There’s that certain time of the night when there’s nothing left to watch on TiVo and you can’t bring yourself to write another word and you’re on the west coast so there’s nobody you can call to waste some time with and you aren’t tired enough to go to bed and you’ve read all of your magazines and the book you’re reading is too depressing to read in your current semi-drugged condition. That is when you find yourself Googling old friends.
This isn’t the time to search for exes. You don’t want to find out their successes or failures. You aren’t looking for that kind of gratification.
You want to know what happened to Kacie Barton, your best friend in the fourth grade who had the best giggle. Her dad was the police chief. She had a pool party. There’s a picture of you there goofing around. You look so blonde and happy. Kacie had great hair — strawberry blonde. She had bangs you envied. She sent you a letter after you moved away. It had a cassette tape of her talking to you, narrating a series of photographs she’d sent from when her family went to Hawaii. You listened to that tape over and over again from your lonely new house in Fort Worth. You missed her more than she could ever know. But her name is too common, and you have no idea if she still lives in California, and there’s no way she’d even remember you after all these years…
So you’re looking for Tamara Reynolds, who was your best friend in the seventh grade. She had a big family (a younger sister your sister’s age), and a dog named General. You spent half of your summer at her house because her family was so nice and funny and they treated you like another daughter. Tamara’s mom was the coolest mom. She was so funny, and you still remember the jokes she told you about her own large family growing up. Tamara’s family was Jewish, and you went to Tamara’s Bat Mitzvah, and you wished you had Hebrew class and soccer lessons like Tamara did. You wished your family had dinner together every Saturday night and goofed around in the kitchen together and always knew what was going on in each other’s lives. Kids just hung out at Tamara’s house because everybody was always welcome and the television was always playing MTV. We were weird kids, but our weirdness was embraced and encouraged. Tamara wrote a poem called “Oh, My God, Like, The Mall” and she got to read it at some performance we had for some reason and I had to read this stupid-ass haiku and Tamara taught me that you could write to make people laugh and they’d like it much more than some bullshit haiku you wrote about trees. You and Tamara shared a series of secret notebooks where you’d write each other letters back and forth over the day. You still have two of them. You wonder if she has two of them as well.
Tamara moved away in the seventh grade. Her family had to move to Florida. And you cried and cried and cried and you and your other friend Carrie (who lived closer to Tamara so they saw each other often and you had to ride your bike all the way over to the two of them and Carrie kissed the boy you liked so you wished it was Carrie moving away sometimes and it’s weird because you’re the one who’s supposed to move away always always always) — all three of you hugged in front of Tamara’s empty house and promised to always be friends. You split a can of tennis balls, signing each one. Three tennis balls. Three best friends. Forever.
Tamara moved, and you sent each other letters and then her letters stopped and you heard a rumor that there was a tornado where she lived and you never heard from her again but you’re too young to do anything and then you have to move and now you’re Googling Tamara Reynolds in the middle of the night. You find a Tamara Reynolds and she’s a famous photographer living in Nashville who does album covers and is repped on two coasts and you spend half an hour looking through her photographs, sure that this has to be your friend because she was so fantastic and smart and funny but you have no proof at all that this is her. It’s a common name. The odds are this isn’t your friend. You can’t find an interview or a bio or a photo and you realize you’ve just given this famous life to a missing friend of yours because this is what you want to have happened to her. This is the life she deserved, even though you never knew her to own a camera. She was more interested in writing, soccer and boys. It gets depressing, so you move on.
Now you’re looking for Kenya McNeal, your best friend in the eighth grade who wrote the funniest notes to you and had quite a bit to do with the fact that you’re a writer now. She was your first real audience, someone who bugged you if you took longer than an hour to write back. You learned interesting origami with Kenya, folding her notes into tinier and tinier packages to pass her in class, in hallways, in the lunchroom. You spent hours on the phone together at night, watching Arsenio, cracking each other up. Kenya covered her mouth when she laughed, and you knew you got her good when she’d flop her head back and laugh to the ceiling. She never teased you for liking Douglas, even though she teased you for having the same fake-punk haircut together. You liked that she found a way to make you and Douglas have something in common. You knew she did that on purpose. She’s so smart. Douglas thought Kenya was cooler than you were. You didn’t mind that because you knew it was true. But the three of you had lunch together every day and it was your favorite time of the day. Kenya saved all of your notes in a purple binder which she gave you when you had to move away. You had all of her hilarious letters where you’d swap jokes, spread gossip, kill time and wish for fame and fortune one day. But you moved away, and even though you wrote for a little while, Kenya eventually drifted away because high school started and lives got complicated and she went to a different school and nobody heard from her in a while. You still talk with Douglas, but he doesn’t know what happened to Kenya. You think of her often. You think of her every time you see Arsenio. So you Google Kenya, and her name’s unique enough that you know it must be her when you find out that she went to Spellman and then on to medical school in Detroit, and according to that hyphenate in her name she’s married and Kenya McNeal is now a doctor.
You are so proud of your smart, funny friend. You cheer for her and you wish there was a way to tell her that you’re so happy for her, that she got out of Mississippi and now people have to call her “Doctor.”
But the site you’ve found from her alma mater is entitled, “Alumni We Can’t Locate.” They’re Googling her as well. Nobody knows where Dr. Kenya McNeal-Trice is.
You realize you’ve been doing this for an hour, pretending to catch up with old friends, creating futures and pasts for them that you didn’t get to be a part of. You imagine their homes, their families, their faces now, decades older. You have to stop Googling because it’s making you feel a little lonely, wishing that you didn’t have to move around so much, but knowing that if you hadn’t, you wouldn’t have had these great people in your life for when you had them. They might never pause in the middle of the night to think about you, but you still hear the sound of their laughter in your memory. These three women left an impact on you and you hope they know that. If not, there’s always the hope they’ll find this one day when they ego-Google, which everyone does eventually, late at night or bored at work, when they’re wondering what people think about them.