What do you do with news like that? My heart broke. Not just for my friend who was going to have to deal with loss of her father. Not just for her children who will never get to have that relationship. Not just for her husband who will have to figure out how to comfort his wife over her loss. But selfishly for me as well. This was my chance to meet face to face someone I had become very close to over the past year and I was devastated that it wasn't going to happen. And of course that made me feel very selfish. So I did what I felt I had to and told her exactly that.
I replied to her email and let her know how sorry I was for her loss. And then I told her, selfishly I still want you to come. She wasn't going to be going "home" to New Mexico until the following week so all she would be doing is sitting at the house grieving. She and Jack already had arrangements for the kids to be taken care of, so really, she should still come and let us try to help her. I asked her to think about it. And if it felt right to come to Toronto anyway. We talked about selfishness and what is appropriate and what isn't. There is no book on grieving. And when you are grieving the loss of someone who took their own life then it becomes even more complicated. So who is to say what is right and what is wrong. What I knew is that I wanted to see my friend, now more than ever. I wanted to hug her and tell her it was going to get better and I wanted to make her laugh. So I wanted her to come. And I told her that I knew I was being selfish, but one of the best things about my friend Juice is that she understood that selfish in this case means I love you. She said she would think about it.
So when I got to Buffalo I had no idea if she was coming or wasn't. But there were a lot of other people that were coming that I couldn't wait to see. So the excitement was still there but tinged with a little sadness for Juice and a little nervousness over meeting people face to face. What if I got there and discovered that they really all were much cooler online and that I didn't like any of them in real life? What then? What were they all really like? I was about to find out! After a restless night (hotels next to the airport are good in theory but not so great in practice, noisy!)I was up early and waiting at the airport for Corrie's flight to get in.
Now, I had warned everyone that I am a hugger and toucher by nature so they should expect to be greeted with hugs and to have hands patted, shoulders rubber, legs slapped the whole time I was around. And I also warned Corrie that I have a horrible sense of direction so navigating our way to Toronto could be a challenge. True to form I greeted Corrie with a hug and got us lost on the way out of Buffalo! Great start right? But Corrie laughed and said she expected it, since I had been upfront, and we were off to a swimming start for the weekend!
There are two moments from our drive that let me know for sure that Corrie and I were going to be just fine friends in real life as well as online. The first was at the border crossing into Canada. We got up to the guard and gave him our passports. Now I am from Oregon and Corrie is from Pennsylvania so that started out his questions.
Border Guard: "Why are you traveling to Canada?"
Corrie: "To visit friends"
Denise and Corrie inside head voices *please don't ask, please don't ask*
BG: "Where are these friends from?"
Corrie: "Umm...all over the world really"
BG:"How did you meet these friends?"
Denise and Corrie inside head voices *crap, crap, crap*
Corrie: "It's a convention"
Denise: "For a game"
BG: *rolls eyes* "Okay"
Denise and Corrie burst out into laughter
Neither one of us really wanted to just fess up and say, "Look we are huge nerds who are on our way to Toronto to visit with friends we met online playing a game where we pretend to hunt virtual mice. OH! And we are also celebrating the one year anniversary of an online news magazine that is devoted to the same game" We decided we must have looked really suspicious for a little bit as we tried to figure out how to answer his questions without saying what we were going to Canada for. And in the end we had to say it anyway.
The second thing that happened was as we were talking about expectations for the weekend, Corrie said she had been really worried that no one would like her. I laughed out loud. Actual laughing, not just saying LOL even though she is an online friend that would have just been weird...anyway...I laughed and I said, "That's the difference between you and me. I was worried I wouldn't like anyone and you were worried no one would like you!" That cemented it for me with Corrie. She is the same age as my oldest nephew and I had always kind of felt that older sister/aunt vibe with her and this just set that in place for me.
So we made our way into Toronto found a Michael's to pick up supplies for a cake that Corrie and Stephanie were making for The Nibbler made a ton of jokes about the number of Staples in Toronto and picked up Jared from the train station. Poor Jared. Corrie and I were both starving, tired, in need of coffee and more than a little giddy. We took to calling him "Free Health Care" and that was that. "Hey, Free Health Care, what street should we turn at?" "Hey, Free Health Care, where should we eat?" Trust me...at the time it was hilarious! At least to Corrie and I, and Jared was a good sport about it.
Now all the time this is going on we are getting calls from the rest of the group. They have gone down to the devs' offices and were on Feed Back Friday (a live video chat the devs do on Friday mornings) and are now playing Rock Band and will be back to the hotel later. Every time we get a message we can hear SCREAMS of laughter in the back ground. Now we are really excited to meet everyone and a little bummed we didn't get in to Toronto the night before.
