Since I joined Twitter in 2008, I've spent a lot of time on it. I have laughed, found out breaking news, been outraged, procrastinated, landed my writing job here at xoJane by tweeting Emily, vented, sent and received countless numbers of photos of baby animals wearing clothes and as a result formed many close friendships.
I used to be one of the people who thought that people who made friends off the Internet were a bit weird. I thought everyone who spent a lot of time typing conversations instead of speaking them must be lacking in something, some kind of social skills or something.
I read numerous newspaper articles about people meeting up with strangers they'd met on the Internet and then getting their heads hacked off and eaten and thought NAH. NOT FOR ME THANKS. I carried on being a social butterfly, phone in hand, chirping away the stories of the day to whoever would listen.
Then a sedentary office job happened to me, and I slowly (probably far too slowly, if you asked my then-boss) realized that calling your friends at all times of the day to chat about whether the lifeguard at the pool definitely thinks you have a fat arse or whether he definitely wants to bang you just couldn't happen any more. I put my phone away, and opened up Facebook and Twitter.
I could easily have conversations with people silently, by tip-tap-tapping my fingers over the keyboard. I could still discuss what I was having for dinner or what time I needed to meet my mate Alice at the station so we could go and get pissed, but without my boss overhearing.
I also worked out that I could be more eloquent and far wittier if I typed instead of talking. The great safety net of the backspace, erasing something that may offend and replacing it with a more considered version, no one any the wiser.
After a while on Twitter, shouting silently into the abyss, I picked up a couple of random followers and followed them back. I can't even remember how it happened. And then we'd chat throughout the day about inane bullshit, and make each other laugh and I'd forget that I didn't actually know them.
In time, we all found out more about each other, from the occasional photo posted and daily insights into the mundane workings of each other's lives.
Eventually, they became real friends -- people I'd share stories with and who I'd genuinely look forward to chatting to throughout the day. The people of Twitter were MY people. It had happened without me even knowing it. I was an Internet weirdo.
I got chatting to Fran regularly a couple of years ago. We tweeted some of the same circle of people, and ended up following one another, as you do. We'd chat about pointless bollocks. We both got obsessed with "Breaking Bad" and spent a LONG TIME discussing plot arcs and whether it was OK to fancy Walt and about how evil we thought Gus Fring was. When Series 5 ended, we were both left hanging -- tip-tap-tapping away to each other and other fans of the show about theories on Series 6 and what would follow.
She had a blog, which I would always read when she tweeted the link, about her illness (which I had no idea about from just chatting to her -- she would never be talking about that. Just other things.). She had secondary breast cancer, which she'd had aggressive treatment for previously, and was seemingly constantly in a cycle of drug trials and chemo and all sorts of other cruel things that robbed her time but never her spirit.
She was just like me, like my mates. You'd never know she was ill. The only way you knew was by keeping up with her blog, her self-confessed form of therapy.
Drugs stopped working, the cancer spread and became terminal. Here was a young vibrant woman with a wicked sense of humor, a new husband she adored (not to mention her kittens) and a great career, being told she would die, that she would be gone in a matter of months. I remember reading the news that she was going to die, imminently, through her blog in February.
Her attitude in the face of something so bleak was -- and I usually hate the bandying about of this word, but can't think of anything more appropriate -- inspiring. She asked all of her friends on Facebook to tag her in photos they had of her, so she could sit and drink in the memories and laugh and celebrate the past with everyone, like she knew that they would after she passed.
As photos popped up on my newsfeed of her wedding day, or a hen weekend, the disgusting unfairness of it all would wind me.
"I know this is probably hideous news for a lot of you reading this but the last thing I need is sadness all around me, there’s time enough for that when I’m gone. In the meantime I intend to buy outrageously expensive new boots, cuddle the kittens till they can’t breathe, laugh laugh laugh as hard as I can and bury my face in my husband’s armpit at any given opportunity (he’s so tall and I can’t lift my head at the moment as my neck is mega sore. And actually it’s the very core of him I want to breathe in, every second of every day I have left). I am not afraid of dying. Not any more. Me and death will be just fine because everybody dies, it’s what happens. I haven’t gone yet, I’m still here. With a sense of humor and a personality and a very clear sense of who I am which I never had pre-cancer. And that’s a gift in itself."
It's a funny thing, mourning someone you have never seen in the flesh, never heard their voice, never touched. The Twitter feed never to be updated again, that radio silence, the knowledge that they aren't just away on holiday. That they've died. They've left behind their real family, and real friends.
As a tiny part of Fran's life, she made a very real impact on me. It didn't take her dying so terribly, terribly young for her to do that. She had already.
Women, all of you reading this post, please do two things when you get the chance. Check your breasts. And jump at the opportunity to make friends wherever and whenever you can. You might just end up tweeting someone amazing.