I was introduced to Chloe on Twitter by Petra. But it was FACE, Chloe's cat, that allowed me to really meet Chloe.
FACE wasn't just a cat. He was responsible for a large part of Chloe's identity. Chloe referred to herself as his protégé . This sounds alien to most people. Weird, even. But it made more sense to me than most things in life.
Common interests have brought me together with many, but my strongest bonds remain with people whom the world at large would accuse of being obsessed with their pets. I think it's because those relationships have a strikingly childlike innocence. They effortlessly transcend all the inflammatory neocortical noise generated in maintaining your position in society as a respectable adult. Judgements are dropped, agendas are shoved aside. They're replaced with the shared awe that two different species can be so connected despite the language barriers.
Chloe wasn't afraid of being seen as a crazy cat lady. Her Instagram bio proudly warned, "Get ready for cat photos." And when she realized that I was a crazy dog guy with an Instagram feed entirely dedicated to Yoshi, my Weimaraner, she exposed her true nature in a way that only a crazy animal person will appreciate.
One day, out of the blue, I got a notification that someone mentioned me on Instagram. When I went to the post, I realized it was the same Chloe from Twitter who'd tagged me. She'd been browsing Instagram's news feed when she happened to discover that I have an incorrigible habit of stalking and liking pictures of random dogs and cats on Instagram. She took a screenshot of my latest activity, and posted it as a picture to her own feed with the caption, "@rainypixels is awesome." That's crazy animal lover speak for, "Hey, I'm one of you!"
By the time we met in person when she was visiting Seattle, we knew each other's pet companions frighteningly well. We sat next to each other at a geek dinner I'd hosted for a visiting conference, and while everyone else talked tech, Chloe and I spent the entire dinner sharing stories and pictures about Yoshi and FACE. We were like two kids in a petting zoo.
Chloe passed away last week, and like Petra, Jeremy, and so many others have written, it's really hard to believe. I fall into the group of people who didn't know Chloe very well outside of our frequent online banter that was catalyzed by our beloved furry companions. But at the same time, I can't discount how well I felt I knew her precisely because of that limited, but profound shared context. It feels like I have lost one of my own.