That got your attention didn't it?
I should probably point out at this juncture that I didn't in fact meet an axe murderer. I met a lovely woman who bore no ill-will toward me, and showed no violent tendencies whatsoever. The notable thing about this particular lovely woman is that I've known her for (I think) 12 years, and yet had never actually met her. Such are the wonders of the internet.
Back in the mists of time, I had a different husband, and he turned out not to be The Right One. In fact, he was categorically The Wrong One, and in retrospect did me an enormous favour by declaring that he was leaving. At the time, this was not quite so clear, and in my distress I found solace within an online forum, amongst a group of women in similar situations. We wrote screeds of heartbroken descriptions; we ranted and railed; we plotted elaborate (and unexecuted) acts of revenge; we offered advice: emotional, physical and legal. Time passed. Pain passed. Life continued. Our forum did not. It collapsed, only to rise phoenix-like from the ashes, a place to continue our friendships, to share our continuing life-stories, our triumphs and our tragedies. The reasons for our original coming together disappeared into the past. That was no longer what mattered most. We were just a group of women with a shared history.
Eventually, that forum sank into the depths too, as the costs of maintaining a website became too high in a world where we could have private facebook groups, and group emails.
But, through all of this, we remained friends. We shared the mundane details of our lives. We knew about each others children, grandchildren, graduations, jobs, illnesses, pets, partners and hobbies.
Here’s the thing though. Most of the women who were part of this group were in North America. There were a handful in the UK, and over the years I’ve met them, and made friends in person. But most of the others? They are only a virtual presence in my life.
And then, out of the blue, S, from Calgary, told us she would be in London for a week, and was there any chance of any of the UK people meeting her? So I did. And on my way to London to meet her, I realised that what I was doing was perhaps a trifle odd. Do "normal" people jaunt up to their nearest large city to meet virtual friends? And I had a slight sense of trepidation, not that she might be an actual axe murderer in truth, but that meeting someone in the flesh, and talking face-to-face might be slightly harder than knowing one another online. I've already mentioned here how much easier I find it to express my feelings in writing than in person. I had a sudden fear that I would clam up, not know what to talk about, discover we had nothing in common, or generally have some horrifically awkward evening. I wasn't concerned about whether S would be lovely - this is the person who sent me an emergency back-up penguin when LittleBear became utterly devoted to a cuddly penguin BigBear had acquired on his North American travels, and I feared for what would happen if we lost The Precious Penguin. S also sent a lovely National Geographic book about penguins at the same time, which proved to be a launch-pad for LittleBear's devotion to penguins (he currently takes five penguins and one dinosaur to bed with him). As I said, I had no doubts about S's loveliness. It was my own social eptitude that had me worried.
Naturally, I was wrong. Sometimes being wrong is the best thing in the world. I had a lovely evening, chatting about Canada, and Egypt, and families, and life in general. And because S is lovely, and has followed the goings on in LittleBear's life, she brought with her three beautiful books for him. We have already danced and giggled with the Dinosaurs of Drumheller.
Real friends aren't only the ones you meet in person first. Sometimes they're simply the ones who are in the right place at the right time, even when that place is the internet.