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Safety networking



"Facebook just became totally worth it," wrote Christie, my grade-school best friend, this morning. Until last night, I hadn't seen or spoken to Christie in more than 20 years. But thanks to the Internet, we reconnected earlier this month when I found her online and requested her friendship. For three hours, we shared adult beverages and childhood memories and, suddenly, we know each other again.

My parents were born and raised in New York. Their lifelong desire for a slower, warmer existence eventually pulled them South, and my family moved from Sturbridge, Mass., to Coleridge, N.C., about halfway between Siler City and Asheboro, and just south of both. I was 6 years old.

Insert culture shock here: Instead of running to the butcher on the corner, my mother now lugged a cooler to the grocer. Otherwise, the frozen foods would liquefy by the time she returned to our 40-acre farm. Remoteness aside, the spread, like the old homestead of The Waltons, was a fabulous place to grow up, with horses, three-wheelers and acres upon acres of trails to keep me entertained. And like most preteens, I had a core group of girlfriends at Coleridge Elementary that comprised my posse.

In eighth grade, our crew took an unexpected hit when Christie's family moved to Virginia. That was the beginning of the end. We remained, moving upward to the sprawling corridors of Eastern Randolph High School and—as puberty hit and tastes changed—to different groups of friends. By the time we all turned 18, everyone in the posse had new identities and new groups. College came, and any remaining strands of our friendship went. And then, in this familiar tale, there was social networking.

I've been on Facebook for three years. Like many people, I found that it was a great way to find folks and to keep up with what's new in their lives. And so I put Facebook's privacy settings to use, making it mostly impossible for anyone to find me, or so I thought. The main reason for my seclusion was that in grade school and high school I wasn't out. I deeply feared rejection. As much as I treasure home, Randolph County is not the most progressive area even now, and much less so then. Teens who engaged in interracial dating, for example, were blacklisted. The effeminate boy in class became the bully's target.

About two weeks ago, the husband of a close high school friend discovered me. When I accepted his request, the floodgates opened to his friends and his friends' friends to see my name. Throwing caution to the wind, I started accepting friend requests and sending them out myself. I figured that anyone bothering to look at my photos would soon figure out my "secret," anyway. If that didn't give it away, my relationship status—"Married to Jennifer"—certainly would.

One of those friends was Christie. She had been living in Durham, right under my nose, for the past six years, so we met last night at Tyler's in Durham. Not much had changed. We picked up where we had left off, and amazingly enough, the core things I loved about my friend remained.

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