Mourning in the digital age

On January 1, 2012, sometime in the morning hours after the new year was celebrated throughout Austin, Texas, Esme Barrera was murdered. The case is being investigated and no suspect has been apprehended, but so far it seems a random and senseless act.

Esme was loved by everyone she met. And that’s not one of those “saying nice things about the deceased.” Legitimately and literally, everyone loved her. She was a brilliant ball of energy and optimism in a cynical and dark world. She made things better.

And now she’s gone. All over the Internet, her friends and those she touched are demonstrating just how much she meant to them and what a devastating loss this is.

In one small corner of the Internet, a group of people are collecting. Some haven’t been seen for years, some still stay in contact. It’s a place affectionately known as the Rebel Weezer Board. It is 11 years old, and has been incredibly important to this group of people. That fact takes a while to sink in. We’ve been together for 11 years.

A short history lesson, in the months approaching the release of Weezer’s second self-titled album (known as the Green Album), the official message board of Weezer.net (their old home on the internet) was filled with excited fans anticipating the first activity by the band in five years (a period of time that has since become legend). We spent a lot of time on that message board. We became a very tight group in a few short months.

As things ramped up to the albums release, the awkward but beloved site was over-hauled and a new message board system was installed…and with it hundreds of new message board members, who we didn’t recognize and certainly didn’t like. So we started our own board, using the exact same Ezboard system (which has since been transitioned to Yuku, but for all intents and purposes it looks exactly the same as it it did in 2000).

Many of us spent the next few years there, to one degree or another. Cliques formed, friendships were forged, people fought, people made nice. We all knew each other, and regardless of the specific social dynamics on a given day, we knew we were all in it together and we loved our little community.

We shared our lives as we grew up. Stories of our new kids, new spouses, new music we were digging (you would be hard pressed to find many that enjoy Weezer’s new work). We met each other in real life and made vacation plans around whose couch we could crash on. I had excellent trips to Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Minneapolis where I met about a dozen members, who were as awesome and as friendly as one could ask for.

At least one marriage has happened because of the board, a few other relationships blossomed (and some fizzled). We celebrated everyone’s success — Dent May (he with the ukulele) and Zach Paez (who wrote a few episodes of the excellent NBC show Community) were both members.

Esme was a part of the board. Much like she was in her day-to-day life, she was universally loved and appreciated. A friend to all, she took the time to encourage, contribute, and be an all-around amazing positive force for the online community.

In time, we all drifted away. Once we all checked the board every day. Some members disappeared forever, some chimed in every few months, and occasionally a long-missing, but never-forgotten, member would return and say “I can’t believe this place is still here!”

We still kept tabs on each other. With every new social media network, we would reconnect (Friendster, Myspace, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, in that order). There would be no awkwardness or pretence. We were just glad to see each other again, catch up, and stay connected. And if we ever stopped using one of these platforms (or like me, accidentally remove an entire list from Facebook filled with board members), we’d know we’d see each other on the next big thing.

On May 4, 2011, in a thread about Osama Bin Laden, Chris (by whose will the board is still marginally active today) posted: “When one of us die I’m sure we’ll all be much more interested,” a comment regarding the few posts the board was receiving. It would be a sickening foreshadow to something Chris, nor anyone else, could ever imagine happening.

But it did. One of us did die, and we are slowly trickling back to share our sadness.

How does one do this? Most of us never met Esme, but many of the members did. We all got along with her to one degree or another. As for me, I still have the Valentine’s Day cards she sent as part of the platonic secret Valentine’s Day card and mixtape exchange.

At first, the responses to the “Esme.” thread were tentative. “What happened?” “I heard she died.” Then we started finding the news, and an Austin-based member confirmed the facts, as scant as they were. Esme had passed in a brutal, senseless, and violent matter that no one deserves, least of all she.

Every one has felt this tragedy. Some, who were especially close even if they never met in real life, were devastated. Others were saddened, even though they only knew her in passing via her posts. Many regret not keeping in touch. I took it hard — Esme and I got along very well, I had tangible proof of her existence (and how much she loved doing for others).

What has become especially apparent to me is that despite this being an online community, this is a shared exercise in grief. We are all feeling it, and while we are not quite sure how this fits in with ordinary forms of mourning, we’re figuring it out together.

Some have come out and said how much the community is important to them, and how much impact it has had — sentiments I share. I think that’s something Esme would have appreciated — it’s why she loved everyone and gave so much effort in the first place.

Perhaps we all want to make sure we say it, because every single one of us wish we had said it to Esme. I’m sure she knew. She was, after all, Esme.

For more of this wonderful person and what a loss we have experienced, here are some other tributes from across the Internet:

Esme Barrera’s sister speaks out

For Esme Barrera 1982-2012

You Don’t Know What To With The Hurt (And Neither Do I)

Es Me and You

A Tribute to Esme

In Memoriam – Esme Barrera

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One thought on “Mourning in the digital age

  1. Whoa, I did a search for the weezer board and came upon your site. HI. I can’t believe Esme passed away in such a brutal way! I love the title of this post – “Mourning in the digital age” is something that’s very strange. Recently a friend of mine’s husband died of a pulmonary embolism and one of the last things he tweeted was about how he was having trouble breathing. Uuugh.

    Take care.

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