When an Internet Friend Dies
My friend died yesterday. I got a text as I was leaving my house. “did you see the email!?”
I hadn’t seen the email. I had been entertaining some close friends for a few days.
I want to share a little what it’s like to lose someone you like a lot, even if you didn’t live near them or spend a significant amount of time with them.
His name was Scott Dinsmore. To be frank, he was — to me — a “Marina Bro.” But unlike most of the Bros I know, there were more ingredients in Scott. Fun loving, sensitive and brutally charming; he believed in himself without being arrogant; a child-like exuberance mixed with an upper middle class “we can do whatever we want” kind of confidence; utterly adventurous; it was almost terrifying to make plans with him because you might accidentally end up on an eccentric billionaire’s yacht… or a hot air balloon or something.
He was California and Tony Robins and Evil Knievel and Ekhart Tolle and a toddler boy enthusiastically putting everything in his mouth all wrapped up in one exquisitely manicured DNA string. Oh god, did he ever come from good stock.
I worked with Scott professionally for a time. Scott had grown a huge website. Then he did a TED talk and after that video got, like, a billion billion views we worked together to redesign his site.
I never tired of poking fun at him for the “passion” stuff he wrote about and I always guffawed at how he mangled the beautiful typography I setup for him… italicizing and bolding every other word, throwing in HUGE QUOTES OUT OF NOWHERE and writing in tiny, 5 word paragraphs like his return button was sticky from one of his morning fruit smoothies. He thought it “looked cool.”
I made fun of it, but it fucking killed it on the internet. People ate it up. Scott, even though he was literally extraordinary, felt like he was just one step ahead of you; like you were exploring some ancient ruin and he pauses just in front of you, taking a big breath and turning toward you with a cheezy dad-with-daughters kind of smile to say, “oh man, you gotta see it from up here,” before giving you a hand up.
I made his website pretty and he filled it up and the people kept coming and all the words on that site were written by a person who is dead now.
He was a pair of Sperry Topsiders with brandy and pineapple juice spilled on them. He was the Jimmy Buffet of small hedge funds and the Warren Buffet of the beach. He was like a Tommy Bahama party you were actually glad you went to. Jesus, I’m really going to say this, I’m trying so hard not to, it’s too on the nose: he really was a living legend. His site was called Live Your Legend and he was a goddam living legend. That’s as bad as any of his dad jokes ever were and I can’t delete it because I know it’s true.
His perfect DNA. His stunning bride. His love for his dad. Oh god this is hard. The parents who made him, the woman he loved… I’m just a guy who got to hang out with him quite a bit in the past 5 years. I got to call him and jest and pour him strong cocktails, I got to bar-hop late night in San Francisco and Portland with him during conferences and dream up ideas with him about his business and my own. Goddammit, Scott.
This is, I think, the first time I’ve lost a friend I knew principally on the internet. We had only a handful of days together, really. But we texted and tweeted and Skyped and I sent him Gifs and he’d laugh and we’d get serious and he’d recite his nearest goal to me and then I’d laugh… and he’d wear those fucking five-fingered shoes. I really knew him, but when I look back on it, the relationship principally lived on the internet.
This is the second time I’ve had to watch grief as it moved through me. Two years ago we lost our son Rowan in labor. I hadn’t known Rowan; but I knew him. And I processed that like this and like this and like this. It was the first time I had experienced grief, and it had this weird “I know this person but I also don’t” kind of thing going on.
I feel something similar with Scott. I knew him but we weren’t fixtures in each others’ lives. We cared about each other, but it’s not like we had a weekly call or a season where we lived near each other or a yearly vacation or something like that. Let’s put it this way, he’d definitely get an invitation to my wedding, but he’d be sitting at the “friends from the internet” table… actually, if we were getting married today, most of the tables would be “friends from the internet” tables.
I had this moment when I was grieving my son where, exhausted and isolated and lost under thousands of leagues of dense sadness, I could clearly picture Rowan alive, bundled in his baby blanket, wearing the hat my sister knit for him, sucking on a pacifier and looking at me through the slats in the crib we made for him… and I saw his eyes for the first time… in my mind… and he looked at me with empathy and pride — he was proud of me. For how I was taking care of his mom, for how I was talking through it with his brother, for how I was grinding through the gears inside myself trying to know how to feel and what to do. It’s almost as if he spoke the words: “I am so proud of you and it doesn’t hurt and you’re not doing it wrong and you’re not disappointing me and if you cried for a million years or shouted or wrote until you withered away or never wrote again there is nothing you can do to change how I feel about you, what I know about you. You don’t have to keep trying, you can just be.”
If you’ve ever lost a friend and didn’t know the right way to grieve, if you knew Scott but from afar, tell stories about him amongst yourselves, feel all the things, be reminded of the good stuff we get in these slowly expiring bodies.
Scott, I loved you. I couldn’t see that when we were together, I didn’t know what was at stake. I will keep missing you and the ways you wrote and the shoes you wore and the exuberant perma-youngness that lubed up our interactions.