I'm the type of geek who is generally down on social networking sites. I am not a fan of the Mybook or Facespace, in general. In particular, the idea of reconnecting with those from my past is something I've held little regard for. Most of my personal history is not filled with what could be called "social success". While it isn't as bad as what blogger Mark Chu-Carroll went through, nor is it that I hold any real grudge at this point, I just don't feel that need to connect in that direction.
I do search for people from the past, sometimes, just by looking up the names, maybe throwing in a town I heard associated with them once. I don't have a real urge to talk, just to see if they have a presence so that I can, however briefly, be a voyeur. I want to see how they made out in the end. I've rarely found anyone I've looked for. There's one guy running a religious marriage counseling firm (not a surprise), a doctor (a surprise to some, probably, but not me), and someone just getting into student life. It's that last one that almost made me want to get in contact with someone from my past. She rather unknowingly influenced a lot of who I grew up to be, and planted some of the first real seeds of confidence I ever had.
We were, at best, friendly acquaintances. Lots of the same classes and clubs, a couple of mutual friends; that was the interaction level. We knew each other without knowing details; she was one of the few people with whom I could be myself without worrying about being accidentally antisocial, because she wasn't concerned with a lot of the high school status bullshit. She was an artist and writer, already better at that point than I ever aspired to be. She just liked people, and that made her comfortable to be around.
It's trite to think that anything you offhandedly say or do at that age can really affect someone, but she managed to do that with a couple of sentences in my senior yearbook. What she said was, essentially, "I wouldn't mind to be in a world run by you." There was more to it than that, but it came down to the idea that I was worth more than a "see you soon!" platitude.
I occasionally think about those words still today, 15 years later. In just dashing off that idea, she let me know that I wasn't just flailing about in my attempts to relate. She let me know that, despite my horrid self-image, I wasn't a complete loser asshole.
This wasn't a girl I was ever interested in romantically, though she was attractive enough. This wasn't flirtiness, or a response to same; it was just a kind thought. It was unique, though. I'd never heard the sentiment "You're a decent person" in those terms before. Hell, I'd only rarely heard it at all, at least directed at me. It gave me something to build on.
In the years since, I've heard that she fell on hard times. Drugs, illness, even prostitution. It's not what anyone would've expected. I've kept an eye out online, even if just for a police blotter. For a long time, there was nothing. Then, just a few weeks ago, I found her MySpace page. There's no question it's her; aside from the unique name, the pics are clear. She's starting things now that people would've expected from her a decade and a half ago. For the first time in a long time, I wanted to drop off an email to someone from back then.
I kept browsing, though, and decided against it. She's got a distinctly different life and outlook than when I knew her (time and experience do that, I know). She does have a small gallery of her old work posted, clearly labeled as "The past"; it seems that such things as linked us then have no place anymore. I doubt she'd even remember me beyond a vague recollection; such is how it often is with those who unknowingly influence us.
Given what this woman has been through, I was still tempted to at least send a note. I wanted to apologize for not managing to rule the world for the one person who thought it might be a good idea, and to thank her, because the part I've managed some control over is doing pretty good. Without her words, I don't know if that would have happened.