Before COVID-19 made Zoom get-togethers de rigueur, I met one of my best friends in an online writers’ workshop. I’d cautioned my teenage daughter to be wary of online friendships when she’d first shown an interest in Facebook, but I had to backtrack on my warnings when “Samantha” came into my life.
Despite our 10-year age gap and a geographic divide that spanned the continental United States, Samantha and I clicked right away as we shared our writing, swapped page critiques and championed each other’s work. Before long, we dove into deep, personal territory, exchanging confidences and commiserations along with dinner recipes and designer finds from Home Goods.
Over the course of more than seven years, we cheered each other on through writing successes and family milestones like graduations and weddings. We bolstered each other through parental deaths, household moves and surgeries, shared celebrations and heartbreaks, vicarious travel and, well, life.
How many times did one of us tell the other how much we wished we could meet for coffee or a glass of wine? I always believed a meetup would happen eventually, but there were professional responsibilities, family crises and 2,500 miles between us. I was grateful for technology like iPhones, Messenger and Google Hangouts, which provided us with a virtual kitchen table. At some point, with our countless hours on the phone and constant stream of texts, I forgot Samantha and I had never actually been in the same room together.
One day, while chatting in our usual manner over text, Samantha wrote the seemingly unexceptional sentence: “Don’t ask me how I am.” I took her statement as the kind of throwaway line we’ve all used at times, accompanied by a sigh, an eye roll, or maybe a facepalm emoji: “Don’t ask.”