Watching the Read Receipt

Eric Boyd
10 min readJul 15, 2021
Photo by Sandy Millar on Unsplash

I stare at the little bubble on Facebook Messenger. It does not move. The bubble does not descend. The messages I’m sending will not be seen. At least not on a phone or laptop or any other device.

Messenger is the only reason I keep Facebook. It’s been the only reason for years. I am bad at social media. I don’t feel like I have many interesting thoughts or experiences to share with people and, when I do, I want to turn them into creative work. If something isn’t interesting enough for me to mold into an essay or a short story or a (painfully, slowly in-progress) novel, what’s the point? If I want to communicate with people, I tend to just reach out direct. When I didn’t have a smartphone, let alone a cellphone, Messenger allowed me to talk to friends across the world. Sometimes I’d be at a library or an internet cafe (!), eventually my own laptops; even after I did finally get a phone, it seemed easier to keep conversations going on Messenger. This is, if for no other reason at all, because the conversations don’t get lost. I’ve broken phones and lost sim cards — entire contact lists — and the same thing’s happened to other people, or maybe they change their number etc etc. However, on Facebook, even if someone’s account gets deleted, the messages still remain with the default avatar of a blank, gray silhouette. It’s really hard to lose Facebook messages, even in death; there are in fact anywhere from 10 to 30 million Facebook profiles of people who have passed away. It’s something you don’t think about much until a friend dies and those messages, preserved in digital amber, are all you have left of them.

I was in line at Aldi buying some protein shakes before work; the person in front of me was taking a long time so I casually opened Facebook to scroll for a moment before it was my turn to check out. It was quick, I think less than one full thumb swipe: a picture of a friend of mine from Iowa. Blonde hair and stubble framed his face, cheeks high and eyes narrow from a big, open mouth smile jutting with a strong, square chin. Next to that photo was one of him as a child, a similar smile, the same twinkle in the eyes. But the post was not from him and I instantly felt my stomach drop. There was some text in the post but I did not read it. I closed the phone, checked out, walked across the street into work and — thankfully, as nobody was in the building…

Eric Boyd

Work in Joyland, Guernica, and The Offing. Winner of a PEN Prison Writing Award. Working on a novel. //