answered the phone, but he stopped returning voice-mail--and he stopped being online himself. The last time we saw each other was earlier this year, meeting for lunch, when we agreed it'd been too long and that we should get together more often. That meeting was one I arranged. I figured if he was serious, he'd get in touch with me next, but he hasn't.
Bart's not the only fade-away friend I've had over the years, even from current sets. A friend who used to live a couple blocks away from me moved to a town fifteen miles south. The friend he lived with moved to a town thirty-five miles west, but I see that one more often, both face-to-face and online. The south-bound friend became heavily involved with "MMORPGs" like EverQuest. I know I spend too much time online, but I am a mere pretender to the net potato throne. We're coming off a week, this week before Labor Day weekend, that he's been on vacation without anyone in the local group hearing once from him. We were supposed to do lunch at some point, given the time I have on my hands, but it didn't happen. I didn't get an answer when I called--somehow I suspect he was asleep, not out--and he didn't answer my e-mail. Mea culpa: maybe I should have tried his cell phone so if he looked at it he'd get an accusing "you missed a call" message. I met friends from Orlando (John Cooner and foxmagic) for lunch today. John's easy to get in touch with.
I have friends I see almost exclusively online, too, and they seem to fade in and out just like the face-to-face ones. Not just like them--cyberspace is a little more ephemeral. Even so, when one of them drifts off on the black ice floes, you can't help but wonder. Are they just spending more time away from the computer? That could be a good thing. Where do the people in the online communities they inhabited--people they've dropped out of contact with, people like you--stand in their eyes now?
I have a friend who's currently reinventing his life. We've been in contact off and on for at least a decade, mostly online with a few wonderful face-to-face meetings over the years. There are months, even years, long stretches where we just say 'hi' to one another, and other long stretches where we're alarmingly close, real life secrets shared and online incarnations entwined in virtual romance. Recently we've gone from near the extreme of the latter to near the extreme of the former. He doesn't even have time for his online journal these days, so I find out how he's doing by proxy and snippets. He is, by accounts including his own, doing quite well. We'll say 'hi' again sometime, and--assuming the pattern holds true--eventually much more. (The character I play online who was involved with his may be, alas, virtually disgruntled.)
So where does this leave me? Contemplative, simultaneously wistful and amused. This is just the ebb and flow of human relationships. Acquaintances become friends become best friends, the process unquantifiable and more often than not unobserved. We want to think there's some immutable social law that says this process is not reversible. But there isn't. Best friends become casual friends become distant friends we hope are doing well. Later, sometimes, we rediscover them. Then sometimes the process starts over again, or we wonder when they changed so much, became such different people than our memories--or when we changed. If we're honest we wonder whether the changes in ourselves are all good, and if the changes in our now-distant friends are as bad as we want to think they are. Most of the time the answer, to both questions, is "no."
And who knows. Once I'm in San Jose, maybe I'll see Bart more often.