Underneath my yellow skin

A Ripple in the Ocean of Time

I found out today that a Twitter peep of mine has died after a long battle with cancer. I was caught off-guard because the last time I talked to her, she was doing better. She’s not someone I talked to on a daily basis. Indeed, our interactions were random and infrequent. However, every time we did talk, she was upbeat, uplifting, and very warmhearted. She was generous of spirit, even when she was tired from chemo or whatever cancer was doing to kick her ass. I didn’t know her well, but what I do know is that she was passionate about PBO, women’s issues, and black women in particular. She frequently liked or RT’ed tweets of mine that had to do with social issues, including ones that affect Asians. I appreciated that because my Asian-related tweets get the least love of all my social issue-related tweets. I didn’t even know what she looked like until her sister tweeted a GoFundMe for her funeral expenses through her account (@GoBrooklyn). Her avatar was a painting of an elegant black woman with a large white flower in her hair, and that’s how I pictured her in my mind.

Her death shook me and genuinely made me sad. I’ve ragged on social media several times, but one thing it’s done that can’t be duplicated in any other way is to connect people all around the world.  I didn’t know @GoBrooklyn’s age, job, or where in America she lived, but it didn’t matter. We met in a cozy cafe on a rainy Sunday on the street of Twitter as we sipped steaming cups of peppermint tea. We chatted about how elegant FLOTUS is and how she and POTUS need to get a room. We talked joked about being minority women in America, with that tinge of ruefulness that accompanies such knowledge. She was always interested in what I had to say, even on days that she was barely able to get out of bed.

I’ve said before that friendships on social media aren’t the same as friendships in real life. I still believe this is true, but that doesn’t mean there’s no value to them. We in America tend to promote lifelong friendships, but there are several other kinds. One thing I learned when I was in my twenties is that some friends are ‘right now’ friendships. They’re based on circumstances, and once those circumstances change, so do the friendships. I didn’t keep any friends from high school when I left, and I only kept in touch with a few people from college for a few years. To be honest, I’m not one for forever friends most of the time, but there are a few I believe I will have until the day I die.

My point is that Twitter friendships are valid even if they’re limited.They don’t have to be deep or intimate to be meaningful. I got a boost every time I talked with @GoBrooklyn, even if I didn’t know much about her. She was a positive force in my life, albeit a tangential one, and my world is a little dimmer without her in it.

I have another Twitter peep (@dubpool) who is fighting cancer. It started with liver cancer, I think, then moved to his brain and then his leg. He’s been in and out of the hospital for months, successfully fighting off each bout. When I first heard about it, I was shocked. When I heard it had moved into his brain, I cried. He’s also an Obama-supporter. He’s from Texas, but now lives in DC, I believe. He’s one of the kindest men I know on Twitter. He’s self-deprecating, supportive, and always has the perfect GIF for every occasion. It’s painful to hear about his struggles, but his determination to beat it is inspiring. I think of him often, hoping that he’s getting a little better every day. I tweet him support as well as post on his Facebook messages, often including GIFs because I know he’d appreciate them.

Fuck cancer.

Also, fuck insurance companies being for profit. The last thing someone fighting cancer should have to worry about is how he’s going to pay his bills. I’m a flaming socialist for many reasons, and a major one is because I’m passionately pro-single payer. Republicans like to brag that we have the best health care system in the world, but it’s only true if you’re filthy rich or have a Cadillac insurance. Otherwise, you’re fucked. When I went to the emergency room for my car accident, the cost of an x-ray and an MRI was $3,000. I was there for maybe two hours. That’s outrageous. Seriously. I was fortunate enough to have insurance that covered it all, but imagine if I didn’t. I’d have to pay a hundred bucks or two every month until I paid it off. If I wasn’t able to do so, then it would get sent to collections. Then it would be living hell from that point until the end of time. That’s a relatively small amount, too. Hospital bills add up quickly, and even people with decent insurance can eventually run out.

