Like a lot of people, I guess, I occasionally type the names of people I once knew into online search engines, just to see what comes out. I long ago ran through all the names of the people I really care about—former roommates, best friends, boyfriends, daily study partners—though I occasionally do a search for someone who hasn’t come up before, just to see if they’ve done something notable enough that the person I knew could rise to the top of all the other same-name people the system keeps track of. But I’ve moved on to random acquaintances, like people who were high-school famous when I was a teenager, or anyone on my freshman-door floor whose name I can still recall. A few years ago I googled the names of all the guys I had crushes on, and then I was bored so I googled their best friends, too. Some were successful out of line with what had seemed their grades and potential in high school (a school I’d been persuaded in recent years was much, much worse than I’d previously thought it had been); some were successful entirely in line with their high-school performance as it had been available to view back then.
I’ve been pondering the results of one of these searches for the past several days.
I typed the name of someone who, in fact, looms large in my personal mythology of my teenage years. Not someone I knew well, but someone with a story, which intersected with mine in a small though meaningful way. I had never looked up their name before, and I’m not sure why, because I’ve thought of them relatively frequently. Maybe I’d reasoned that the name was so common that I’d never come up with anything.
But so I typed in their name, prepared to add the word “philadelphia” to the end so I could narrow the results, and before I’d finished typing their last name, a Wikipedia link—with their picture on it—appeared at the top of the list of Safari completions—they are apparently somewhat Internet-famous. And I learned some things about the person that surprised me, given what I’d thought I’d known about them, about my former school, and about this mythos-narrative or set of possible narratives I’d come to build up in my head out of remembered emotions and what I thought at the time was going on. I learned, as well, that the person’s father is a historian of some moderate renown, not someone whose books appear to be listed these days in bibliographies and syllabuses, but probably in the back pages of the books those syllabuses list (and also apparently a neoconservative).
It’s odd, and I’m not sure what to think of it. It’s almost as if you’d discovered that the Ally Sheedy and Judd Hirsch characters from The Breakfast Club had turned out to be the children of a supermodel and a famous novelist, and that they were now a well-known college professor and fashion designer, and that the parents of the Molly Ringwald character, by contrast, owned a gas station. Maybe not quite that extreme.