A little less than ten years ago, I got on an airplane all by myself and flew to a place full of people I'd never actually met before, but who I felt like I knew better than many in my real life. It was, barring meeting up with one local fan on a book release night, my first experience meeting people in real life that I had only known on the internet. Some I had interacted with for years, through a tiny little message board thread for a fifth-year fic full of the usual fifth-year-fic cliches--new DADA teacher who turns out to be a Weasley cousin, Voldemort fathers a child as part of his evil plan, "I'm serious, Black," etc.--but where some of the best and brightest of fandom gathered. Others I had admired from afar until thrown together by a momentary impulse which launched me into the bloody morass of the shipping wars. Some were only vaguely present to me-- a semi-familiar screen name from a fanfic archive forum. And then there were some that I had never encountered at all before I shook hands with or hugged them that night.
I discovered that weekend, and in the years since, that the line between internet friends and real friends is extremely nebulous, if it exists at all. As I greeted each new-old friend, finally putting faces and voices to screen names, it felt like I was greeting someone who I had seen weeks, if not days before, and we were just catching up. I never would have guessed, though, that ten years later, some of those people would have disappeared from my life, while some I see on a yearly (or more!) basis. Or that I'd be getting on a plane, all by myself, on my way to a place full of people I'd never actually met before. Again.
I'm missing the friends I met ten years ago, and the ones I met in the amazing gatherings that have happened since then. I'm marveling that the friend who slept on a roll-away bed in my hotel room ten years ago is now standing in front of 4,000 people, welcoming them to a convention celebrating all things geeky. I hope I'll be able to talk to her, once, this weekend. I look forward to Saturday when I'll see another friend I haven't been able to have actual face-time with for entirely too many years. But I also hope that this might be the beginning of friendships that will last as long as the ones I forged all those years ago. Because no one can ever tell me that true friendship can't start online.
I have ten years of memories to prove it.
(Yes, this post means I'm at LeakyCon. It's awesome so far, if a tiny bit lonely).