I pride myself on my ability to dodge people I know in public places. Hiding behind salsa displays in supermarkets and ducking into stores in the mall has become my new calling. Faking a phone call also works about 90 percent of the time. I tend to blame it on my introverted, hermit ways, but in reality, it’s because these people that I know are people that only think they know me. They are people who will ask me about things that, if they did really know me, would know are things that I don’t speak candidly about in the deli section at Walmart.
I haven’t quite mastered, however, the skill of dodging friends and acquaintances while sitting in Starbucks. Laptop screens are only so big, so no matter what, you’re pretty much SOL. So recently, when I saw a familiar face, and better yet, when this familiar face saw me, I had no choice but to say hello.
I still blame this unfortunate circumstance on the guy with two laptops and two cell phones sitting in my usual, relatively inconspicuous seat by the window. Having been binge watching Scandal on Netflix, my mind couldn’t help but jump to conclusions; he was obviously using one of the laptops to wire money to a man he hired to assassinate the president, and one of the phones to communicate with him.
It was bad enough knowing I was going to have to interact with a human. It was even worse that I could not remember this particular human’s name. I can remember lots of human’s names. I usually do – another thing I pride myself on. But not this one. I could remember exactly where I knew her from. I could remember what profile picture she had just before I deactivated my Facebook months prior. I remembered her husband, and I could even remember his name. I remembered her sign – Scorpio – unyielding. But her name? Nothin’.
As she got closer and closer to ordering, I tried to picture my news feed in my head, knowing that she was an avid user. Maybe my memory would serve me well and help me picture her name. When that failed me, I considered for a split second reactivating my account just to find her name and avoid a potentially awkward situation. When I saw that she was already ordering, I knew this option was out of the question. I was just going to have to resort to “hey you,” and “hey girl hey,” and avoid using her name altogether.
She grabbed her drink (Pumpkin Spice Latte – typical) and began to make her way over to where I was sitting. Immediately, I could feel my face turn fifty shades of red and I felt myself breaking out in a cold sweat. I panicked. I apologized, admitting that I had forgotten her name.
“Samantha,” she said with a smile, forgiving me already, as even she recognized that it had been years since we last had any kind of face-to-face interaction. I apologized again anyway. My sweating began to cease and my face re-gained its normal ghostly pigment. I asked how her husband was. She stammered a bit and looked a little confused.
The sweating started up again. My heart rate tripled, and my face returned its lovely crimson shade. I immediately knew I had asked the wrong question. I apologized for the third time this conversation. And the fourth time. And the fifth.
“You haven’t been on Facebook lately, have you?” she asked.
Sue me for spending my time elsewhere. I could only imagine the dozens of posts she must have shared about her monster of a soon-to-be ex-husband during the messy, not-so-amicable split. I explained to her that I had deleted my Facebook, therefore was “out of the loop.” Having to justify not knowing intimate details about someone’s life because you’d deleted your profile off of the single most invasive social media site in the world – less than sign. She then asked how my mother was doing. Thus the reason I dodge people.
I gave my default answer, nodding and smiling. “She’s doing great! She’s in good spirits!”
“Oh, that’s so great to hear! I was wondering, because I hadn’t seen anything from you on Facebook in a while.”
Even more than the pride I feel knowing that as a family we have collectively played a total of zero minutes of Farmville, I pride myself on the fact that five and a half years after my mother’s diagnosis, not one of us has ever put a single post on Facebook regarding her condition, mood, pain level, nothing. I never informed any of my 700-something digital friends of the time I woke at 5 in the morning to a scream and a thud as she fell in the bathroom because she had low electrolytes; a side effect of one of the many chemo treatments she’s been on. I’ve never posted a picture of her laying in a hospital bed, hooked up to however many tubes. I didn’t rush to Facebook the first time I found a clump of her hair in the shower drain. No one had to click ‘See More’ as I elaborated on how I sat on the toilet crying for fifteen minutes before I was able to stand and step foot in the shower.
The only select few that need to know this personal, private information are just a phone call away. The other 700-something people have no business knowing this information. They get to know about my latest obsessions; Orange is the New Black, The Mindy Project, New Girl. They might even get to know that the barista I’ve been slightly stalking at Starbucks gave me a free iced lemon pound cake that day.
They don’t get to know that after my mother receives a treatment, when she has absolutely zero energy, when she can barely get up to use the bathroom, when she sleeps on the couch for days at a time, when she is so incredibly still and silent, I watch her chest until I see it rise so I can be sure that she is still breathing.
Facebook is not going to cure my mother. Receiving comments from a dozen or so people with whom I haven’t spoken in over a year wishing her well isn’t going to bring me, her, or anyone else any sense of comfort. Facebook isn’t going to heal Samantha’s marriage.
Sometimes we turn to Facebook and other social media outlets for comfort. Sometimes we want to share our information with other people. Sometimes we want that strange sense of sympathy that the digital age instills in us. But sometimes we don’t. And just because some people choose to share every detail of our their lives on their news feeds doesn’t mean other people have to. It doesn’t necessarily mean you should, either. Sometimes the messiest parts of our personal lives should stay private, not pixelated. Sometimes we just need to unplug.