My friend AlterEgo and I have met in person once. We text each other multiple times a week. I met AlterEgo when they signed up to be a mentor for an incarcerated writer in a program I managed. I noticed right away that they asked sharp questions and offered critical feedback. There was a distinct lack of sentimentality and patronization in everything AlterEgo did. Over years our communication grew. They bonded with me through COVID and referred their friends to my consulting company. I got to witness their journey as a parent, and as a disability advocate, and as a civic-minded contributor to their community.

I've shared my flaws and foibles, feeling a deep sense of embarrassment. I usually don't care what people think about me, but I kinda want AlterEgo to be proud of me. And this is probably the most critical piece of our friendship. I feel accountable to AlterEgo. Like I don't just want to look good to them, I want to feel good about myself when I talk to them. Our friendship is not based on perception, but instead a gentle, respectful and honest exchange of thoughts and ideas and care. I feel like they take care when they talk to me. And they share so much of the things they do. I know the projects they're engaged in, and I know they like to knit (socks especially) and I cheer on all of their journeys to the zoo, to the woods, to the park, to the lake. I feel like my world is bigger because I know them.

The most difficult part for me, and this is going to be hard to say, is that I have recognized the urge in me to push, control, and create outcomes of the friendship because, at times, the emotion I feel is almost overwhelming. Is it my upbringing? A fundamental lack of trust in the world that makes me need to control things? AlterEgo will write a comment that makes me laugh and my whole body feels tingly. What do I do with that? Doesn't something have to happen? Where do I put these feelings?

And so it is with a gut-ache, a sense that I can't take this anymore, but I need to cherish this beautiful thing and not screw it up that I reach out and respond. Their presence in my life as familiar as a favorite sweater. Loved, beloved, appreciated... almost too much.