This isn't my story, but I'm a character in it. Somewhere right around the turn of the century I met a girl online. We chatted a lot, we role-played together. She was smart and shy and had a sharp wit that she only occasionally let flash. We were young; late high school, early college, somewhere in there.
We stayed in touch for a long time. She was studying computer science in New Orleans. She was part of a role-playing group there, an instigator and a storyteller. She told me stories about the games she got into; listened to the stories about the games I was in. We didn't play together as often as we talked about the gaming we were both doing.
If we both had mad crushes on each other (and we did), they were tempered by impossibility. We were a thousand miles apart, and besides, she was a boy.
I wasn't the first person she told about her gender - that her characters (female, sharp-witted, driven) were right where her body (male, slight, prone to disappearing) was wrong. It wasn't a surprise. It was obvious, really, though it took her a long time to say anything even after she knew.
It was less obvious to her parents. It was never obvious to her parents.
In August of 2005 a storm hit New Orleans. We sent messages back and forth as she ran, moving further and further inland. She sheltered with housemates, friends she role-played with. In the aftermath, the place she'd lived was gone. Given a choice between moving back with her parents and coming to live with me, she chose Seattle. She moved out here in September.
We didn't make good roommates. My apartment at the time was badly suited for someone else to live in. Sylvia was still in school, and had just gone home from a summer interning at Microsoft. We were strained by the distance in the relationship, and introducing someone else to the social dynamic went poorly. There was fighting. More than fighting, there were strained silences and half-ignoring each other in the same room. I was holding down the worst job of my life and I hadn't realized it yet; I was near to breaking most days and convinced I was a failure. I felt trapped at work by the need to support her. Things fell apart.
She moved into a small apartment. She never managed to get through an interview in tech, and after a little while she stopped trying - convinced she couldn't do it. She took a job as a security guard; she got promoted a few times. She was good at that, somehow, but the hours were always weird.
We talked a lot, though, once she moved out - once the relationship started to heal. I was the only person in Seattle she talked to regularly, though. Despite the weird hours, she kept up her roleplaying with her college friends on the east coast.
On August 14, 2008, I took her to the airport to move back in with them. That was the last time I saw her, the last time I heard her voice.
We sent IMs back and forth a lot in the beginning - trading updates on what was going on, talking about the games we were both playing, talking about life. As time went on, a lot of the time that I'd send a message, I'd get a reply back at a weird hour, a while later. "I was asleep, sorry, left the computer on," or "Sorry, was at work, missed your message."
The actual conversations got further and further apart. I said hello less often when I saw her online; I didn't expect I'd actually reach her. And even if I did, I never knew what to say. "Hi, good to talk to you, I hope you're healthy and happy and that things are going well for you." Things were never going well.
Our last conversation was on June 9th of last year. We talked about life and roleplaying and shared updates on what we'd been up to. I sent her an IM last month, but she never responded.
On June 7th, she packed some things, left a note, and took a cab away from home. This isn't my part of the story now, everything in it's third-hand. I learned about it last Thursday, when her best friend posted something where Sylvia saw. She's been missing for more than two weeks now. I don't know what the note said, but everyone's talking about it as a suicide note. Apparently, she'd bought poison and brought it with her, along with a knife.
When I met her she had a character-name, and as we gamed together over years I learned a lot of names for her. There's the one her parents gave her, that never fit. There's the one she chose for herself: Kaylee Willis. And there's the one that everyone always called her; the one that fit best. Cat.
And at the end of the story, when a cat decides she's done, she goes crawling off into the woods. You don't see her again.
And you call and you wish she'd come home and you leave everything the way it was for the day it happens, but it doesn't.
I've known the ending to this story for a long time, but I still can't accept it.
Come home, Cat?
We all miss you.
This sentence constitutes the only acknowledgment in this post of how long it's been been since I posted last. I've been here all along, in read-only mode; I have missed no post here from a friend in the last two years, though I rarely reply. (The same cannot be said of Facebook or Twitter. If you've said something there, assume I missed it unless I replied or it was sent directly to me.)
A quick update on a few fronts:
- I'm working at Amazon now, in the same broad department as my good friend darthparadox.
Condolences and Amazon horror-stories are unnecessary; I'm conflicted enough about the choice, but I'm currently convinced that the part of the company I'm at (broadly, the part of the company that builds tools the rest of the company uses) is as minimally dysfunctional as one can get in my field. Concerns that I am hastening the death of the independent retail bookstore will be met with the pragmatic response that my previous two employers were (1) a major enabler of junk-mail, and (2) Microsoft. I don't exactly get moral high-ground in my line of work.
(Which is to say, I have enough self-doubt without well-meaning people adding to it.)
On the positive side, I am happier there than I've been in my working situation in years - possibly the happiest I've been since the project I actually cared about at MS was reorged out of existence - which is manifesting itself as a huge gain in energy to use outside of work on my personal projects.
- The biggest of those outside projects is Mural, a next-generation MU* codebase. If you've seen me lately, you've probably heard me talking about this - I've been working on the design for years, but in recent months I've found a small enough codeable increment to actually build the thing.
Mural can currently take connections from users, and connect on their behalf to existing MU* servers, storing a history of what it received and displaying it on demand to them. So, it can buffer people on unstable connections by using its own more-stable connection to remain online for them, and let them request what they missed when they lose their connection to the server. I'll be deploying the server to co-located hosting as soon as I finish ironing out some crashing bugs and handling for exceptional situations. If you're interested in testing it in this increment, let me know.
- I've also started a small company with three of my close friends (one so close that I married her!), so we can group together to design and sell games. We'll hopefully have something to show eventually, but for now we simply exist as a business entity. It's been a tremendous amount of work to get started - but I hope we'll be able to use it to get more of our creations out into the world. And from there, who knows? I'd like to be able to create paths for more of my friends who create things to support themselves with their creations, and maybe this can be a first step for that.
- Next weekend, I'll be taking a ridiculous road trip, participating in the third Game of my life, as my team attends the World Henchmen Organization job fair in a 23-foot Dodge Sprinter that's been customized as a touring van for musicians. (I cannot make this up.) It's going to be a surreal experience; The Game is the eXtreme Sport of puzzling, with 36-plus hour events, huge distances, and high stress. I'm looking forward to going through it with the biggest group of friends I've ever taken along, and we vie for the best place we can manage in a race where it's a respectable feat just to finish. I'm really, really excited.
- Finally (and showing off just how out-of-date this blog has been), I turned thirty at the end of 2010, in a celebration with a huge crowd of my friends. It was exhausting and fun and wonderful, and the kitchen in my house still has a label on the stove proudly declaring the room as ThirtyCon Hospitality. I feel like if I'm living the sort of life where I can say that, I'm doing things more or less right for me.
- Current Location:Starbucks, Ballard, Seattle, WA
17:36 For @krinndnz among others: nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/0