Eulogy for an internet friend
Before I get to the actual eulogy, I want to remark on how bizarre and isolating the death of an internet friend is.
My dad died when I was 19. I was surrounded by co-mourners, and it was helpful to know I wasn't alone. Even people who didn't know my dad personally could understand my grief, because they had fathers or parental figures and could empathize with what their loss would feel like.
Internet friends are a wholly different ball of wax. I'm surrounded by people who are oblivious to her passing, or to her existence in general, except by the barest of threads through me when I would tell an anecdote about her. And some (many?) people don't have deep friendships with people on the internet, so it's harder for them to empathize with such a loss.
After a while I started to wonder if the grief I was feeling was out of balance with the relationship. "Did I really know her that well to feel this bad?" There's no experience to calibrate against. My poor simian brain would never have had to deal with this back in the savannah.
But I do grieve. So, I write.
I discovered IRC when I was a young teenager, surrounded by corn, in central Indiana. The town I lived in was rural enough that we had "drive your tractor to school" days at my highschool, and the population was overwhelmingly white. To say that I had little understanding of diversity was an understatement.
IRC was an accessible portal to a world beyond corn. Through that portal I met a gaggle of people as diverse as any, and I've maintained friendships with many of them over the last 25 years. We've shared Thanksgiving dinners, crafted didgeridoos, exchanged recipes and gardening tips... some of them helped me with my computer science homework. Some helped me through my dad's death.
And then there was Kim.
She was kind to me, right away, despite my awkward teenage boyness. When I would complain to the group about my struggles with college, she would listen and then message me on the side to get my campus address so she could Fedex me an espresso brownie. I like to imagine her giggling at the absurdity of mailing a pastry, but to me it was delicious and comforting.
It was Kim that introduced me to allyship, and helped me grow in that area. I remember becoming increasingly frustrated with her social media posts about privilege and how certain people who were making headlines at the time were completely oblivious to theirs. My upbringing, full of privilege, balked at the idea of it, but through sheer exposure I started to read and gradually understand. And because of Kim I now act, albeit in my own, quiet way.
After one of the myriad Black deaths at the hands of police, she organized a book club to focus on race and how to be a better ally. The pandemic shortened that club to only three books, but the discussions were vibrant and illuminating, almost as much as the books themselves. Thanks to the book club and its members, I have an entire bookcase to work through from marginalized authors about their experiences.
But she was also silly. We would exchange wordplay, with her being a technical writer for some Mysterious Government Entity (and, sometimes, NASA). She would have to adhere to prescriptive, out-of-date style guides, and her frustrated, over-the-top reaction to those guides was always amusing.
We would exchange music recommendations. She played the bassoon, which I still think is amazing. I can't prove it, but I believe she played in some orchestral group for a while. If you're not familiar with music, please know that the bassoon is an extremely difficult instrument to play. Its double reed is a tricky, tricky beast.
I loved watching her struggle with the French language on twitter, where her exasperated Cameroonian husband would try to correct her, or just mutter "come on, man" when she made an egregious (and intentional) mistake.
Most of all, I admired her for her tenacity and strength, yelling into the void about how ridiculously unfair it all is, how systemic the racism and misogyny are, how trans people are people, how Black Lives Matter. She was unflagging, although sometimes she had to take her accounts private due to abuse. I have very little energy for conflict, but her reserves seemed inspiringly unending.
Two years ago or so I called her on the phone out of the blue. I told her how important she had been to me, and how without her influence I might have gone down a darker, less empathetic path. She took that opportunity to give me one last lesson about allyship: the hardest lesson.
She told me that "as an ally, you will mess up". It's inevitable. By acting, you'll do something wrong, hurt someone you're trying to support, in probably a public way, and you'll get called out on it. It's the real test of allyship. You can either admit your mistake, apologize for it, make amends, learn from it, and incorporate it into your practice, or you can admit that your work as an ally has been performative. I have to admit, I am not looking forward to that test. I know it's coming. I hope I do well. I hope I make Kim proud.
Though I never met her in person, I will miss her tremendously. Already I have come across articles or even just pictures of crows and thought "I should send this to her", only to trip on the realization that she is gone and will never again chide me for an "attempted murder" pun about corvids. At the intersection of "birds" and "wordplay" is a well that will never go dry, and every time I visit there I will think about her playful umbrage.
And her influence made me a better, more caring person. I'll miss watching her crusade, and letting it inspire me to continue growing.
I hope in her absence I can provide for others what she provided for me.
Goodbye, Kim ❤️