Her husband was dying of COVID. A world of Twitter friends in Anchorage reached out to comfort her.

This is the first story in the NEIGHBORS project, published in the Anchorage Daily News and on the Anchorage Museum website. Here’s how it begins:

Wendi Gratrix lost her husband of 36 years, Speed, to coronavirus in September. The story is nightmarish, but she always tells it as a series of small mercies.

A few hundred people in Anchorage know Wendi, a 64-year-old office administrator, as “Lady Wendi” on Twitter. She joined the platform in 2008 to keep track of Sarah Palin, and many of her Twitter friends have known her since. For all the bad vibes on the internet, Wendi makes a habit of sending good ones. She’s the first person to like every kid’s first-day-of-school picture. Post a gorgeous latte or a perfect avocado, she’ll answer with a fire emoji. If you write about a rough day, she’ll check on you later.

“Wendi is sort of like the queen of Anchorage Twitter,” said Emily Purrenhage, a pharmacist and roller girl who befriended Wendi on the platform years ago when she moved to Anchorage. “She takes us little transplants under her wing. She’s kind of like an auntie.”

Speed had a Twitter account too. His given name was Erldon but he’d been known as Speed since he was born two weeks earlier than expected in 1942. He was the sort of fellow you’d recognize as from here – tall, bearded, with a preference for flannel shirts, suspenders and a pistol within reach. All his working life, he’d been an electrician. As a hobby, he carved ivory, which is why he always wore a beaded necklace strung with a single bear claw.

Wendi and Speed made their home in Spenard, where Speed lived since childhood. Wendi’s Twitter followers knew their comings and goings. In the summertime, she convened small cocktail parties on her deck while wearing a tiara and a little sequins. She had a fluffy cat named Ping Pong. She cared for her elderly mother, called “Queen Mum.”

On the other side of the isolation of the last two years are the people we hung on to. Wendi hung on to her Twitter friends, when her real life friends couldn’t visit anymore. And, when she needed them, they hung on to her too.

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