Like a substantial portion of American 20-something professionals, I try to bury all evidence of my activity on DeviantArt circa 2009. I was just barely too young to realize that no, I wasn't cool, but I was just old enough to rightfully say, "Well, I'm not the worst person on this website." Glittery stickers proclaiming "I'm so random XD" and "anime boys are sexy ;)" were blossoming out of my favorites bar, and horribly disproportionate drawings of my favorite fandom ships were splattered over my gallery.
I was a train wreck, and I try to forget pretty much every second I spent on that site feeding my love of shitty anime and webcomics.
But there's one thing that came out of my socially grotesque tween years on DeviantART that carried over into my adult life that wasn't just a die-hard love of Final Fantasy 7.
I had a little online social circle on that website, mostly based off of our love of the 1998 role-playing game Baldur's Gate, and our penchant for online role-playing.
Just as a preemptive aside: when I say roleplaying, I mean writing script-style fictional stories together with our own characters, generally over Skype or AIM. And as dorky as it is, it's actually a great way for a creative-minded person to let off some mental steam and work on their writing skills.
I met "Middy" in the throes of my DeviantArt days, now almost 10 years ago. Our friendship has been possibly the strongest, steadiest, most loving, and most reliable friendship in my life for the last decade.
"Middy" is a derivative of her online handle. She's a few years older than me, and lives in Utah. She's a writer, seamstress, and full-time nerd that works at a local pet groomer's shop. She loves dogs, murder mysteries, baking, and making crafts. I think her best trait is her total dedication — to her friends, pets, family, and to pretty much every project she starts. We talk to each other pretty much every day.
We met through mutual friends in the dreaded DeviantArt dungeon, with our shared love of the same video games and book series. When I was in high school, I'd get home about an hour after she'd get home from work, and I'd hop onto AIM and we'd start talking about our days. She'd never talk to me without first asking "What's up, how's your day been?" We'd later start writing with each other about the fascinating lives of our characters, building complex plots, relationships, and worlds.
When I went to college, it took some time, but we worked out a schedule of when we could chat and write between my classes and hers — classes that she started taking at a local university between work days. I was afraid that because we rarely had time to consistently write together, we may stop talking. But even if we didn't role-play a lot, we still found a way to say hi once a day, and we'd always have each other to talk about "real world" business.
Now out in the "real world," I try to get online to talk to her once every other day. We don't write together as much and it's a little sad, but I'm happy I can at least talk to her as often as I do.
We were both growing up, growing out of our respective phases of glittery "lol so random" stickers, but somehow we didn't grow apart. Every new show, movie, book, game, hobby, or anything we would mercilessly obsess over, we would always share with each other.
Every time I had a new "thing" I was into or a new manner of expressing myself, part of me was scared she wouldn't get behind it with me. It's a valid concern when you're young, insecure, and have a best friend that you want to share the world with. When they're not along for the ride, it's always a risk that you end up becoming annoying or frustrating to them, and of course that means they can just stop talking to you. And it's easy to forget about an online friend, considering the internet makes it so easy to erase an exclusively online presence from your life.
But kind of like every silly fandom she shared with me, my fears and insecurities were something she had, too — all the way on the other side of the country, in a different world, she had the same anxieties about me that I did about her.
It's hard sometimes when it comes to a friendship you only see on a screen. It's hard to love somebody from a distance like that, because you can never really tell that they feel the same way. It's easier to read too far into messages that feel distant or vague.
But still we've figured out our way around it.
She was the real reason why I was convinced I wanted to be a writer. She helped me proofread most of my important final assignments, including my 75-page senior thesis based off of a story I created with her. She helped me practice and hone my writing, and she taught me almost as much as my professors did — little tips and tricks and words that sound nice. I've learned from her about writing almost every day since I was a high school freshman.
I feel like duration of a friendship is a crucial point of foundation. Because when I look back on just how many times she was there for me — every fight with my parents, every time I was kicked out of my house, every breakup was one that she was there on the front lines for. She couldn't hug me from across the country, but she could send me a thousand pictures of cute dogs or a playlist of good music. It still meant the world. She was my disaster relief for my formative years of distress. And of course, she was there for all the victories, triumphs, acceptances, job opportunities, and everything else. She was there for my grotesque "lol so random" DeviantArt years, and she's somehow still my friend after witnessing that.
In my last semester of college, I joined one of the form-stretching "neo-futurist" theater companies — my artsy university was brimming with student-run experimental theater companies. I watched one previous show where one of the actors called up his father to the stage to thank him for attending the show, kind of a passive-aggressive jab that his dad had thus far never gone to any of his shows, or graduations, or anything. His dad ended up being a no-show sadly, so the actor instead called him up and left him a voicemail in front of a live audience. It was very raw, emotional, and real. And when I joined the company, it gave me some inspiration.
During my first, last, and only show for this company, I performed a piece about long-distance friendship. In front of a live audience I took out my phone and I called Middy up. It was the first time I've heard her voice, and it's the first time she's heard mine — she sounds just about as sweet as I thought she would.
I told her I loved her. I do love her; she's been the longest, most stable friendship in my life. We're made by the people who stay in our lives, and my friendship with Middy is the longest I've ever had. I think she's helped me form who I am more than any other person through just being who she is: gentle, reassuring, and loving.
Everyone who knows about her asks if I ever want to meet her in person. And I have to admit, part of me is scared to. What if it's just too different? We come from totally different worlds, and what happens if we just don't mesh all that well?
Friendships in "the real world" rub off on each other heavily — you adopt each other's mannerisms, vices, and beliefs. But with the distance me and Middy have, we retain a huge amount of individuality. Sometimes I'm afraid that our differences would stop us from really getting along in person.
But that doesn't stop me from wanting to see her. It hasn't stopped me from saving up all the money I can to find a ticket to Utah so I can visit her. I'm crossing my fingers for next fall.
But I don't think our friendship is any bit less legitimate from a distance. When I performed the live piece, I was scared that people wouldn't get it, that they wouldn't think an online friendship is genuine enough to warrant that kind of love. But I think they did.
After the show, a friend of mine came up to me to tell me that she's had an online buddy for a few years, and they wrote together and developed their friendship through Skype. She said that the piece made so much sense to her because she thought that nobody would think that it's "real friendship."
But it is. I can testify to it, and a lot of other people can testify, too. We're living in an age of mass communication; relationships through a screen aren't fake. They're just through a different medium than we're used to.
And to Middy, who is probably reading this considering she reads all of my work: I love you.
I still do, and I always will.