It's been an odd day.
When I got up this morning I thought I would spend the day answering copy editing queries on the manuscript for Z, the zombie-themed young adult novel I have coming out in 2010. But first--in a blatant concession to procrastination--I checked in with one of my online groups to see what was going on. I've been in this group for three or four years now. There are maybe thirty or so of us who make up the core group, and although only a few of us have met in real life, I consider a lot of them good friends.
The nature of this group runs to the sarcastic, which is why most of us enjoy it. We tease each other. We say terrible, outrageous things. We occasionally get our feelings hurt and don't speak to each other for a while. It's definitely not for everybody, but particularly for those of us who have been around for a while it's a place where we can be ourselves and not worry about being judged.
Having a dark sense of humor is par for the course in this group, so when I saw the thread in which one of my friends claimed to have attempted suicide last night I at first assumed it was another of his jokes. But it soon became apparent that it wasn't. Fortunately, his attempt failed, yet the feelings that prompted it (triggered by going off his meds) were obviously still there. Most distressing was that after half a dozen posts our friend disappeared, and those posts had been left hours before most of us read them. For all we knew, he had tried again, maybe had even succeeded.
The general feeling was that someone should call him or go and check on him. The thing was, we only knew bits and pieces about him. One person knew in what city he lived. Another knew--or thought she knew--his last name. Somebody had an address from a CD swap we did last year but didn't think he still lived there. And anyway, what would we do with this information? No one lives close enough to go make sure he was okay. Should we call the police and ask them to check on him? Try to find a phone number and call him ourselves?
We found a phone number for a listing at his address. It turned out to be a book shop. I called and discovered that the building was actually a huge complex of stores and residential units. The woman I spoke to had never heard of our friend. Also, I think she thought I was either lying or insane.
All of this information was relayed to the rest of the group in real time. As new pieces of information were collected people threw out new possibilities. Meanwhile, a Google search of our friend's screen name connected us to his blog and to other groups of which he is a member. One of them mentioned the university he'd begun attending last year.
It occurred to me that we could call the student services department of the university and that perhaps they could contact our friend or send emergency services to check on him. The question was, what if he was joking. We'd look like idiots and he might get in trouble. Or, even if he had in fact attempted suicide, what if he resented our interference in his life?
I decided to make the call. I don't think the woman who answered the phone believed me at first, but eventually she transferred me to someone who did. "I don't even know if we have the right name," I told him. "This is all guesswork. But we figure if he is registered there and you can check on him it's better to have him mad at us than dead." I think that like the lady in the book shop he at first also thought I was insane, but the more details I gave him the more concerned he became.
Because of privacy issues, the man couldn't even confirm if our friend really was a student at the school, although the tone of his reply suggested that we did in fact have the right name. When I hung up, I definitely felt as though something would be done. Whether we would ever know what it was or not was another matter. And how our friend would react to our attempt at helping him was yet to be seen.
Maybe half an hour later there was a post in the group. Our friend was fine, or at least he was awake. He had, he said, been sleeping since making his earlier posts. He was about to go see his psychiatrist. He had yet to read all of our responses, but was grateful for the offers of help and genuinely surprised that we would go through so much trouble for him. He promised not to do anything stupid. As far as I know, he hasn't.
Patrick sometimes teases me about thinking that people I know only through online interactions are real friends. But I do. At least some of them. Still, deciding to get involved in this person's life in a fairly intrusive way tested that. It would have been easier to ignore the situation or to write it off as a really bad joke. It would have been easier to "let someone else worry about it." After all, we only know this guy through an online group, right?
But I'm glad we did something. I've been where he is. I know what it feels like. Sometimes that darkness seems so welcoming and part of you doesn't want anyone to turn a light on. But then someone does and you realize that you were hoping all along that they would. Hopefully our friend feels that way tonight.
Oh, the other part of the day. Well, first I got a pile of creepy clown videos in the mail, so look for the first review on Monday. Also, the audio rights to Z sold and the pet store got silk worms back in stock and Ocho Patas is totally pigging out. So yay for us. Good times. Good times.