I have friends I have never met. I got online back in 1996 with a dial up modem squawking each time I dialed in. I was bumped off frequently but still managed to find people online in AOL chat rooms. I’m still friends on Facebook with some of those old philosophy chat room people. I hear from more of them via email – even this many years later.

I left AOL when I could and have been AOL-free for many years now. This isn’t anything unusual. Many people who started out with the service provider were able to advance as the Internet grew into the behemoth it is today.

I don’t know when I began posting my writing online but it was scary to start. Tim and I eventually “worked” which really meant “volunteered” for the same online ezine – Really Good Quotes. I began doing behind-the-scenes formatting stuff and eventually wrote a small piece three times a week. I now write the lead article once a week – on Wednesdays. Tim wrote both techy stuff and funny stuff. He encouraged me to join a writing forum.

I did. I’ve been a member of My Writers Circle since the fall of 2007. The first dumb thing I did was enter a writing contest and win. The reward (punishment really) for winning is that you get to run the next one. There I was, new and inexperienced and it was getting on toward Christmas and everyone was busy and I was trying to get submissions for a contest no one cared about. I’ve not done that again.

Well, I had a friend ask me to enter a poetry challenge and since I can’t write poetry to save my life, I entered so she would have some entries. I won again. My challenge was to get them to write a sonnet because I figured if *I* could write free verse well enough to win, there was a problem.

Eventually, I was asked to become a Moderator at the site and I did that for over a year. Boy, are forum people a bunch of whiners. And the spammers were not as bad as today, but there was a lot of that, too. All in all, it was annoying but I got close to a bunch of the other Mods.

Three of us worked really well together. Ma, Fire-fly, and me – a might triumvirate and eventually Alice joined, too. And it worked out really well because we spanned the globe. England, Australia, and the US. We had the time zones covered. Today there are many more members and many more Mods to try to soothe hurt feelings and take down spammers. I am not a Moderator any longer and haven’t been for years. Ma and Fire-fly both still are. So is Alice.

Now here is what I hate. I have known FF since January 15, 2008 when she joined. We have played word games for nearly six years. I know about her personal life as much as she knows about mine. We are friends although we have never met. I have no idea how far it is to Australia, but I’m betting I don’t ever get there. Except via the Internet. I can communicate instantly via electrons.

FF is MIA. Her last post said it was her last win in a game we have been playing for years now. “The last person to post here wins” has been running since May 2010 and there have been almost 30,000 replies to the thread and over 800,000 hits. Word people love word games and this is one of long standing. It is the 4th most popular thread on the site.

Many people come and go and there are times when we take a hiatus. In fact, FF has done some long trips to the Outback which preclude participation online since she has no connectivity. We usually know about these well in advance. She is also the person with the most posts on the entire site. I am the 4th blabbiest and that is even though I went missing for about eight or nine months once.

My problem is that FF is missing and I don’t know if she is having fun or if something has gone wrong. I have no idea how to actually find out, either. Ma is emailing, I’m messaging via Facebook (where she also stopped posting at the same time).

My biggest worry is related to the fact that the Fly chose her name well. She is Fire-fly because she is a firefighter. This is a risky job. It’s not like being a secretary where my biggest risk is a papercut.

So, I keep asking about her here and there and hopefully she will soon show up with great tales about an adventure she went on. But I really can’t like this part of the Internet. I’m close to so many people – I care about so many real honest-to-goodness people – and I have no way of ever really getting in touch with many of them.

A picture from the wilds of Australia, taken by Fire-Fly

A picture from the wilds of Australia, taken by Fire-Fly