We get to the hotel, grab some lunch, Jared and I launch into a discussion on comics and science fiction movies as Corrie starts the realization that I am a much bigger nerd than I even appear to be online! While we are waiting for everyone to get back to the hotel I get a call. It's Juice! She and Jack decided to come! They come down to our room and I get to hug my friend for the first time. Now remember this is in the middle of being giddy over seeing everyone. Opening the door and seeing Juice and Jack (sounds like a drink doesn't it?) standing there, knowing what she was going through, knowing how much pain she was in, I felt like I could just swallow her up in a hug and try to take away that ache. And for the first time since Wednesday when she told me what happened I was able to.
That is the one thing that is hard with having friends all over the world. Some situations just call for a hug. Or a hair brushing. Or a kiss on the forehead. And it's really tough to do that through a computer. So one of the things I will forever be grateful for with this trip was it gave me the chance to hug my friend when she needed all the hugs she could get. It gave me the chance to hold her hand. To kiss her cheek. To whisper in her ear that I loved her and that if she needed me I was right there. And to brush her hair back while she cried. And the other thing that I will be grateful for was the opportunity to take some of that pain and put it on the back burner for awhile.
Because let me tell you, it was not a sad trip. There were touching moments while we all cared for Juice in our own ways. There were tears, but mostly the tears were from laughing so hard. There were jokes started, jokes continued, old friendships solidified and new friendships made.
When everyone got back to the hotel it was one long match of names being shouted! Skippy! DraGGUn! Aurum! Sam!! Stephanie!! Matt!! Justin!! Karen!! Michele!! Corrie! It was chaos I tell you! Skippy and DraGGun (Lisa and Nadine in the real world) are answering to both nick names and real names. People are laughing and talking over each other trying to share stories of the trip so far. Computers and phones are out so we can all keep playing the game while we chat. Plans are being made for the evening. And the laughter just keeps going. By the end of the weekend my face hurt and my throat was raw from laughing so much. In case you were wondering everyone was MUCH cooler in real life than online. Funnier, sharper, quicker, kinder and you could touch them, see them and hear them! Scrunch hair that needed scrunched, rub shoulders that were sore, look at someone's face as they laughed, hear them laugh, hear accents that were outrageously cool and could lead to more laughter when the accent collided with the understanding of what was said....
Now, one of the funniest things for me is that when we all got back home and were in the forums talking about the trip people wanted to know what the devs were like. Had we talked to them? Had we spent time with them? These are the guys that made the game we all play. And truth be told over the years we have sort of turned them into our version of rock stars. So going in to Toronto we were all excited to meet them. And we did. One group spent time in the office, the rest met them at dinner that night. And they were really nice guys. They designed a shirt in honor of The Nibbler and we all got one. They had other shirts as well for us. They were gracious and funny and nice. But...here is the part that I noticed that night and told every one about...as soon as we met them, shook a hand, thanked them for the game, maybe made a little small talk...we were right back at a table with each other.
And that is the beauty of the game for me. And that is the part that I will always be glad I found. These people are my friends. No matter where they live. No matter how often I get to see them face to face. They are my friends. They are the people I talk to almost every day if not every day. They are the people I worry about when things aren't going well, celebrate with when they are. They are the people that I can't wait to see pictures of their vacations, their new babies, their kid's first day of school. These are my friends and my online family. I missed those that couldn't make it to Toronto.
Friday night was the "Official Dinner" and we saw other Mousehuters that had come in just for dinner. Spent time with the devs, ate a ton, and then headed back to the hotel to keep visiting. I am not a night owl so I turned in before everyone else, but let me tell you the party went on well into the night! The next day I got my first taste of Tim Horton's coffee. Yes, it's as good as everyone says it is. The donuts were okay...but the coffee...yum! We went our separate ways for the day. Some went shopping, KJC, Matt, Steph and I went to the Hockey Hall of Fame, Juice and Jack spent some time alone. We all met up again in the afternoon for more stories and then had one last "Family" dinner together. It was great fun. Mexican food in Canada. Who knew? Then back to the hotel room. We made a video for the group in the UK that KJC and Skippy were going to see the next week. We laughed some more, drank some more, visited online with people that weren't there in the room and just enjoyed being together.
I wish I could make it to the UK when they do their meet and greets. I would love to travel to California and Colorado and visit my friends that are there. I know if I am in Florida I have friends there I need to get a real cup of coffee with someday. The UK, Australia, New Zealand, Bulgaria, South Africa, all over the States yeah, I have friends there. We are the Zoo and I wouldn't have it any other way.
Oh, and one last story...leaving Canada we hit the border crossing. This time Justin is with us as well. We hand in three passports again with three different states listed.
BG: "What was the purpose of your visit?"
Corrie and Denise burst out into peals of laughter.
Corrie: "We went to meet friends."
Denise: "We play a game with them online."
BG: laughs..."My wife does that silly stuff. Have a safe trip home"