Thank God for the Internet!

Every May, Saint Daddy and I have an elaborate Thanksgiving-type meal. We call it Halvesgiving. I roast a turkey breast, bake a pumpkin pie, and whip up Aunt Kitty’s stuffing recipe. We have celebrated Halvesgiving each May since we moved in together in 2008. We look forward to it each year.

I once pondered at which point I would be able to consider Halvesgiving a tradition, and my best friend said she felt that three years solidified it as a tradition.

My best friend lives in another state. For a few years, we would see her sporadically, without much consistency. For the last four Septembers, however, we have seen each other consistently . That makes it a tradition. Saint Daddy, Sunshine, and I drove three hours to her house when I was barely pregnant with Grumpy and Sleepy. I did not know there were two yet, and I told her in person that I was expecting a baby. We took a train to her nearest city, and I worked diligently to assuage my nausea as we visited a museum with our children. She promised me cheeseburgers if I survived the day, and I did it. We packed all three of our children into the car a year later for the boys’ first overnight trip. They screamed for about an hour the night we arrived because they were overtired and out of their routine.

I have never regretted a trip to see her. We have rung in New Year’s together, celebrated our children’s births and birthdays together, visited museums and beaches and festivals together.

Over the years, we have melded our last names into a Frankenbrity version of themselves that we hashtag when we get together every few months. Our children know each other. They are growing up together.

When I have something to say, she will hear it. When my thoughts are dark, she will listen. She is supportive, giving, and kind. If I asked her to, she would take down any obstacle that stood before me if it were in her power to do so. She is one of my champions. I am truly lucky to have her.

And because of my best friend, I thank the creator of the internet. Because my best friend was an internet friend.

In 2008, when Saint Daddy and I first got engaged, I was at home recovering from a traumatic car accident. Saint Daddy had worked out a beautiful engagement story for us, but my accident changed a few of his plans. He asked Dad for his blessing two weeks before my accident and proposed one week after my accident, at midnight on our sixth anniversary. I had surgery scheduled for three days later.

My left hand was swollen and useless. Therefore, sporting my engagement ring on my right hand, I spent days home from work surfing the internet. On Facebook, I discovered an app with wedding forums. I joined for the countdown that I could add to my profile. I dipped my toes into the forums, answering questions that seemed obvious to me. Some of the women seemed to know each other already, and that was a little intimidating. Over time, I began to wade into the water, until suddenly, I could hardly see the dry land behind me.

It started on those wedding forums. We discussed everything about our big days. Women shared their dresses, their rings, their processional choices, their centerpieces, their bouquets. They talked about budgets and honeymoons. We started chat threads. The moderators of our forums did not love our chat threads, and they shut them down.

We took our chat threads to MSN chat where we talked about everything under the sun. We began to truly know each other. We stopped focusing on weddings, and focused on our lives instead. Weddings occurred and then life began. Suddenly, I was OG, and my relationships with other members were intimidating. I could not say when it happened, but there I was, with solid internet friendships.

We created side groups of members from the forums who had things in common. We gave each other safe spaces. We turned to each other with horrible news and moments of joy. We said goodbye to parents, ended friendships, switched careers, sold homes, finished degrees, adopted pets, lost pregnancies, and welcomed babies.

We mourned together and celebrated together. We found solace in our shared experiences.

If I ever had the occasion to doubt the power of internet friendships, these women, whom I knew largely through my computer and phone screens, have shown me that I had nothing about which to feel concern.

When some of us lost parents, the rest of us rallied by collecting money to send food to the bereaved and flowers to the memorials. When babies came early, we sent concern and prayers to fill that momma with love to see her through days at home with an empty crib and a baby miles away. When my second pregnancy brought spontaneous twins, my internet friends sent gifts to my sprinkle from all over the country. Some of them traveled to surprise me in my living room with my sisters and sisters-in-law. They sent me boxes of their sons’ clothing and breastfeeding supplies and support that only other mommas who have been there can offer.

A year and a half ago, one of our own received terrible news. News that went beyond many of the losses we had previously faced together. She had a full-time teaching job, a husband, a toddler, an infant, and breast cancer.

If nothing I have said already has convinced you of the strength of internet friendships, this will.

With that news came a beautiful movement. Women from various parts of the country, women with diverse backgrounds and a million things on their plates, women who disagreed over various aspects of everyday life put everything aside for our friend with cancer. We sent her gifts. We checked in. We visited.

Early this year, she let us know, in no uncertain terms, that she knew her time was coming. I will never forget the way that the internet sprang to life on that day. Quickly, plans were formulated to travel to where she lived to see her, to spend a day, to have some time, to say “I love you,” to say “goodbye.”  The date chosen was mere weeks after the day she mentioned needing to see people, and somehow, more than twenty women from more than ten different states, women with jobs and children and commitments, were there for her.

The hotel gave us a conference room for free if we ordered from their caterer for lunch, and we spent an afternoon laughing, playing games, dancing, and reminiscing. She joined us for dinner before heading back to her home, exhausted from a time spent among so many people who loved her so very much, even though they saw her so rarely, if ever, before.

Within a few months, her check-ins became less frequent. One or two of us became a proxy through which she communicated via her family. Then one morning, many of us woke up to the news that we knew would come but we could never prepare for.

We did what we do. We comforted each other. We sent money to her family, gifts to her children, and people to her service. We cried and we prayed and we hoped for peace.

That experience is one of beauty. It is a true representation of what the internet can bring to the lives of many.

When I was a teenager and the internet was new, I was constantly warned about the dangers of those online. I would never advocate absolute abandon of the senses and complete trust in people on the other side of the screen without hesitancy. I am already thinking about how best to protect my children from people they might meet online.

However, I have needed my internet friends over the years. I have counted on them.

On the internet, I have met women who struggle with the same demons I fight. I have helped them fight theirs. They have helped me fight mine. Mental illness comes in many forms, and by opening up my source of support, I have been able to know people who experience something like mine.

I think about my best friend. She and I met in a side group. When the group was created, we did not know each other at all. I tended to be active in the evening after my work day. She tended to be active during her work day, which enabled her flexibility when it came to her internet usage that mine did not.

She tells me now that she was leery of me because she felt like I came out of left field. She wondered who I was and how I ended up in the same group that she did.

Despite the distance between our homes (five hours at the time), we were actually some of the closest members distance-wise. One day, she invited me and Saint Daddy, who was not a daddy at the time, to her home. Her dad warned her about her decision as everyone had warned my teenage self. “You don’t even know her. What if she’s an axe murderer?” She promised to lock her bedroom door at night and hope for the best.

I do not remember everything we did during that first meeting. I am sure we went for food because food is an important part of our relationship. What I do remember clearly, though, is that, despite having never met her in person before, it was like I had. That is saying a lot because my anxiety makes me hyper-aware of myself when around new people. She was not new, though. Not really.

When I met her dad a couple of years later, after multiple editions of our semi-annual visits, he said, “So you’re the axe murderer?”

If it were not for the internet, I would not know so many people who understand my darkness and support my light. My best friend and I live in bordering states and went to colleges six states away from each other. We come from very different families. I was raised in poverty with seven siblings. She was raised the only child of a wealthy businessman. If we had met in real life, organically, without screens between us, it is hard to say if we would have connected as we have.

But now, I could not imagine my life without her, and for that, I thank God for the internet.

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