A friend in words

I just finished writing a letter to Norman. Norman is a guy who I "met" the first month I was online, way back in the early summer of '95. One of us posted a computer related question to a newsgroup, and the other answered. I can't remember the details. We discovered that we had nearly identical computer set-ups, the same software, same peripherals, and we were both artists turned web designer wannabe's. Back then, finding another web designer, especially one with the same exact setup, and similar backgrounds, was pretty exciting! We started emailing back and forth, trading information. I found out he lived somewhere in Bandung, West Java, Indonesia and I was stunned... I guess that was the moment I became hooked on email.

So, in those last 2 and a half years, dozens upon dozens of other email acquaintances have come and gone. But I've never lost contact with Norman for more than a few weeks, and if its my fault, I will surely get a "Yo, Turtle, have you quit the web smell already?" note from him. He cracks me up. I've sat here, a hundred times, late at night receiving an afternoon letter from him, and laughed til my stomach hurt.

He teaches me words from his language, which I promptly forget. Things like Apa Kabar, kura-kura, which means something like "Whats up Turtle?" He sent me a huge wave file one day so I could hear him say hello. We've traded pictures, and I think he is one of the most intriguing people I've ever known. He's native Indonesian, with a totally Dutch last name. His hair is way longer than mine. He sent me a package but it disappeared. I sent him a package of stuff in return, and he was surprised the 'bandits' at his postal service didn't steal it. We talk about anything and everything, from the weather, to our cultures, to our friends, and day to day activities, to pure nonsense. He has a dog, lives in a room of his mothers house, and chain smokes. He was in a car accident last month, and it hurts to walk. And he went to Kentucky Fried Chicken (in Indonesia???) for his birthday dinner. He said he wished I was there.

Norman has created for me beautiful little pieces of artwork that he sends as attachments, for holidays, or "just because". So on his last year birthday I rendered him a 3D image of a cake on a plate with candles. He sent it back a few days later with just the plate and a few crumbs. I guess he ate the candles :)

Norman is my friend, and as intangible as he is, I love him. I know somewhere, out there, he exists. I can't quite grasp, sometimes, the concept that this friendship wouldn't be possible if the internet didn't exist. Or that if he, so far away, didn't speak and write MY language, I'd never be able to speak to him. If I dwell on it long enough, the possibilities and implications of what this internet could mean to the human race stupify me.

When the fires there were so out of control this summer, he wrote me a short, scared letter, and I was so concerned... where a few years ago, I would have barely paid attention, or known. When he tells me about riots not so far away, and the political unrest, I fret. Now he says the economy is really chaotic, and he's worried. So I worry. If he ever didn't answer his email for more than a few days... man... I would feel so helpless. But the funny thing is, if I disappear for long, he wonders and worries too. Thats the unsettling part of email friendships... its so dependent on being able to plug in.

I wonder if we will ever meet. We both will tell you, "yep, someday". I hope so. It seems impossible, out of the realm of imagination. What are the chances of two regularly broke freelance artists on opposite sides of the planet getting to meet face to face? But I think... well, someday. We might be 70 years old, and still chit-chatting, or beaming stuff at each other, or whatever we will be doing in the future, and somehow, it will eventually come to pass.

Norman is the first friend I ever made online, and the longest lasting. He is very real to me.

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