The ghosts of social media. Today is the birthday of an old friend and mentor. Taught me a lot about film, and about freelancing, and about being a writer and knowing your own worth as a writer. He's been gone a few years now. Last time I saw him alive was Christmas Eve, 2012, when I found him disappearing into himself in a hospital bed, in so much pain we talked for ten minutes before he realized who I was.
Facebook, in that weird way it has about it, streamed messages into my feed from his page, people wishing him a happy birthday, but they don't know he's gone. Robert was, maybe not famous, but he was well-connected and had a lot of professional connections, the sort of hangers-on people who know what they're doing in the film business can have, folks who wouldn't think it strange he hasn't posted anything in five years, for whom the autopilot birthday wishes to near strangers are just a way to stay on someone's radar. This happens every year, honestly, and it breaks my heart a bit each time, the shallowness of it, and the way these banal messages remind me: my friend is still gone. And there are people who think they can call him a friend who don't know he's passed away.
Maybe it's because I've been lucky in this life, and I haven't lost many friends at an age you might call "too soon," but this concept--that we'll all become ghosts in the machine some day, that our digital presence will outlive our physical one, and that there will people who can go a half-decade without realizing we've shuffled off this mortal coil--it troubles me every year. It's happened so many times I've come to expect it. Hines would probably think it was funny, honestly. If we go anywhere after this life, he's laughing at it. And I want to wax philosophical about the immortality this gives us, that we'll live on in this weirdly organic way. But it's one in the morning, and I miss my friend. I wonder what he'd think of the world these days, a giant of a man with the face of a barbarian and the kindest heart you'd ever find. I wonder what battles he'd have fought.
Happy birthday, Hines. You are, and will always be, missed so very much.
Matthew Phillion is the writer of "The Indestructibles," part-time actor, occasional filmmaker. Currently on the lam in Salem with his trusty dog, Watson.