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November 13, 2009: To Love a Stranger/To Lose a Friend

This past month or so, I have experienced my own profound emotions. Usually, my work is about OTHERS’ profound emotions, and my helping them to interpret them, but since this Blog is a place where I occasionally indulge my own expressions of feelings in the service of helping others, I’ll share mine.

Thematically, it’s about Love and Loss. Specifically, “loving” two friends and losing them — but “loving” and “losing” in different ways. I’ll explain:

My husband, Michael, and I have an agreement where in the age of all the social networking sites like Facebook, Connexion, and even Manhunt, we are allowed to have correspondence and even flirt with other gay men. We don’t find it threatening, and actually find it amusing and validating. We swap stories on the cool people (and not so cool) we meet. My husband “met” a guy named “Colton” on Facebook, who was a “real estate agent” in Tulsa, Oklahoma. His (one) picture was very cute, and he and Michael would flirt and chat and generally waste time (what else is Facebook for? LOL). But at a certain point, Michael told me that Colton had confided that he had been suddenly diagnosed with cancer, and that it was discovered at a very advanced stage, and that Colton was dying. Quickly. Like, within weeks. Michael was upset, and I was upset for him. As the conversations in chat and email intensified, I (of course) went into “helper mode” and started corresponding with Colton myself, trying to give some very informal, off-the-record “counseling”, based on my experience helping my clients who had faced terminal illness in the past, especially at the height of the AIDS crisis.

The chats with Colton intensified, until he supposedly became too weak to type from his home-based hospital bed and his “brother Danny” took over. It was here I noticed some odd things; Danny was supposedly a straight guy, but made flirty comments just like a gayboy. I offered to speak to “Danny”, and when I did, his voice was not only similar to the one time I had spoken with “Colton”, it was identical. I read the Facebook threads. Someone made a rather confrontive comment to “Danny”, and I messaged that person and asked if he were making a confrontive comment because he suspected “Colton” was a hoax. He responded, “Of course it’s a hoax; I’ve been following this joke for months.” He and I contacted others, and the jig was up. We “Googled” Colton’s name, and he didn’t exist outside of Facebook. We were all taken in by a huge Facebook hoax about a “dying” gay man.

During this time, I had wished for a miracle about my “poor friend Colton”. I had wished for his cancer to magically go away. Well, be careful what you ask for; you just might get it. With a poof of discovery, the entire hoax was revealed, “Colton” died, and the Facebook profile for him was deleted.

All of the trauma that Michael and I had gone through in the 80′s and 90′s with losing friends to AIDS had been recapitulated, but not in a “real” way, but in a very 2009 Facebook hoax way. We both felt relieved, angry, and betrayed all at once. What a slap in the face this asshole was to everyone who has ever fought cancer (myself included), and a slap to the memory of everyone who has succumbed to a premature, fatal illness.

But no sooner did we exhale from the “Colton” experience, than our friend Spencer Yu actually did pass away, while on the Atlantis gay cruise in Mexico. This time, it was real. A very close friend HAD died. The grief and coping mechanisms had to be re-activated, after just being asked to “stand down” after the hoax.

What did Michael and I learn from this? We learned that we have hearts. We learned that all of us learn to care about people, whether they are “just a Facebook stranger” we come to care about on a human-to-human level, or real people who share precious realtime moments in our lives.

Would we do it all again? You betcha. “Colton” can go fly a kite with his self-indulgent, Naricissitic, grandiose delusion. May he get the mental health help he needs.

And Spencer, rest in peace — flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

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