These days with Google, Facebook, LinkedIn and all the various other web tools, we’ve gotten accustomed to being able to find stuff out about people really easily. Just by merely existing, one can’t help but show up on one of those data consolitator sites like spokeo or mylife. There’s nowhere to hide. With a little digging, it’s even easy to figure out someone’s real age, since those consolitators have made it their business to put 2 and 2 together.
So given that we’ve all been leaving these digital tracks behind us, it’s surprising to come across someone who has evaded the digital recordkeepers. What I’m referring to specifically is, when thinking about someone from long ago and having that wonder what ever happened to moment, then doing the web search and coming up empty. Flipping though the pages of search results, and it’s like the person has disappeared without a trace, or never existed. How could that be – that there would be absolutelynothing?
Now before you laugh, roll your eyes, or mutter “stalker” admit that you’ve probably had your share ofwhat ever happened to moments. And I’ll bet that if you’re gay like me, you’ve had more than your share, because not only is the question you’d be asking yourself what ever happened to, it’s also I wonder if?
Now in middle-age and gay, I’ve had plenty of what ever happened to/wonder if moments. Sometimes the results are predictable, sometimes surprising, sometimes disappointing, but at least there is something and the curiosity has been satisfied. But every now and then, that somebody appears to have become a nobody.
* * *
It was my first date with another boy, though it was not presented as such. While I couldn’t admit it to myself, deep down inside I knew what this was about.
I was a sophomore in high school. For one of my class periods I was a student assistant for my Spanish teacher. I’d maintain the attendance list, grade homework, score tests, and help set up various class tasks. There was a boy in the class named Alex, a freshman one year younger than me. He was handsome and cool, and I think relatively popular. I was not popular, so was surprised he was as friendly to me as he was. The other students didn’t pay me much attention, but Alex would walk past my desk on the way out of class and offer some kind of smart-aleck comment or another.
When I turned 16, the teacher made a fuss over it. Alex said it was cool because now I could have a driver’s license and could leave campus at lunch. “Hey, when are we gonna to go to lunch with that driver’s license of yours?” he’d ask. I’d laugh it off, figuring it was just banter.
But he kept asking. Again, and again, and again. He wouldn’t let it drop. What was with this guy? And then the requests became dares: “You’re never going to go to lunch with me, are you?”
Teenagers are particularly unacceptable to dares, and I was no exception.
“Awright, when do you want to go?”
“How about tomorrow.”
And so it happened. Getting into the car that next day, I asked him where he wanted to go. He said he didn’t care, I should pick. I mulled it over… there were the usual places where most of the kids would go, like Petrini’s Deli or the 7-Eleven. The more adventurous kids would drive further out to get to McDonald’s. But the idea of running into other kids from school felt weird. What would they say? In the cliquish world of high school, where it was even unusual for upperclassmen to hangout with underclassmen, the two of us going out to lunch made no sense. That feeling deep down was telling me they’d think it was weird that we were hanging out together.
I drove us to the mall, where there was a deli I liked to go with my family. It was a long drive to the mall, though lunch itself didn’t take very long. I can’t remember what we talked about on the drive or as we ate, but through the whole thing I felt awkward and confused. I couldn’t believe this was happening, and I couldn’t understand why it was happening.
I was a shy kid so this was a real social challenge for me. Interacting with anyone new for that amount of time would have been difficult, let alone someone popular… and cute.
That was the crux of it. This felt like a date. Though I hadn’t gone on any real dates with girls, my intuition chimed in to declare that this is what a date feels like. You are on a date with another boy.
Alex seemed awkward too. Was it just that we had nothing in common, nothing to talk about?
There’s a reason why the other kids didn’t go to the mall at lunch. It was too far from school to make it back on time, and we ended up being really really late for the next class period. “Shit now what do we do?” Alex asked. He seemed anxious, not his usual cool and humorous disposition. “Yeah OK well thanks, that was fun, see you,” he said, and ran off.
