It was the picture of Leonard Cohen that made me think of him. The photo was posted on Facebook, and when it caught my eye, I immediately saw the resemblance to my college boyfriend, Larry. That was a long time ago, but it was my first serious relationship; its intensity has stayed with me. I wondered what had happened to Larry; we hadn’t been in touch since I broke up with him soon after I graduated.
Stuck alone in my suburban apartment through much of the pandemic, I had a lot of time on my hands, and was lonely for human connection. So that day, instead of sitting at my desk, staring out the window and trying to write a grocery list, I Googled Larry’s name and hometown. The first thing that appeared was a link to his mother, Mae. The site said she was 113 years old, which seemed unlikely. But the town was the right one, and Larry was listed as a relative.
Clicking on Larry’s name led me to another site. It informed me that he had “passed away, we regret to report,” at the age of sixty-four. Though I hadn’t seen him since he was twenty-one, lying on the couch in my New York apartment while I told him I didn’t want us to be together anymore, I felt a pang of sadness that Larry had died that young. And here I was, much older than sixty-four and snooping into his life.
That was far from the first time I’d hunted online for someone from my past. Sometimes it was a one-time search. Other times I returned to the person periodically to see if there was any new information. Now and then I thought of calling one or another, possibly to renew our long-lost friendship, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
One of the names I’ve checked on repeatedly is Barbara. She and her husband were longtime friends of my husband’s and mine. We shared many dinners, vacations, and family visits over the years. Barbara and I regularly met for lunch at Manhattan restaurants, and she was my companion during a ten-day trip through India.
When my husband became increasingly disabled by the effects of Parkinson’s disease, we saw less of the couple. And when it appeared his death was imminent, they couldn’t fit a visit into their schedule. They did find time, though, to attend a memorial gathering of our family and friends in our apartment. Amidst the crowd, in my muddled state of grief, I don’t recall what words we exchanged.
A few weeks after that, Barbara came for lunch. My plan was to meet her train, eat at a nearby restaurant, then have dessert and cool drinks on my balcony. But after we finished our meal, she announced she’d made other plans in the city and had to take the next train back. I never heard from her again.
So what am I hoping to see when I Google her name? An obituary, perhaps? Well-deserved punishment for turning her back on me? When I see that both Barbara and her husband are apparently still alive, am I disappointed? If I saw that one had died, would I send condolences? Probably not.
At times I think of people I wrote about during my career as a journalist. There are a lot to choose from – prisoners, immigrants, police officers, celebrities. One person who came to mind was Gussie Alexis, who was a sixty-three-year-old resident of Queens, New York, when I wrote a magazine piece about her. I learned from Mrs. Alexis that, after her husband died and she retired, she had begun caring for foster children. Two years before our conversation, she said, she was asked to take in a fragile twenty-day-old infant named Tyechia whose mother, she was told, had been addicted to heroin.
The story I wrote was about Mrs. Alexis’s struggle to adopt the child, whom she had become attached to after nursing her to health. The foster care agency claimed she was too old to adopt. But with the support of neighbors, church members, and a dedicated lawyer, a family court judge finally decided in her favor. I last saw Tyechia at her third birthday party – a happy, bouncy little girl wearing a white lace dress with a circle of baby’s breath topping her brown curls.
Tyechia would now be in her forties, and I wondered where she was today. It only took a few minutes to find her, along with her phone number and a Facebook page that I quickly accessed. Her profile picture featured a pretty, smiling woman posing with a younger version of herself, most likely her daughter. I scrolled through her many photos, and even came upon one that showed Mrs. Alexis sitting at a table, very old by then.
I’d love to talk to Tyechia, I thought. She might have a copy of the article I wrote about her. We could talk about her childhood, and what her life has been like since then. She’d enjoy sharing memories of her determined, loving adoptive mother.
Or would she? Why would she want to talk to some old white woman who means nothing to her? Why would she even want to think about her troubled history? I wouldn’t be doing this for her, but for myself, to add a little excitement to my life, to recall the time when I was doing interesting work, leading a meaningful life.
The next day I decided to take another look at Tyechia’s Facebook page. But it had vanished. She must have been able to see that a stranger was reading her posts, scrolling through her photographs. I was blocked.
Joan Potter’s nonfiction has been published in anthologies and literary journals, such as Iron Horse Literary Review, Adanna Literary Journal, Longridge review, Valiant Scribe, Stone Canoe, and more. She is the author or coauthor of several nonfiction books, including “Still Here Thinking of You: A Second Chance With Our Mothers.”