Saturday, September 23, 2006

Fearing a Reclusive Friend is Dead:
A (maybe, maybe not) Eulogy

January of 1997, I met an amazing gentleman online. You know how you exchange keyed in words with someone and click? It was like this:

I was in a chat room. I was new to this chat room (I previously only hung in one for amateur astronomers and stargazers), and I didn't like the shallow and superficial tone of some of the comments. Three or four of the men in the room were clearly trolling for sex. Ick. One of the snerts was boasting about his good looks.

I promptly typed something like this:

MirAndaMia: I prefer a man who is beautiful on the inside and ugly on the outside to one who is beautiful outside and ugly on the inside.

And I suddenly got an IM that said:

EDesarmand: "That would be me."

That was his screen name back then, EDesarmand (ie, Erik Desarmand, his name). He changed it a couple of times until he settled on one that was descriptive rather than real: Grumpy Old E.

I asked him what he meant by "that would be me". He said he fit my description...ugly outside, etc.

A solid 13 hour conversation ensued. (And so did carpal tunnel syndrome.) And we became pals. I told my husband and sometimes Charles would drop into the chat.

French, British-educated, architect, and a person burdened with a host of medical problems, including a hereditary condition that left him with multiple deformities--that was Erik. Many of his deformities are evident in the childhood photo he shared with me. He refused to take pictures thereafter. He said he wanted no evidence of his deformities to endure past his lifespan.

We talked a lot--a lot--during the next year, less so during the two or three years after that, and sporadically until two years ago. His physical condition had deteriorated (quadriplegia is cruel).

I've met a lot of fakers online (people pretending to be something more or different than what they are), and I wondered at first if Erik was a hoaxer. But, he consistently surprised me with knowledge and advice that seemed to indicate he was who he said he was. My gut said believe him.

In any case, he was always a gentleman. That is not a small compliment. Unlike some males a gal might meet online, men who get salacious or nasty and one must immediately drop like a stone and never look back, Erik did not descend into crass, vulgar conversation. He wanted to talk about books, history, architecture, music, or just people being people. He did love his gossip. I suspect this was because he was denied regular social interaction that so many take for granted.

I, being the family recluse, understood his passion for privacy. We were both bibliophiles, and we both loved Art Deco, and we both didn't think much of all the cybersex fellow chat roomers seemed to obsess over. We did not talk about one divisive subject: religion.

He knew I was very religious. I knew he was very anti-religious. He was an outspoken atheist. We figured this was no man's land, conversationally. He would lose his temper if someone, anyone, said something like "I'll pray for you." He considered it offensive.

So, I respected that boundary. I prayed for him, but I never said so.

There were clashes at times, and sometimes hurtful things were said, but in general, we had pleasant conversation and mutual respect. I had much affection and admiration for his courage, intelligence, wry and dark sense of humor, endurance, and strong will. His diction delighted me--the British formality that an education at Eton and Cambridge bestows.

After a year or so, I gave up on chat rooms. Too many drama queens, idiots, neurotics... and too many perverts. I got tired of having to block IMs or post I ONLY TALK TO KNOWN FRIENDS DO NOT IM ME in my profile to discourage vile invitations. But I'd still email with Erik, and occcasionally he'd be up for an extended IM conversation. Except for him and two other male friends from the stargazer's chat room who had proven to be intelligent gentlemen and not trolls, I made a point to only email and IM with women for many years thereafter. (I've relaxed the rule somewhat since, but only because you get better with experience at spotting the "good guys" and knowing how to avoid the pervs.)

Over the years, I listened to wavs of his piano compositions, viewed GIFs of his restoration projects, and enjoyed photos of his elegant home and the towheaded, small-boned boy he came to love and consider family (his housekeeper's son, Gerard, who later became his legal heir). He shared his amusement at his British assistant Em's vivacity. I recommended novels he might enjoy and was grateful for his advice on wheelchairs and other tools and supplies for the paralyzed (after my mom became bedbound). I'll always remember his kindness in offering assitance--turned down, not needed-- after one of the bad storms of years past.

He taught me something of how severely deformed people are wounded by the callousness of others, how they see themselves and the world, and how they'd wish to be treated if humanity were closer to the ideal.

And I think he's dead now. Thought I can't know for sure.

Another gut feeling?

I wish I had a way to confirm it.

My last email (sent after the Parisian riots of last year) to him, then his assistant, Em, were not answered. Winters were always hard on Erik, brutalizing his body with bouts of pneumonia, and perhaps the past one was his last. His account is now gone. No profile. It was one way I kept reassuring myself he lived. I'd see if his profile was still online, if his web page with his fractals--beautiful, colorful, mathematical things he enjoyed creating--was still online. Profile gone. Fractals gone.