The next day in Spanish class, he walked past my desk and said he’d had fun going out to lunch, but he never asked to go again. At the end of the year my family moved away, and we didn’t exchange addresses to stay in touch.
So years later, with the internet available to satisfy one’s curiosity, I had one of those what ever happened to/wonder if moments and tried to find Alex. Nothing. No Facebook profile, no Google search result of any kind. Checking Classmates, it looks like he moved away too. Not a trace anywhere, not even a scrap of a reference. How could someone just completely disappear?
* * *
“Dude, did you get in there?”
“Nah… I didn’t feel like it.”
“What the fuck? Why the hell not? She’s hot. You could have.”
“I don’t know, just didn’t want to.”
Senior year in high school, and we’re in Technical Drawing class. We’re drawing widgets, and the instructor has the radio tuned to easy-listening to help us focus. For whatever reason, the class is entirely composed of guys, except for one or two tough girls in the front row. It’s a masculine lair, and the closest thing to butch I’d ever get in high school.
I’m overhearing a conversation between the two guys in the desks next to me. They’re talking about the prom, the rented limo, and the missed opportunity for action. One of the guys, the guy directly to my right, is strikingly handsome – mode handsome. Indeed, at the end of the year he is voted the guy who classmates would most want as a “desert island companion.” Though the same age as me, he looks like he’s in college – masculine and mature.
The other guy is a freshman. Skinny, wise-ass, kind of punky. Not old enough to drive, but likes working on cars. He and Mr. Model have their exchanges every day, for as long as they can get away with it before being shushed by the teacher. They talk about muscle cars, or about seeing a band called the Red Hot Chili Peppers. But this conversation has caught my attention.
It was Mr. Model who didn’t want to get it on with his date. His freshman pal was perplexed, and so was I.
Mr. Model was always friendly to me, for reasons I did not understand. He was popular, and popular kids didn’t talk to me much. Don’t get me wrong, I’d managed to make plenty of friends by this point, but there was a pecking order and this guy was in a different social strata.
Initially he’d started just saying hello, which was strange enough in itself. Over time he’d ask about the assignments, or the Spanish class we were both in later in the day (in which he hung out at the back of the class with the other popular kids, and did not talk to me at all). Sometimes it was just random small-talk. He was definitely making an effort to be friendly, which surprised me every time.
So the hunky guy dropped the ball with the prom limo right-of-passage. He didn’t seem particularly embarrassed or ashamed. Indeed, he was pretty matter of fact and confident about the whole thing. He made it out to sound like he just wasn’t that into this particular girl, his prom date. Having had my own share of prom dates where the coupling was more a matter of convenience than any real attraction (I’d even gone to a winter prom with a coworker whose boyfriend would not take her), I could understand how things might have fizzled in that limo. But just like when I was on my lunch adventure with Alex sophomore year, something was quietly suggesting that something else might be up.
Mr. Model was friendly to the end. Though he never asked me to go to lunch (!!) he was nice to me like no other popular person at school was, even as he racked up his “desert island companion” accolades.
And what ever happened to Mr. Model? At the end of the year he mentioned something about going to live with his dad. And since then, gone without a trace. In that what ever happened to/wonder if moment, the web search turns up nothing.
* * *
One explanation for a disappearing act could be a deliberate name change to hide from view. A bunch of guys I know change their names on Facebook so they can participate in social media uninhibited, without worrying that someone from work or home will intrude. They’ll change their last names, or make up an entirely different name. But if the name change is just for hiding a social media account, usually they can be found elsewhere on the web under their real name.
But then there are the more strategic name changers. My friend who got me my first Playgirl started going by his middle name at some point. I’d looked for him under the name I knew him by, but to no avail. So the name change had to have been a ways back, beyond social media history, for him to not show up anywhere. It wasn’t until his sister got in touch with my sister through Facebook that I was able to connect with him through the social media web.
