I know Nicole. I know her mother’s name: Sandra. I know her son’s: Jayden. I know the ethnicity of her son’s father who has been absent like the motherfucker that he is: white. And I’ve known, too, the men that she has loved in the intervening years: an alcoholic with a rash of pimples across his pale shoulders, a bartender with a problem staying put. I know that now she thinks she’s found the one: a Volvo salesman who thinks Donald Trump is just what our country needs. He moved to Philadelphia to be with her which his friends worry is crazy and too soon. But he doesn’t care, because anything worthwhile takes a leap of faith.
I’ve had an office job for a little over a year and I’ve learned to neatly package my days into increments: a hot coffee at 10 to fight the bracing air conditioning, a mid-morning walk to the bathroom, lunch at, but not a hair before, 1pm. I’ve found a place for Nic (because that’s her nickname and that’s how I think of her—N-I-C, three letters that punctuate the Facebook posts her boyfriend writes to her when she’s sleeping and he can’t and he’s laying awake and typing to her from their very living room: I love you, the only thing I’m certain of is you): at 10:05, coffee in my left hand, mouse navigating her Facebook profile in my right. I’m warmed, despite myself, by her glossy descriptions of her day-to-day: Olive Garden with my two main men!, it might say. Or, in for the night with the babe—mama needs some TLC. Sometimes she complains: car broken and my shifts got cut—mama needs a break (and some cash!). I find that I prefer her more upbeat statuses, even though they ring a bit false. I also find that I start referring to myself as mama sometimes.
I recently have found myself wanting to tell people about Nic, because she’s on my mind a lot. Over dinner one night I tell my mother that I can’t believe what Ray—the boyfriend—wrote about Trump’s immigration policy. He’s so totally idiotic, I say. Huh she says. I notice an unfamiliar blankness in her expression. Oh I think. This is boring. Huh.
I try again, this time on my friend, a couple days later. This girl I stalk on Facebook, I say with an enthusiasm suggesting something juicy, has this boyfriend who has basically adopted her son. I know how dull it is before it even leaves my mouth. Oh, he musters. That’s…nice.
I’m bored by—well, a lot. Period pieces. Most emails. The very important documentary my sophomore-in-college sister sent me on the high recommendation of her African Diaspora professor. But Ray and Nic are not boring to me, ever. I’m peaked by their more objectively interesting statuses (political diatribes of the makes me feel very smug about my own superior intellect assortment) and their not-so-objectively interesting statuses (from Nic: major baby fever this morning!) alike.
A couple weeks ago an Instagram-famous Australian with some hundreds of thousands of followers and a waist the size of my wrist put up a video condemning social media. “It’s no-at re-al,” she sobs into the camera, her face raw and red and her hair piled into what my mother would call an absolute rats nest. She deleted thousands of posed photos off her Instagram—a cache of impeccably styled shots of her doing yoga on the beach, by the pool in a white dress, laying on her bed, breasts pushed up just so. With the photos went the comments: a seemingly endless stream of #goals, #goals, #goals.
I’ve never found this brand of social media particularly interesting. Obviously it’s not real. Obviously the Australian girl isn’t really doing yoga—she’s posing in too-tight shorts while someone behind her tells her that that’s not your most flattering angle, can you push your ass a little further out?
My dream social mediascape—my ideal feed— is a place full of Nic and Rays. A couple weeks back, in the wake of a most awful terrorist attack in Paris, Ray posted a series of statuses about Syrian refugees so xenophobic and upsetting that I found myself trembling with anger—as close as I’ve ever been to breaking the wall and writing some purposeless angry something. But then something wonderfully weird happened. He circled around. “Ray is feeling thoughtful,” he wrote, with an Emoji (thoughtfully) stroking its chin. He wondered: if America broke down and his family needed somewhere to go, would people not take them in based on the actions of his fellow Americans? He wondered: does this hypothetical change his “recent views?” The whole dialogue was so stream-of-conscious, so raw and reactionary and free of pretense that I felt almost uncomfortably close to Ray’s whorl of a mind.
It is re-eal I want to say to the Australian as she wipes her nose vigorously on-screen. A friend of a friend who lives in Ohio spewing political nonsense, a thrice-removed cousin who is so in love she can’t stop posting about her man, a high-school classmate who oh my god has four children and is only 23. The Australian girl, pimply and furious. Nic and Ray and the rent they can’t afford and the promises he made to her and the promise that she’ll share it if he breaks them. I could scroll forever, dreamily peering in.