And hoping they stay lost
Maybe this has happened, in some form or other, to you
You had a friend. At one point in your life, this person was a dear friend, someone with whom you felt an enduring connection, someone who made good times better by sharing them with you and whom you could count on when times were tough. Circumstances might keep the two of you apart for years at a stretch, but when you reunited it was as though no time had passed. That kind of friend.
But then life took a series of hairpin turns, and the two of you drifted apart. Lost touch. It happened gradually, the spaces between meetups growing longer, the distances becoming more than simply physical. Something uncomfortable crept into the rare times you were able to connect, a discordant note disrupting the old, comfortable harmony between you.
You were no longer just far apart from each other; you were going in different directions. Meanwhile, life went on at its dizzying, distracting pace. You couldn’t find a way to address the unspoken rift between you and your friend, so you let the drift happen. You lost touch.
I had such a friend. We’ll call her Elaine
Not her real name, of course. She and her husband lived literally an ocean away, but they were avid travelers, so my then-husband and I hosted them when they’d swing by our corner of the globe. Every now and then, the hubs and I would fly across the pond and visit them. We traveled together, delighting in how our different perspectives lent spice to our mutual simpatico.
This went on for years and years. We had kids; they had kids. They had their quirks (especially, a fondness for every wacky health regimen or gizmo that crossed their path) but that was amusing rather than troubling. No doubt we had our quirks too from their point of view, but it didn’t matter. We were like family, and you cut family a lot of slack.
Elaine was one of the most capable people I’d ever met. She could design and oversee the complete remodel of a house with the same easy competence with which she turned out phenomenal meals or sewed her own curtains. She had abundant energy, strong opinions, big feelings, and a lively sense of humor. Yet as accomplished as she was, she was subject to episodes of anxiety and deep self-doubt. I admired her strengths and resonated with her flaws.
Eventually, Elaine and her husband moved to a different country, across an even further ocean, in search, as they always were, for a better life. It was a bit mystifying, as their lives and where they lived them already looked charmed to me. But I had to give them credit for the zeal with which they conducted their pursuit of happiness.
In their new land, they had a bumpy ride at first
They bought property on the coastline, built a beautiful home, bought a business, all in short order. The business proved unsustainable, the stress of keeping it going bringing them to their knees. In particular, it sent Elaine into a tailspin. We commiserated as best we could — this was still pre-Internet, pre-cell phones, when calls to that part of the world cost an arm and a leg. For a while, our communications were mostly conducted by the two men; Elaine didn’t seem up for a chat.
But they pulled out of it. Elaine recovered, they sold the troublesome business, and made fortunate real estate investments. They were free to travel again, so they joined us in Southern California a couple of times. Their obsession with wonky health practices was more pronounced, but whatever. They implored us to make the long journey to visit them at their home, and we promised we would as soon as we could. We meant it, we really did.
But then calamity struck us
My husband came home from running his specialty lumber business one day, feeling ill and tired. He took a nap, went into cardiac arrest, and never woke up. Life, needless to say, turned upside down.
Among the many kindnesses that kept me going in those terrible days, one of the standouts was Elaine’s response. She knew I had a houseful of relatives during the runup to the funeral, so she got on a plane and flew to L.A., timing her arrival for the aftermath. She stayed with me for ten days, relieving my sisters who had arrived to support me but needed to get back to their own lives.
While I staggered along in a daze, keeping the business more or less going, she made sure I and the kids ate and had clean laundry. She took me shopping, in the convertible Mustang she’d rented; we joked about being Thelma and Louise. Life still felt unreal, and would for a long time, but thanks to Elaine’s cheerful presence and her assumption that I was up to the challenge, I could keep putting one foot in front of the other.
It was a great gift, and I will never forget it.
Elaine went home, and life went on
We checked in when we could, which wasn’t often. I ran the lumber business for five years, meanwhile marrying a man I’d known since my college theater days. With his unflagging help, I sold the business, and we spent another eight months rehabbing my house and land to get it market-ready, doing manual labor eight hours a day, seven days a week.
