Cyber-strangers aren’t all trolls.
A year ago, I began to write extensively about separating from my wife of a decade and how it affected me. Looking back, it almost seems like a strange dream. Losing your marriage is a hodge-podge of real, wild pain paired with a dripping overdose-dollop of man-made hurt. And unless you’re made of ice, it all ends up taking you down hard for a couple seasons, like sharks on a dying whale or wolves on a sick, sad deer.
I don’t know if was too caught up in my own blues but I do know that early on, I decided to just write about my divorce in real time as things were going down because it was the only thing that made me feel even the slightest bit human again. And when you’re staring up at the towering shins of the worst blues you’ve ever known, you’ll do anything to save your own shake-y ass.
And that’s what makes what I’m about to tell you pretty special. Because when I shared my writing on Facebook and other Internet corners where I hang, a bunch of people (most of them who I’d never met before) began to offer up unexpected cyber-love and support.
I never saw it coming at all. And in a way, these strangers saved my life.
There were two online camps who wrote to me: the married people and the divorced people.
They came in slow at first, a “boink” sound on my phone, a tiny red notification at the top of my Facebook page. Early on, most of the messages/emails/comments I received were from people I’ve never met before who follow my Facebook writing page.
The married people wanted to tell me that they, too, had been through some hard times. Most of them had made it through to the other side and were either still working things out with their spouse or had reached higher ground and life was looking up. These kinds of messages were the ones I favored back in the early days of my separation after I’d moved out of the big farm house we lived in with our three kids. (At the time I was living with my mom and stepdad trying to figure stuff out.) I wanted desperately to believe that things would get better somehow and that we could save our marriage even when things were bleak as f*ck. That’s why I gravitated toward the married people messages. When we’re down and out, we want to hear what we want to hear.
The divorced people wanted to tell me that they’d continued to move along through their tunnel of separateness until they emerged out the other side. Some were single parents, a couple were just single, and many had started new relationships or remarried. Their words were so uplifting and positive but I’ll be honest: I wasn’t really ready to soak them in. The whole notion of divorce and hacking the head off of my personal American Dream seemed too unimaginable. It was so heavy. I couldn’t do it.
Later on though, those tiny cyber-voices of divorce proved to be the bomb, the gummed-up quarters I went rooting around for in my sock drawer when I was broke as hell and wanted/needed/craved a pack of smokes more than anything else in this whole damn world.
I’ve always been the lone wolf. Or the lost sheep. Whichever way you see it.
Some people have a ton of good friends and maintain those friendships with the energy and time it takes to make it happen. I envy those people. The only upside of not having more than a handful of very close friends is that you don’t have to work at keeping so many connections humming.
The downside is that when my marriage started crumbling and I was feeling really disconnected from the world, there weren’t that many people who came ’round my way. That was partially my own fault – I don’t think people want to hang out with wounded dipsh*ts all that much – but it still sucked. Time is tight, everyone’s busy, I get it. Even so, I can count the number of people who stopped in with a six-pack to check on me: None.
I did have my mom and my stepdad and my brother and his girlfriend around me all the time and their presence and support was everything. Plus, there was one dude who took a lot of my phone calls early in the morning when I was freaking out and he was trying to get his ass to his job. He and I don’t get to hang that much because he lives a few hours away but he was there for me. You never forget people like that. You never stop wanting to be their friend for the rest of your life.
And however you appeared in my online world, you helped me too.
I’m talking to you, the strangers/the Facebook messengers/the emailers/the Twitter-ers/the commenters. As weeks and months rolled by and I started writing more and more about my marriage disintegrating and my state of mind, more people began to reach out to me. (I like that term, ‘reach out’. I used to think it was dumb. But it never was. I was dumb.) Before long, the anonymous way people were able to connect with me online began to feel like a security blanket. I’d peek at a few of their photos they had posted on their Facebook pages if I could see them and that would be it. Their words would either ring or not ring in my ears and their faces lingered for a bit or not at all, accordingly.
The big score wasn’t what anyone had bothered to write to me. It was the mere fact that they’d bothered at all.
I honestly tried to answer all the mesages and all the emails but at times, there were so many it was tough. Still, I tried. Some wrote back a second time. Some I never heard from again. Either way, as my marriage unraveled, it began to feel as if I had a small invisible army backing me up. Not against my ex, but against something even bigger and badder and more imposing than I had ever dealt with before.
They were backing me up in the imminent battle that was looming on my horizon, The one I was gonna have to fight against myself. Because, in the end, that’s the hardest part about sinking ships. You either accept the stark reality and start swimming. Or you don’t and you sink, too.
The divorce is done now. But the messages keep coming.
It makes me smile. Who would have ever thought so many people would take the time to tell a stranger they’re rooting for him to be okay?
Life is weird and lovely.
Life in wartime is weirder and lovelier, still. What else can I say except thank you, every damn one of you.
And just so you know: there’s a cold beer with your name on it should we ever meet again under different conditions in a very human room.
This article originally appeared on YourTango. For more like this from YourTango, try:
Photo credit courtesy of author.