A friend of mine died a couple of weeks ago. I just found out.
When I say “friend” he certainly was not a friend in a traditional sense.
We had not spoken in over 10 years and other than the odd email we barely communicated. However, he was part of the tapestry of my life and I will miss him.
I met Kalk online back in 1995. Wow … that was a long time ago. I was going through a difficult time in my life and needed a friend. The internet was blossoming, MSN was introduced in August with Windows 95. Suddenly we were all able to chat instantly with people across the world, or in our backyard. Some went for baseball chats or sex chats. Me … I wanted distance from my life so I hung out in a chat room named “the billabong”. The majority of the people in the room were from Australia. I loved the culture, the tales, the warmth of the people. I felt like I was in a special place … accepted and that I was special. I felt like I belonged somewhere and I needed that at that point in my life.
After almost a year of chatting online I decided to go visit my new friends in Australia. David was the main friend I was visiting. After a few days adjusting to the time difference the two of us left Warrnambool and travelled through the Outback. It was the adventure of a lifetime. I saw things I could never imagine, from crocodiles attacking wild horses in Kakadu, emus hitting the windows of the ute trying to get at me, kangaroos bounding across the open outback and touching the amazing spiritual centre, Uluru.
I took this adventure with my new friend David. He was a big man, rugged, rough and bearlike. He was twice my size. He acted like my bodyguard all through the dangerous things we did in the outback. He loved everything Aussie … living in the wrong time. He should have been born 50 years earlier. He loved the brush, he loved his sunburnt country. I am happy that I took this trip with him from Warrnambool to Darwin and back again. He had never been outside Australia, actually had never been to the outback either. The outback was where he belonged though … he was part of that hard, dry landscape. He would have lived a longer, happier life there.
In February 1998 I went back to Australia to visit David and brought my children. He was receiving a medal for 25 years of service with SES (State Emergency Service) and was the proudest moment of his life. We toured all over Victoria, camping in the Grampians, spending time in Melbourne (my daughter went toured the morgue), we saw the Melbourne jail and visited so many friends.
My daughter went back and spent 6 weeks with David when she was a teenager and I went back for the last time early in 2000. When I returned from this trip the relationship was strained and we only ever communicated again by the odd email. He had gone back to college and suddenly became difficult to talk with … he felt he knew everything. Over the next twelve years we exchanged a few emails, usually when he was in crisis. He was letting his health go … he had always been a big man but now he stopped exercising and became huge. He started smoking again and ended up in the hospital several times with various problems. He got good marks at college (he studied social work) but failed the placement section two years in a row. He would not listen to those in authority. As the student he felt he knew more than the people already in the profession. He became bitter and angry. Most of his real life friends dropped away while he accumulated more and more online friends. He had a huge falling out with his brother (they were estranged most of their lives but had their final falling out a few years ago). He spent all of his time online dispensing his “worldly” advice to others. I had to ask him to stop writing me because all he did was lecture me on my life choices. I removed him from my Facebook account because I didn’t want him to comment on my life. I am happy with my life.
He wrote me in 2010 when my father passed away. It was a beautiful letter, telling me about his father and his memories. It was like hearing from the old David. I was deeply depressed at the time (2010 was a bad year for me) so I just sent him a one line note saying I thanked him for his thoughts. Other than a few mass emailed jokes I didn’t hear from him again until late December 2012. He wrote me that he had spent two weeks in the hospital after breaking his foot and that he was sorry he didn’t send me a birthday note (he didn’t send one December 2011). He told me he’d be following the doctors orders because he was worried about losing his foot but we knew he wouldn’t bother. I never responded to his email.
He died January 14.
For a moment I felt guilty about not taking the time to respond to him. I should have realized he was scared but I put it out of my head. He was no longer the man I once knew. He hadn’t been employed for over a dozen years. He rejoined the labour party but really just expected the government to take care of him while he sat on his computer. He used his health as an excuse. Yes, in the beginning he was diabetic but he allowed himself to develop many more problems just because he could not push himself away from his online friends.
I will miss my old friend David. But he has been dead for quite some time to me. I mourn him today.