What kind of society are we that we let people die rather than treat them for their ailments? That’s not civilized. I believe that at the very least, everyone should have the basics covered.  Yearly checkups, dental appointments every six months, mental health checkups every year as well. Therapy should be covered with a minimal co-payment, and any surgery should operate that way, too. If you want more than that, you can pay for it, but a reasonable amount. Something similar to what Canada has would be a good start. There are negatives, of course. If something is deemed not that important, it can take weeks to get an appointment. It’s the same in Taiwan. You don’t get a specific appointment time. You just have to show up and hope to be seen within an hour or two. They don’t have any co-payment as far as I know, so some people go to the doctor for any cough or sniffle. I think having a nominal co-payment would cut down on that substantially, and I do think there should be some limits so people don’t abuse the system. However, I would rather have a few people take advantage of the system than have people die because they are refused treatment because they can’t pay the exorbitant bills.

I’m somber right now, several hours after finding out about @GoBrooklyn. There’s a part of me that just can’t process the fact that she’s gone. That’s the downside to online friendships–because infrequency is an inherent part of the relationship, it’s hard to feel as if the ending is real. It was similar to when I went to Thailand. We had some student helpers who showed us around town. One of them, Noi, was so sweet and generous with her time. She never had a mean word to say, and I would easily say that she was my favorite. A few weeks after we returned to the States, we were told that she died in a motorcycle crash. It seemed so surreal to me because I had just talked to her a few weeks prior. How could she be dead? I was unsure what to do with the information because it wasn’t as if I was ever going to see her again (most likely), but I still keenly felt her loss.

It’s similar now. I didn’t know @GoBrooklyn well or talk to her often, but in the back of my mind, she was part of my Twitter experience. I liked knowing that she would pop into my TL from time to time to offer me an enthusiastic fist bump or a, “You go, girl!” I liked peeking at her timeline to learn something about black art or black women’s fashion, or a dozen of other things I don’t know much about. It’s an interesting revelation to me because I feel as if I’m shouting in the wind much of the time on Twitter. I often feel as if it wouldn’t matter if I disappeared, and to be honest, it really wouldn’t matter much. I’m one person drowned out by the voices of millions, and my one voice isn’t even a drop in the ocean when considered on the macrocosm level. However, seeing people mourn over @GoBrooklyn in a very real way shows me that even though my voice isn’t much, it is something. The sadness may not last very long, but it doesn’t make it any less real. Most of us aren’t going to make a lasting contribution to humanity in general. We can’t all be Copernicuses or Tubmans or Aung San Suu Kyis. Most of us are going to live and die in relative anonymity, and the most we can hope for is that a few people will grieve after we die.

I’m not saying this to be morbid or bleak. In a way, it’s freeing. If we don’t believe that there’s some grand purpose to life or that we have some epic destiny, then we can do whatever the hell we want with our lives. Often, I get bogged down in what I should do–which is usually predicated on what others think is right for me. I’ve managed to shrug off some of those expectations–marriage, kid, and being a god-fearing woman, but that doesn’t mean I don’t feel the sting of not being what other people think I should be. I’m not saying I didn’t do those things expressly to thumb my nose at my family and society, even though that’s what it may look like from the outside. I didn’t want to marry and have kids, and I never could believe in God with a capital G.

What do I want people to remember about me when I die? That I was kind, first and foremost. It’s important to me that I be good to my fellow human in my short time here on earth. It’s not always easy, but it’s something I strive to do on a daily basis. I also want to be remembered for always championing the underdog and for protecting the vulnerable. I would be a superhero if I could, but I can’t, so the best I can do is stand up and speak out when others can’t. That’s really it. Anything else would be cake. Hopefully, it won’t be for some time to come, but today was a good reminder that death comes for all of us at one time or another.

If you can, please give to @GoBrookyln’s GoFundMe to defray her funeral expenses. Her sister is almost half way to her goal, and that’s only in one day. RIP, @GoBrooklyn, I will miss you sorely. Also, if you can spare a few dollars for @dubpool’s GoFundMe as he continues to fight against cancer, I would appreciate that as well. These are two of the kindest people I know on Twitter. They deserve all the help they can get.

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