A Year Of Lonely Love & Communal Grief

For JD

It’s coming on an year since our last conversation. A week when we were negotiating our definitions of intimacy, proximity, boundaries & identity. Sadly, I don’t even have the records of that any more. My phone crashed abruptly, last month. This is the same phone that you helped me test. Well, not the same because per our test, it was malfunctioning and some grumbling got me a replacement phone which you did help me test. I wasn’t very satisfied with it. But there were other things of greater interest. Our conversations, swapping insights & experiences on a world miraculously surviving horrors we’d never dreamed of & finding kinship in books, mathematics, gender politics & identity.

I’ve been writing to you, tentatively, defiantly through most of these months. At this time last year, I thought of another friend who passed just as abruptly. Another friend that I knew from social media. At least I had met this friend in person, several times. Yet, this was the internet of another time, not as entrenched in most people’s lives. Journalists saw it as their enemy & one thought it would be an opportunity for an unverified story. In that maelstrom, people found ways to grieve & express their anguish in different ways. Years, many years later, one of them revealed the resentment, the vicious poison she held in her mind against me for writing my pain publicly. “This friend was a very private person and I don’t think they would have liked being spoken about publicly” was her defense, her accusation. And with that, my years of grieving for my dead friend and turning that into love & compassion for our other friends, was trampled underfoot like flowers from a wreath. I have always grown life from mud, found courage & strength & hope in saplings that lift from the ground, not walls & ammunition trained at everyone else.

A decade later, in the same internet, now much more weaponised & political, I found myself even more alone than ever. The years teach you many lessons and the most damning of them is that human beings will be monsters if they can. I didn’t know if I was allowed to grieve since we’d never met in person. I didn’t know if it would be okay to write. I didn’t know if I was allowed to breathe my sorrow in a world hellbent on condemning me for their pain. Yes, people let grief turn them into monsters. Compassion is recognising that & not letting it change you. It’s not succumbing to their warfare. I know this now.

The world you left behind has been kinder and that’s brutally sad to know. Like my flowering plants that fade after a day of brilliance, then gently seep into the mud to nourish even more buds, they’ll never know. So many of your people connected to me. They were kind, generous, loving. They shared memories, empathy, photographs, stories to colour my picture of you, till then just a basic study in black-and-white, just a Clubhouse voice & some messages. Your world embraced me. The last tweet you left behind keeps me going on some days when I lose hope.

Last month when I lost my phone’s data, I was also in the midst of a personal tornado, uprooting my shackles, burdens & everything else in my life. I was losing people, possessions, fears, grudges with wild abandon. And shocking myself with how good it felt. When my phone crashed, it felt like yet another opportunity for a new beginning. So much of my life is online/digital now, this was the pandemic to my IdeaSmith. If I survived it, I would thrive. I took the chance to discard my dependency on apps, services. I rescued my routine from its weighed down doomscrolling. I’ve been freefalling in a kind of demented glee.

It only struck me this evening that losing all that means I don’t even have your last messages to me, asking about my day and then after reading the blogpost I sent in response, a beating heart emoji. My friend, my dear friend, have I lost you with all the pain & turmoil? If tomorrow I were to catch COVID (the pandemic still rages on) and start to lose some of my memories as some have reported, will our connection cease to exist? Will chronicling it make it any more real, if I have gone as well?

I still can’t bring myself to say I miss you. Because before I can even think the word ‘I’, I’m flooded by thoughts of the outpouring of grief for you that happened online. You were so loved, so universally adored, so much admired. People who have touched you, people who have shared a meal with you, people who have walked beside you, people who are related to you – to say “I miss..” is to tap into their grief and I cannot bear it, I cannot bear it, my friend. The world is still not a good place without you in it. We feel your absence acutely. Even on days when I don’t consciously think about you, when there’s a nice song or a particularly cool mathematical reference or an annoying man-troll, your presence lurks in my life by its very absence. I am changed permanantly, for having known you.

I can only hope for a brave new August that will look like the kind of world you wanted – one with groups of people supporting each other because I’m one of those people. I’m getting off all those antibiotics, I’m stopping eating when I’m full up, maybe I’m starting to grieve one at a time.

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