Norrisville and Jakarta

I met Kelly when I was 8 or 9 years old, when we were placed in the same group of a junior golf tournament. It was just weeks after she moved to Norrisville, the next town over from mine in northern Harford County, where I lived until college. It’s a conservative, rural swath of Maryland, about an hour from Baltimore along the Mason-Dixon line.

She went to a different elementary school, so it was a few years before I saw her again, when we were reunited in sixth grade, at the start of middle school. We were never more than friends, which seems like a silly thing to say about my pre-teen self. We never even had a class together. She was simply someone I could talk to about anything, mostly using AIM and our respective Hotmail accounts.

For someone like me at that age — socially awkward with strict parents — frequent Internet chats coupled with passing each other in the hallway and cafeteria counted as a friendship. Looking back, it’s almost embarrassing to admit that someone with whom I had such infrequent real-life interaction was my closest friend.

In early 2014, I discovered an app that, like many others, had its 15 seconds of fame before the novelty wore off and users fled en masse. The app was called Facefeed. The basic idea was that you could send a selfie, accompanied with a message, to anyone whose face you came across in your feed. You didn’t know where someone was from until you talked to them, and if you used the app as intended, you sent each other a selfie every time you responded.

I met a lot of random people on that app, most for just a few minutes. Some lived in New York, but many were in far-flung countries. Such was the case with a girl from Jakarta, Indonesia, named Adelia. She was in her early 20s, and surprisingly easy to relate to.

An app like Facefeed is a great way to get to know someone with very little pressure. If you don’t want to talk anymore, just block them, or even better, delete the app altogether, which I eventually did, cutting myself off from everyone I met on there. Everyone but Adelia.

It’s about a 20-minute drive between Pleasant Valley Golf Course and my parents’ home. It’s a different course than the one where I met Kelly, but it’s where my dad and I played the morning of June 10, 2000, a Sunday, nine days after Kelly’s 13th birthday.

When we returned home in the early afternoon, my mom said she heard some bad news at church. She looked at me and said a girl in my class had died in a car accident. She said her name was Kelly, and instantly, I thought of the other Kellie from school — Kellie with an I-E — who I liked just fine, but selfishly thought, “At least it’s not my good friend Kelly,” who I had last seen two days before, waving to me in the hall on the way to homeroom.

But it was my friend Kelly. Kelly with a Y. My mom, who had no idea how close we were, continued: “Her name was Kelly … Kelly … Beckman … Did you know her?”

I said, “Yeah, I knew her.”

“Were you friends?”

“Yeah, we were good friends.”

She looked at my dad, longingly, perhaps regretting having delivered the news so abruptly.

“Oh — they were good friends,” she said to him, as if I wasn’t there.

I made an excuse to go upstairs. A few minutes later, I stood under the showerhead while the the sound of the rushing water drowned out my sobbing.

After abandoning Facefeed, Adelia and I talked to each other for more than a year on the chat app called LINE. I had never used it, but she said it was popular in Asia, and would be an easy way to keep in touch. After putting each other through a few candid photo tests to make sure we were both real, we would chat once or twice a week. I would say we even became good friends, despite her being 12 hours ahead of me, making most of our interactions delayed by anywhere from a few hours to a few days.

For more than a year, we talked about all kinds of things: her boyfriend, the girls I dated, how she didn’t like her step-mom, and the time she was nervous about a new job. We also talked about Singapore, to where I almost moved last summer. We talked about visiting each other once I got there, but that stopped after I stayed in New York for another job. She said I probably wouldn’t have liked it anyway — there wasn’t a lot of culture in Singapore or Indonesia. Other parts of the region are fun, she said, and maybe I would get to see them someday.

On June 30 this year, I woke up to an AP news alert about a military plane crash in Jakarta. Unfortunate, I thought, but probably nothing that would affect citizens. But the next alert said the plane had crashed in a residential area, and there were casualties. The next one: even more casualties. I messaged Adelia, trying to play it cool, and said, “I just saw about the plane crash — are you and everyone you know OK?”

I didn’t immediately hear back, which wasn’t unusual, but considering the rising death toll, I started to get nervous.

A few days after Kelly died, my parents drove me to her house so I could show her parents a poem I had written to commemorate their daughter. They asked if I would read it at the funeral, which I did. I cried throughout, had to pause multiple times, and when I finished, received a cathartic, if not awkward, standing ovation. That was the first time my parents, and many other people, realized how good of friends we had become before she died. I couldn’t blame them for not noticing since most of my interactions with Kelly were online.

Hours passed, and I still hadn’t heard from Adelia. I tried to limit the number of times I opened the LINE app, because it only stressed me more to see she hadn’t written back.

Then, finally, a response that same night I learned of the plane crarsh: “I didn’t even know about it until you mentioned it, Brad. LOL”

It was clearly a bigger deal to me, halfway around the world, than it was to her, in the same city where it happened. I was relieved to learn she was OK, and felt even closer to this person with whom I had never been on the same continent, let alone met in real life.

“Glad you’re OK,” I said. “By the way, have I told you about my friend Kelly?”

The real names of the people in this story have been changed.

This was originally written for and read at “The Difficult To Name Reading Series” hosted by Ryan Sartor.