tfw: Someone You Follow Dies

tfw is a mini personal essay series I’m try to do on Tuesdays to recount second-person experiences of feelings and experiences we all have. Or maybe I’m the only one who has them?

You don’t personally know these people. Yes, you’ve seen them in person one time and you gawked from feet away, telling your boyfriend that they are so cool and that you follow them on Instagram and that you wish you knew them. You have a few mutual friends but your mutual friends aren’t good friends. You could meet them if you wanted. You choose not to because you love admiring them from afar, lusting after their lives, thinking about their dogs, and being a digital voyeur to their happiness. Actually knowing them would definitely ruin the spell they put on you.

There are multiple accounts of theirs that you follow. The couple—a boyfriend and a girlfriend—both have their own accounts and their pets have accounts and their businesses have accounts. Each are different but only a few—the girlfriend and the dog—post a lot. Those two are your favorites. You want to see more of the boyfriend, though. He seems so cool. He’s so handsome. He’s like a sensitive thug. You dream about him punching you and then fucking you or you punching him and then fucking him. It’s that kind of thing.

Sometimes they don’t post as much. Sometimes they’re too busy, traveling or just living life, to post. You forget that they even exist until they pop up again, apologizing for going on hiatus. That happened one time when their frequently posting, popular dog was ill. He popped up cutely posed with various tubes stuck in him. He looked sad but happy to be with his people. You wanted to squeeze him and nuzzle your face into his fuzzy neck but you knew that would be bad for his health. You instead post an emoji with a kissy mouth.

Things go quiet again—but you don’t notice. You occasionally go onto their feeds for inspiration, to find new art, to peep the hot boyfriend, to seek comfort in the cute dog. You get your haircut and you bring in a photo of the hot boyfriend and tell your stylist that you want hair like him. “I want to look like him,” you say. “He’s so cool.” You think they are great because you saw that they were in town a few weeks ago, at the same event or restaurant or store or whatever local thing as you. You were glad to be near them despite being ships passing.

Then a post pops up. It’s of the boyfriend. “I’m sorry I haven’t been posting,” the girlfriend writes. You click her profile and see she hasn’t posted for over a month. The dog hasn’t posted for over a month either. The boyfriend has been silent too. How did you not notice? They go silent…but not for this long. You read on. “My heart aches,” she writes. “I lost my best friend.” The dog continues in his own post, “We lost him. We’re very sad. We’re with family now. We’ll miss you.”

Wait: did the boyfriend die?

You go to his profile and the #RIP comments on his first four photos provide confirmation. You jump from photo to photo to photo, wondering how you had no idea. You should know. You know them. You go to send a private message, about how much you love them and how beautiful you thought the boyfriend was and how you even got a haircut like him. You decide against sending the message (You don’t know them. That’s creepy.) and resort to leaving sad face emojis and the gross, cliché, serious-but-trying-to-be-cool “Sending good vibes!” in the comments. You are gutted in a tiny way, like a small stomach within your stomach was cut with a tiny knife. You are sad but, again, you don’t know these people, so you aren’t that sad.

At this point, it’s kind of like death FOMO. You go to his profile and peruse death hashtag to death hashtag, online memorial to online memorial. You find that he was an artist. You find his high school crew. You find his sisters and brothers. You find his cousin. You find the geotagged images from his funeral. You look up his full name. You try to find an obituary. You wonder if he had an illness. You wonder if he had a drug problem. You wonder if some stupid, fucked up something happened where he accidentally went from being alive and warm and beautiful to being dead and cold and beautiful. You are, again, gutted in that tiny way. Can you ever express your condolences to a stranger in a meaningful way? Will she or her pets or even his lingering spirit ever know how much you loved them?

No. They won’t. You don’t know them. You probably never will and, even if you do, you won’t bring up the dead boyfriend. You won’t even bring up that you are a fan. This history will be swallowed in your browsing past, back when you just followed. You’ll never know what happened to him and you will never not let Instagram or his girlfriend or the dog or that one place where you almost met them untie from around your finger: you will always be reminded of these people you loved online, these people you never knew and will never know, who impacted your life only to die without any explanation. It doesn’t seem fair but, like life, the Internet isn’t fair. You just have to deal.

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