At some point in all this, Elaine and her husband came to visit. They were delighted that my new husband and I had gotten together. But there was something off in our former ease with each other. Elaine’s strong opinions had calcified into adamant positions; she tended to rant. The health advice from both of them had progressed to the truly loopy stage, becoming slightly invasive.
I shrugged it off, telling my puzzled husband that she was one of my best friends in the world, and reminding myself of all she had done for me. Still, I had to admit to some relief when the visit came to a close.
More years went by, but this time with social media
Elaine and her husband seemed as content as I was to let the distance between us do its work. Still, we kept up via Facebook and occasional phone calls. I loved seeing the posts of their daughters, growing into beautiful young women.
I didn’t love the increasingly strident posts from Elaine. The anti-vaxxer rants. The embrace of conspiracy theories I’d thought were old, discounted news (Illuminati, anyone?). The suggestion that Americans would be way better off if we embraced Lyndon LaRouche.
Meanwhile, Elaine started her own online health foundation, which amounted mostly to a blog, although it did offer occasional in-person workshops in exotic locations. I looked in on it from time to time; some of the practices it promoted were commendable (yoga, high-intensity interval training), some not so much (unproven supplements). But nothing alarming, aside from the continued screeds against vaccines. I’d heard the same nonsense from acquaintances in L.A., and I knew it was an impossible point to argue, so I didn’t try.
So she’s getting a little kooky, I told myself. She means well. Aside from the vaccine weirdness, she’s harmless.
Then came the space alien warning
Back when I played on Facebook more regularly than I do today, I came across an item posted by Elaine. With impassioned words, she urged everyone to participate in an upcoming global meditation to be held at a certain date, at the same time all over the world.
For a half-second, I was intrigued. Here was something that Elaine was purporting that I could get behind! I’d already participated in at least one global meditation, promoting peace and tolerance and stuff like that. How could it hurt?
Then I read further. This meditation was to focus earthly energy on behalf of a group of celestial beings who desperately needed us to support their effort to fend off an attack from other, evil, celestial beings, who would, were they to prevail, certainly come and do terrible things to us earthlings. This had all been carefully documented if you just knew where to look and were smart enough to not listen to the nay-sayers.
My jaw about hit the floor. This was wackiness of an entirely different order. I wondered if I should contact her husband. But I had no way to get to him directly since the only number I had for them was a shared one and Elaine always answered, and his own FB posts conveyed nothing but serene acceptance.
But then there were other Elaine posts, pics of their still-lovely home, their increasingly lovely daughters, their far-reaching travels. Okay, I thought, she’s bonkers. Lucky for her, she’s wealthy enough to just be eccentric. But still, harmless.
In recent years, I’ve stayed away
From her posts in particular, and increasingly from Facebook for anything other than professional reasons. Many of us have done the same thing, for much the same reasons. Every so often I post something that others might find amusing or useful or check on my old high school buddies. But I’ve learned it’s healthier to stay out of the echo chamber, and besides, there’s the overarching creepiness of Mark Zuckerberg.
But the other day, I was thinking about Elaine. Something had come up that reminded me about her extraordinary generosity to me back during those fraught days. I checked first for her husband’s profile, and couldn’t find it; I don’t know if that means he’d unfriended me or what. So, a bit timorously, I searched for Elaine.
And I found her. Boy, howdy, did I find her.
Interspersed among benign posts of her daughters (grown now, even lovelier) and other appurtenances that normally accompany a functional life, was every kind of mouth-foaming conspiracy-fueled diatribe at which you could shake a tinfoil hat.
The pandemic? A hoax. Masks (“face nappies!”) are for the pathetic and the credulous. The most recent election in her own country? Stolen, just like the one in the U.S. You know who’s really behind the junta in Myanmar? George Soros, that’s who. People had better wake up! As of January 20, Elaine expressed full confidence that Donald Trump would be inaugurated as the rightful POTUS.
And so on. I had to stop reading.
I’m still processing this. How do I square the woman who came halfway across the world to aid me in the worst days of my life with the unhinged whack-doodle on Facebook? I can’t blame her delusions on Trump; she lives on another continent. And I can’t, any longer, dismiss her as harmless.
All I can conclude is that the present Elaine is not the past Elaine, and there is nothing I can do about that. It’s long past time to grieve the loss of my old friend.