Then there was another guy I knew from high school, who friended me through Facebook but his last name had changed. I asked him how the name change came about, and he replied that he had come to despise his father so deeply he was compelled to change his own surname. I didn’t ask for details.
Then of course there is the other potential explanation: they’re not on the internet because they are deceased.
In leading up to my most recent high school reunion, a classmate posted an “in memoriam” item on our class’s Facebook page. That unleashed a flood of posts, with people listing the various classmates who had died in the two decades since we’d finished school. All in all, there were about two dozen, which out of a class of about 500 seemed like a lot to me. Mostly accidents, but also a few suicides, at least one murder, and a few killed in combat. For most of these classmates, there would be obituaries and memorial pages, so with few exceptions there was at least that record to be found on the web.
* * *
I was in the sixth grade, and I had a crush on Greg. At that age I suppose I’d heard of gay people, but had not really understood what homosexuality was all about. I just knew that Greg was attractive, and I liked to look at him.
Greg was athletic and popular. He smiled a lot and had lots of friends. That year he’d moved from somewhere on the East Coast, and had a trace of an accent.
One day we were seated next to each other in class. I’m not sure what the context was or how it came up, but suddenly he said to me, “You’re really good-looking.” I remember finding this a strange thing to say, for so many reasons, not the least because he was a popular kid. What was that about?
Over the years I’d forgotten about this. Then something jogged my memory, and I had to wonder if I’d just imagined it. I did a web search to see what had come of Greg, but he was nowhere to be found.
* * *
And if school was a lousy experience, would it be so hard to believe that someone might change their name to leave it all behind?
James was in seventh grade, same grade as my sister and two years older than me. But even with that two-year gap, I’d heard the rumors like everyone else. The story was that there had been a slumber party, or maybe someone had just walked in on him, and supposedly he was found putting his dick through the hole of a wooden kitchen spoon. Jokes about wooden spoons abounded.
But I found the story odd. We had a wooden spoon at home with a hole in it, but the hole was not very big. Even though I was just barely hitting puberty, I knew that my dick would not fit through that hole, and probably wouldn’t have even when I was younger. So I doubted any seventh grader’s would fit either. It made no sense.
But like the celebrity with the gerbil, the physical impossibility of the alleged action did not stop the rumor spreading. James’s sister was in my grade, and I wondered if she’d heard the rumor. What would she think of it, hearing something like that about her brother? Both James and his sister had been popular, but after that point James was marked for ridicule.
Needless to say, James is nowhere to be found on the web. I can’t remember whether he continued on to the same high school as the rest of us; maybe his family moved away. What does that kind of experience do to a kid? If there was a case to be made for making a clean break, this could be it.
* * *
The flip side of those that have disappeared, is those whose web searches come up with odd surprises. In looking up an old boyfriend, one of the first links was an article with the headline “Friend killed in fall at wild fashion party.” My ex was at a Fashion Week party, and apparently someone had fallen out of a window and died. My ex had a quote in the article, so it came up in the search results. I was not expecting that.
And then there are the people from the past who have sought me out, and the surprises that come with getting reacquainted decades later. Just the other week a guy who I’d known since kindergarten got in touch. In school he was popular and had been on the football team; meanwhile I’d more or less fallen below the radar until we moved away with my dad’s new job. We exchanged some emails, and I was reminded of the sharp sense of humor he’d had, even as a kid. But it was all good natured. He teased me about having shaved my head, but then he was self-deprecating in referencing his own less-than-stellar physical condition. He said I looked good, which made me smile.
And then there is the childhood classmate who divorced her husband and hooked up with a sexy DILF.
And the divorced classmate with grown kids who through Facebook met up with her unrequited high school football player crush, also divorced with grown kids. They eloped, there were lots of congratulations all around, and within two months he’d emptied out her bank account and hit the road.
But then you think about it, with all the intervening years, shit happens to everyone. It shouldn’t be surprising to discover things may have taken unexpected turns. It’s just that sometimes you hear about it, and sometimes you don’t.