89: Fiber-optic Friendship

89: Fiber-optic Friendship

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just Us Girls

Fiber-optic Friendship

The talent of writing agreeable letters is peculiarly female.

~Henry Tilney

“Hello, Sara?” drawled an unfamiliar Southern voice on my answering machine. “This is Amy. I just had to call to congratulate you.…”

“Who was that?” my ten-year-old twin daughters, Leah and Chloe, asked when the message ended.

“My writer friend,” I said.

They knew who Amy was; I talked about her almost every day. They knew where she lived (Kentucky), they knew she had three daughters (Mara, Kassidy, and Delaney). They even knew the names of her two pet goats (Elvis and Gracie). But like me, they hadn’t initially recognized her voice on the machine. Although Amy and I had been friends for two years, I had never seen her in person or even spoken with her. We met on the Internet.

Back in March of 2009, I was feeling lonely. My daughters, then eight, kept life busy, and any time left over went to maintaining my marriage, keeping up with household chores, and following my dream of becoming a children’s writer. Even though I felt the lack of a close woman friend, I didn’t have the energy — or the time — to go out there and find one.

Then, one day, scrolling through my favorite website for children’s writers, I saw this posting on the virtual bulletin boards:

“I’m looking for someone to swap critiques with. Not to sound too picky, but I’d like to work with someone who has similar writing interests.”

The poster, who went by the name of “Writermutt,” went on to mention authors she liked and magazines she’d been published in. Because my stories had appeared in the same magazines, I thought we might be a good fit. So I answered the post.

Amy replied with a long e-mail. In it, she shared more about her writing interests — she liked humorous stories and had started three novels — and told me she had married her high school sweetheart, lived on a farm, and had a whole bunch of animals, including four dogs, six cats, and twenty-seven chickens! I wrote back, telling her about my writing goals and admitting that my family — with only one dog — couldn’t compete with her on the pet front. We agreed to swap manuscripts twice a month.

As the weeks went on, I learned that Amy and I had more in common besides writing. Both of us were homebodies, had daughters who were afraid of tornadoes, and loved chocolate. I found out deeper things as well: both of us struggled with perfectionism, considered our husbands our best friends, and practiced a similar spiritual faith. Amy revealed some of her childhood struggles with me, and I did the same with her. And over time, she became more than a writing buddy; she became a friend.

Amy and I had a lot of long-distance fun together. At Christmas, we sent each other packages, in the process finding out what kinds of cookies were traditional in the other’s home. In January, we entered the same magazine fiction contest and spent the week before the deadline bombarding each other with e-mails — up to ten a day — asking each other to look over the latest revision. In February, Amy and her daughter Kassidy (who had become pen pal to my Chloe) sent a box full of Valentine surprises for the whole family. We continued to share writing news, of course, and even that was fun. We reported rejections to each other immediately, and the sympathy e-mail that followed took some of the sting out of it. And when a story was accepted, the happiness was increased because we rejoiced together. Once, she even sent me a card and a celebratory baggie of confetti!

Then one morning, about two years after we’d started corresponding, I received some exciting news. I had won first prize in a well-known children’s magazine fiction contest. My immediate reaction, after sharing the news with my husband and daughters, was to tell Amy. But although I knew she’d celebrate with me, I debated whether or not this was a good time to announce it. In the previous weeks, a relative of hers had been seriously ill in the hospital, and I knew the situation was taking up most of her energy. After thinking it through, I decided to send her a more subdued e-mail than I normally would.

Her immediate reply was full of capital letters and exclamation marks, and her words full of true happiness for my good fortune, even though she’d entered the same contest. And then, two days later, when I returned from an errand, there was that message on my answering machine: “Hello, Sara? This is Amy…”

Rather unexpectedly, the thought of calling her back made me nervous. What would it be like to talk to someone I’d known for two years, but had never spoken with? With my heart pounding, I punched her number into the phone.

At first, our conversation felt awkward to me. As we kept talking, though, Amy on the phone and E-mail Amy began to come together. We chatted about the contest, about writing, about our kids. We laughed and joked around. Before ending the conversation, we allowed Kassidy and Chloe to spend a few minutes talking, too. As I hung up, I was smiling. I felt like we’d just connected over coffee.

It’s been almost three years since I answered Amy’s post. I often wonder if — or when — we’ll ever meet in person. Somehow, in spite of the 800 miles that separate us, I believe we will. Because even though our connection may be a product of the modern age, in the ways that count, it’s still good old-fashioned friendship.

~Sara Matson

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