Southern Questions

Facebook Why ButtonEverything looks different on Facebook again. But I can’t leave it—It made my life look different to me. It gave me back to myself, in a very real way, despite all its flaws. I don’t think the rich techies in Southern Cal had anything so lofty as personal redemption in mind when they rolled out Facebook. I forget why I joined; certainly I didn’t consider that there were friends out there who might look for my name. The few slender bridges I’d constructed were burned long ago.

From an isolated and itinerant child who underwent seven years of intense peer abuse which didn’t abate no matter where my Air Force father was stationed,  to a pretty teen hiding a desperate secret (I thought I invented my eating disorder), I was eventually decanted into a hospital. Insurance companies operated differently then; I was gone for two years but arrived home in the same shape in which I’d departed.

Come college I was still hiding the secret, but I began to decode ways to be. Starting points: I was an English major and I felt different. There was a urban club that attracted the eccentric and interesting; there were so few in this community that one consumed every type of live music, every type of idea. I found it. There was space on the Humanities quad steps for people who smoked ceaselessly and drank truly dreadful coffee while wearing every shade of black. I could sit there and chatter with all of the fascinating people, the people I looked forward to seeing, and too often cut class to see.

It did not occur to me that they might also be glad to see me, or that I didn’t have to cut class to get to talk to them. My price of admission was to be sarcastic, impassioned, and there. In the classes I did attend, I was praised for my ability to empathize with and explicate fictional characters, but no one said the obvious—If you identify with Dostoyevsky’s Underground Man, something is wrong.

Once my advisor finally cobbled together enough credits on paper to give me a minor and get me the hell off campus, I went to work a low-paying job shelving books. Some of us had never heard of a resume. As I percolated around my city’s service sectors, from Kinko’s to waitressing to graphic design, my husband and I started a band. (Bad idea.)

We were fun. We were imperious, and entertaining, and often outrageous. The guitar-playing husband was widely admired for his looks and self-possession and we eventually ended up with the best rhythm section in the state. I wore five-inch heels, a tiara, cocktail dress and—most useless but beloved of gifts—sang my way around a three-octave range while talking shit as whatever catastrophe or argument swirled onstage between songs. I’m great with an audience; one-on-one is hard. Eventually, I had neither. I became a drunk with a microphone. No band, no real job, no bridges. I left the state. For some reason the husband came with me.

We played some music in the new town, took offbeat jobs. At some point I joined Facebook. Some “friended” me immediately, thirsty for news of my brilliant, funny husband. But some of the frienders were there to say hello to me. People from my black-clad past, people whom I thought I’d disgusted long ago in my uneven swoops from job to job, or by diva misbehavior, showed up. People whom I never thought considered me a friend.

Maybe I wasn’t that bad. Maybe my past wasn’t an unmitigated disaster. Maybe these people liked me. Even those who recalled my grandiose verbal swipes had forgiven me—One man told me that he’d grown a beard after I told him he looked like a vintage spree killer. Not only do I not remember that, but I would never have thought I could influence anyone so intelligent.

Some of us forgave each other; I “talk” regularly to someone who left me stranded in Virginia overnight, while someone else surprised me with a private message thanking me for forgiving him when I “confirmed” his friendship. To this day, I can’t recall his transgression. I hope that somehow he feels a bit of his past redeemed when we exchange salacious badinage. I do. My past is repopulated with the people I was afraid to consider peers when I shared a city with them. They did not share my opinion of myself. Despite the myriad flaws inherent in Facebook and its users, it has restored relationships I didn’t know were lost. Even, trite though it may seem, with myself.

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Deborah Chasteen

Deborah Chasteen

I am a graduate student in the University of Georgia's Health and Medical Journalism program, who holds the inevitable 40-hour-a-week day job. I primarily write non-fiction pieces. Sometimes, though, my answer to "why is it this way?" emerges in essay form. I'm fine with that.