Last week I responded positively to a Facebook “friend request” from someone I haven’t seen since I was a child. When you move as often as we did, you count your friends in eras. In sections of your life. These are the people I knew when I lived in this city. When we left, we left them behind, and here are the people I knew next.
Before I was eight I had lived in eleven homes in five different cities. So to have anyone remember me from that time is remarkable. At least it feels remarkable. Especially coming, as it did, so close after the death of my grandfather.
My grandfather and I never had a chance to know each other properly, or even at all, thanks to the sociopaths who raised me. But at one point the cult I grew up in became foster parents for a family of local kids. Their parents were older, unemployed and desperately poor. They also had ten or twelve kids.
So my parents and their revolutionary buddies took them all in for a year. The boys — including a couple who were seriously ill — lived in one house, the girls in another. And I ended up sharing a bed with another kid, and a room with eight others.
It was one of the older brothers who sent the request.
Practically, I still think Facebook is a waste of time. But on another, more philosophical level, I’m starting to understand it has its uses.
For example… if you want to see, and maybe understand, the person you could have been, the life you could have led, then get an account and start sending out ‘friend requests’. Because it’s all there. For every fork in the road where you went left, there’s a group of people you knew who went right who are now living the life you could’ve had.
It’s basic math… the more data you have, the more patterns you’ll find. Last week I started to see patterns in my Facebook account. I started to see alternate futures in the groups of people who I’ve “friended”.
In the nearly sixty people I’ve connected with over the past few weeks I started to see the lives I could have lived, and the opportunities I’ve missed, and the right and wrong decisions I’ve made.
Or were made for me.
After the death of my grandfather, several of my cousins — sons and daughters of my fathers brothers — sent me ‘friend requests’ on Facebook. Of the dozen or so cousins I have on that side of my family, only two were in the cult with my brother and myself. After we escaped, the same two cousins stayed in contact with us. Basically we visited once every couple of years, but other than my brothers wedding last February, I haven’t seen them in a decade or more.
But when my grandfather fell ill a few weeks ago, and ended up in the hospital, I started thinking about my cousins. Specifically about the relationship between the grandchildren, our parents and our grandparents.
My father is the eldest of four brothers. His youngest brother was also a founding member of the cult. Their children — myself included — were raised in such a way that having a relationship with our grandparents was impossible. Our fathers hated their parents and, after the divorces, our mothers hated everyone.
The middle two brothers raised their children outside the cult. Those children grew up having birthdays, Easters, Christmases and holidays with our grandparents — just to confuse things, my younger sisters also had a solid relationship with our grandparents, but mostly because their mother forced the issue.
When our grandfather died the children of his youngest son actually stayed away from the wake and funeral because they still believe the lies, misinformation and bullshit their father fed their mother, who then passed it on down to the next generation.
But now that most of us are on Facebook it’s easy to see who won and who lost by having the grandparents in their lives. It’s easy to spot the lies which our mothers lived inside.
There are other examples, maybe less dramatic, but still important. A group of people I went to school with have “friended” me. For the most part they went straight into the factories, or had families after leaving high school.
Another group left the region and became artists — painters, writers, photographers. Other people I’ve become friends with over the past few years work in social issues, they have comfortable homes in the city with interesting friends, who speak to each other in shorthand, they attend rallies and have interesting Sunday’s.
There are reporters, some of whom I worked with, who are still doing what I should’ve been doing for the past eight years. There are friends I haven’t seen in years who are succeeding and having fun while raising family’s.
There’s a bunch of others examples. I don’t actually have that many Facebook buddies compared to most of mine, at the moment my “real” account sits at sixty-two.
I don’t want to make this a huge deal. I almost did, but thankfully I remembered how to edit. This is really just an observation that has interested me. The basic idea has always been we judge the character of a life lived, by the people we’ve influenced or gathered around us. There’s also the fact the crowd always makes the better decision than the individual.
The life I’ve lived has been full of character, and characters, no doubt. But there have also been a huge number of very abrupt ninety-degree turns based on decisions which, in turn, were based on faulty intelligence.
These constant, and mostly illogical, moves left the characters of my life behind me, so very few people have known me for more than a couple of years. Which is what makes Facebook suddenly interesting to me. It’s interesting to see the decisions made by the crowds I’ve had around me during various stages of my life.