Spencer Sleyon, a 22-year-old rapper and producer from East Harlem, and his friends were going around the room in October, talking about who their closest friends were.
When it was his turn, he said: “My best friend is an 81-year-old white woman who lives in a retirement community in Florida.”
To be clear, he was exaggerating. They weren’t quite best friends. But she was a friend, and the joke set off a chain of events that led to his flying to Palm Beach to actually meet Rosalind Guttman, the woman he had known only through the Words With Friends game on his phone.
“When I met her it was so natural,” he said in an interview on Wednesday. “It wasn’t like anything spectacular, or different than you speaking to one of your friends.”
Based on the flood of positive reaction on Twitter, it seems people appreciated hearing about an unlikely friendship that formed despite countless boundaries that would often keep people apart.
Their friendship began entirely at random when Words With Friends, a Scrabble-like phone game, assigned the two strangers to play each other last summer. They would eventually play hundreds of games together.
At first it was all business. In the earliest games they didn’t use the app’s chat function, which is often used for banter about the game. But soon they began discussing current events and the details of their lives, including his plans to move from Silver Spring, Maryland, to New York to chase his dreams of a music career.
They played almost every day. Each time there would be “just regular, everyday chatting,” he said. But the demands of life would eventually interfere, and he couldn’t find time to keep up with their games.
He decided to delete the app, but made sure to say goodbye to Guttman first. Before he left, he asked her if she had any advice.
“Whatever you want out of life, just go grab it,” she said.
In October, a few months after moving to New York, he decided to reinstall the game, and immediately reconnected with Guttman, he said. But he had no plans to meet her until Amy Butler, the mother of one of his friends, overheard him talking about his online pal.
Butler, a pastor at Riverside Church in Manhattan, wanted to tell the story of their friendship, so she asked if he would put her in touch with Guttman. After the women talked on the phone, Butler decided an in-person meeting “would really finish the story off,” she said.
So she and Sleyon flew down to Florida on Friday, and “it was more beautiful than I could have even imagined,” she said.
“There was no hint of awkwardness,” she said. “It was like they were magnetically drawn to each other.”
so last summer i randomly met this 80 y/o woman on words with friends. we played 300+ games together and she actually ended up becoming a good friend of mine. today i got to go to florida and meet her in person pic.twitter.com/VXDbNS4eUo— High Class Filth (@Filth800) December 1, 2017
They didn’t have much time — just a lunch and a quick tour of Palm Beach — but the photos he tweeted afterward attracted widespread attention, including from the news media. Sleyon said he was thrilled his story had touched so many people.
“A lot of people I saw online said, ‘I needed a story like this, especially with the race relations in this country right now,’” he said.
Guttman has not spoken to reporters. According to Butler, Guttman doesn’t know what all the fuss is about, since “people should be behaving this way with each other all the time.”
But she did send Butler an email soon after they left for New York. Butler read the email during her sermon at the church on Sunday.
I’m at a loss for words to describe today. Without question, it was one of the most memorable days of my life. I’m still basking in the glow of warmth and friendship. You and Spencer extended yourselves to me and embraced me in a most unbelievable fashion. My only words in this moment are a humongous thank you. I love you both to the moon and back.