We all do it, some more so than others; but everyone has at some point, at least once, googled the name of a person that they haven’t seen in a while. It’s a strange, almost intrusive habit that we of the internet age have picked up. In more primitive times such individuals would have simply disappeared into the vacuum of the past, never to be seen or heard from again. Except perhaps by awkward chance at some inopportune moment.
Now with a few clickety-clacks of the keyboard the whereabouts of the missing persons are either revealed in great detail, or not at all. And sometimes something so shocking is thrown up that you catch your breath in ghastly surprise.
That person has died.
This happened to me not long ago. A former colleague of mine who I’d worked with some years before in London and who had since moved to New York to pursue a highly successful career in publishing, had died while crossing the street in Brooklyn, mowed down by a drunk driver without a licence. She had become well-known in New York’s literary circles and her death had been reported in a number of publications. Beautiful obituaries were written about her by some of the leading lights of the transatlantic left-leaning literary establishment.
In the brief period we had worked together, I had been completing an internship at the rather radical publishers where she was permanently employed in the marketing department. I was fresh out of university, bewildered and overwhelmed by the enormity of London and the jolting mundanity of working life.
She, a few years older than me, was, by contrast, highly motivated, highly efficient, and extremely passionate about her job. She was also very kind, very intelligent and very attractive. And I’m not lightly applying these superlatives to a person whose memory has become golden and hazy in death; she really was all those things. In fact, so memorable a person, that one day I typed her name into a search engine wondering what had become of her.
I had not spoken to her for some time. I’d finished the internship and wandered off confusedly into the future, we’d remained friends on Facebook and made plans to meet up, which never came to fruition, mainly because of my flakiness – not hers.
And then one day I deleted her from my friends list. She could be quite strident in her political views and she had posted a status that I vehemently disagreed with. It had irritated me so much that I removed her and regretted it immediately.
What’s done is done, however, and I had to live with the consequences of my hastiness. I wonder if she noticed at all. Probably not and if she did, she probably didn’t think too much of it. She was far too buoyant to let things like that bother her.
I remember her stylish presence in the office. She was so enthusiastic and focused. Always arriving an hour earlier than anyone else and leaving later too. She was imaginative as well; the marketing events she would organise would always be quirky and fun. And she was so gentle with me. I must have seemed so young and inexperienced.
It’s sad that only now I’ve finally moved beyond the political bluster (mine and hers) and seen her as she truly was: flesh and blood.
We so readily obscure people behind political beliefs and moral posturing when really they, like us, are just frail, infinitely vulnerable human beings.
Clara’s beautiful body was not strong enough to withstand the force that collided with her that night, the person that she was totally obliterated. How much difference a few seconds can make, if she’d stepped off the pavement just five seconds earlier? Everything in her life up until then that had conspired together to bring to her that point, that moment in time, when it all ended.
I had performed my own violence upon her when, careering around in my own arrogance, I’d so callously forgotten all her good intentions and treated her like she was disposable.
The damage is irreversible. But I will never make that mistake again.
This originally appeared on Athena.