It's like water washed away some vital message on the shore.

I post this on the chance that someone, at some time, will do a google search for "Erik Desarmand"--the Paris architect--and that they may be able to tell me...something. Erik, Adele, Gerard...I wish I had printed out Erik's IMs. I wish I had more information. I wish I could write a note and ask someone.

I dreamed of Erik last night. I woke up with a sad heart and told my husband what I suspected of one of my earliest online friends, the brilliant Parisian recluse.

I think he's dead.

I wish he wasn't.


Anonymous said...

e-friendships are indeed a strange animal Mir. Most of my friends, those I share common interests and rapport with are on-line today. You tend not to help them move or shingle their roofs, but you certainly give of yourself in other ways that you tend not to with your f2f friends. The anonymonity has an upside too. It sometimes allow for less discretion because of your lack of common acquaintences. I read a story once about a couple who got married and divorced all on-line. But it's sad when they die, but you aren't even sure (for want of mutual friends).

My condolences.


Mirtika said...

Thanks, Chris. He was a singular person who suffered more than his fair share. I suppose I was always hoping for some miraculous thing.

In a way, the pseudo-family that evolved around him was a sort of miracle. And I'm glad he had that familial care and attention and love in his latter years that eluded him in his younger ones.


Irene P. said...

Hello Mirtika,
My Name is Irene P.  I've known Erik online for many years as well. Since Sept of '98. I also have feared that he's gone. It's Oct. of '07 and the last I've talked to him was the year of the riots in Paris. Wow so long ago, seems like a dream really. I miss him very much. we used to spend hours talking, sometimes about my non sense that I was dealing with in life. How I'd struggle with my suicidal ideation's. How he'd manage to live all the years as his "hermit" like self. and how amazed I was by how strong a human being can be with what he's dealt with. Meaning his deformity and his degenerative disease. Oh I forget what it's called he's explained it so many times to me before too. it's like where your body shuts down completely. MND (motor neuron disease) anyhow, that's what I fear took him away. he also had that gene thing he was born with the extra or damaged chromozone.(sp?) but as you know he NEVER wanted anyone to feel sorry for him. he was a fighter!!! look at all his degrees and doctorates he achieved! He used to tell me how much potential I had. I didn't believe him at the time, but now I do. I'm currently in school with 90 credits to my name trying to complete High school Diploma. I will SUCCEED Thank you ERIK GERARD DESARMOND!!! : ) (if he IS alive he'd kill me for putting his name out there 'cause he is such a private person!) anyhow, I can go on and on about Erik... I used to send cards to his God daughter in Canada a long time ago. and I recently sent one and my ex roommate Pam came across your page. I was wondering myself if Erik is gone or not. my feelings are this. Yes, he is gone. I've tried emailing him the last two and half year and first his was GONE then it went to it actually said to ask him to "update his account. weird, right? Erik, was always up-to-date. I don't recall the WlgKnight@startford.strat it was SOOOOOO LONG ago! anyhow I hope you check this soon. Please email me back I'll hope fully we can talk more. I do remember your name and his other friend Judy Sullivan's name too. anyhow... again take care and much love,
Irene P.

Mumbles said...

I, too, knew Erik--from way back, AOL Atheism boards in the late 1990s and early 2000s. We had a support forum, and Erik was very active. Loved him, he had such stories and an incredible way of communicating. He regaled me with tales of lost treasures found during architectural renovations, including a "hidey-hole" in a basement where folks hid during WWII. He struggled with a number of physical maladies, but had such an amazing way about him. I believe he went by "Wheelchair Knight" or some variation thereof. Every once in a while, I do a web search, hoping for some word about Erik. I'm sad to hear that he's not been heard from, but glad he had a friend in you.

Mumbles said...

Adele! I'd forgotten Adele and Girard! His housekeeper and her son, correct? Oh! It's been so long, since the early 2000s.

Oh, I wish there was some way to find an answer. Thank you for posting this. I know I'm years late coming in, but it still means so much to see others remember him.


Mirtika said...

Thanks for your comments. It's nice to see others remember him. I still think about Erik now and then--not at often, now that it's 19 years since I met him online, 17 or so since I last heard from him. Thanks, again, for putting some of your regard on here.

LuvReenie said...


I fear he's been gone for yrs. I have no evidence,but the last I spoke with him was in very bad condition. Had 4-6 hospice nurses 24/7. that was around 5-6 yrs ago, very short conversation, but I knew it was him. I let him know of a mutual friend of ours having cancer. yes, that was the last time I spoke to him. Ive tried looking him up again now in 2016, nothing. It's very sad.I see your last post was in 2015. I just don't have a good feeling about it. I am sorry for your loss. I miss Erik dearly, too.

Much love and friendship,