I am now part of the internet more than I ever dreamed possible. It’s the real world that’s a haze. And I no longer know who I am.
It started as a diversion, an extension of my real life, a fantasy, someplace I could grow and visualize what I wanted to or could someday be.
When did it become so real?
I had been very active online for only about a year, though it seemed longer. I had a weblog on Xanga. I made friends there. We debated politics, shared our work, our opinions, stories about our kids and our lives. I was a person people tended to like, friendly, didn’t mix it up too much, always tactful in the way I approached a discussion. I think it was because I tend to see both sides of any dispute. And there were disputes, maybe more, even, than in real life.
Like any other community, people fell in love, and broke up. They agreed and disagreed, formed cliques and clubs and friends. They supported, and also, they hurt each other.
People got angry, people cried (there should have been an acronym for it, “COL”). People got sick. They shared their experiences with cancer, and AIDS and addiction. Someone we all knew only under the user name, Wildheart, until her sister came on and told us her real name was Diana, passed away, and we mourned. We mourned for people we had never met.
But I didn’t think it could be this real. I didn’t think it could be real enough for murder. And I never would have thought that I would be the one to take another’s life. I try to justify it to myself, worry about whether I’ll get caught and what I have become.
I defended a person that I got to know there who then befriended me. Sam spoke his mind, and he was criticized for it. He wasn’t very tactful, but the responses of others seemed overly belligerent to me. I saw both sides, like I always do, and played the mediator. Sam appreciated it and became my buddy, coming often to my page and commenting as I did on his. We private messaged each other too, and e-mailed, but I rarely actually agreed with him on things. I had defended him against some nastiness because I thought it was out of line and I always try to understand why people think what they do, even when I don’t agree. I appreciate honesty as a precursor to a healthy debate. I didn’t think anything warranted fighting, but truth be told, I agreed more with the others. I don’t even remember how it started or what all the arguments were about anymore, but as time passed, I realized that Sam wanted someone to agree with him, to see things from his point of view, and he thought I would be it, but I frustrated him because I wasn’t.
Still, we had long conversations, by e-mail, or posts on our blogs, or chat. They were introspective and deep, but also a little uncomfortably dark. He was an angry and pessimistic man. Over time, he realized and pointed out to me that whatever he said, I seemed to play devil’s advocate. We didn’t argue so much, but I did tend to point out other views, if only because he seemed so certain of his own. Even when I agreed with him, and I sometimes did, I never thought he came about it fairly. I didn’t think he considered that there were reasonable positions to the contrary. So I pointed them out.
As a man that likes to see both sides, I argue most with certainty. What attracted him to me in the first place, was exactly what annoyed him about me in the end.
I felt for him because he suffered. He was obviously depressed, and thought his life, no not just his, he thought that life, in general, was unfair, that people were more often unkind, and that the bad always outweighed the good.
Over time, when I wouldn’t agree, he seemed to turn on me. He wanted to prove he was right, that the world was a terrible place. I told him I didn’t think it was his responsibility to prove that to me, or anyone, but he still argued it vehemently. He chided me when I worried about “insignificant things,” things I didn’t write only to him, but posted about on my blog. He would say there were much more horrible things that could happen to a person, quoting from the newspapers, and from things that might not have been in the newspapers, and I wondered whether some of them had happened to him. I wondered about what so darkly shaped his view. But I never did really get to know him, because he rarely opened up with anything other than his opinion.
I could only agree that horrible things happened, but pointed out that life would teach us all, “perspective,” in our own time, and in its own way. He wouldn’t let it go. I found our conversations increasingly uncomfortable, negative, depressing, and scary. When I stopped answering his e-mails, he queried incessantly. When I tried to break off our correspondences he went into a rage. I was just another bad thing happening to him. I didn’t care about him, like everyone else that didn’t give a damn. No one gave a damn. All I worried about was being late for my daughter’s swim lesson, or whether I got that raise, or what “wifey” was cooking for dinner, and whether I had to sit in too much traffic. He wished my wonderful American dream life would turn to tragedy so that I wouldn’t worry about stupid shit anymore cause it made him sick.
I didn’t know what to do. I had always been good at dissipating anger, mostly because I’m not an aggressive person. I understand that people see from their unique perspective. Unlike Sam, I believed that people were essentially good, though sometimes misled, sometimes extremely misled, but always operating out of their own sense of what they thought was right.
We were opposites in this. He thought good people were essentially bad.
I tried once more. I told him that there would be tragedy in my life, that no one could escape it and when it happened, I would do my best to cope, but I didn’t want to dwell on it. I wished him the best, and told him that I hoped for him that he could find some happiness.
Instead of responding well to that, he told me he didn’t want to wait until “God, or whoever,” taught me what “life was like.” He wanted me to know now, what hell he had to go through every day, what it was always like for him, and how he had no one.
Then he told me that he knew where I lived, he had looked it up, and that he was going to kill my family, my wife, and my kid, so that I would understand.
He knew my name, I hadn’t kept it a secret, and in what state I lived, it was on my weblog.
I was feeling uncharacteristically confrontational and angry. He threatened my daughter? My wife? I wanted to lash out, but I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to make it worse, but I couldn’t just let it happen.
I had a disadvantage and it bothered me. I didn’t know as much about him. I didn’t know his real name or where he lived. Could I figure it out? Could the police? Would they even do anything? He was threatening my life, my real life. I wanted to confront him with bravado. “Come and get me you shit,” I thought about saying. Invite him over so I could kick his ass? I couldn’t provoke him. I had been talking to him for months. I felt I knew him and believed that he could do it. I was seriously worried that I had endangered my family, by embracing this virtual world, without giving any credence to what others sometimes worried about, that you couldn’t really know the people you met online, what I had considered to be irrational hysteria.
What could make a person so heartless? In my understanding and empathetic way, I theorized that for anyone to have such disregard for life, as to kill another, he must not value his own. Sam fit the bill.
I couldn’t sit by and do nothing. I couldn’t. I had to respond.
I crafted a short e-mail and sent it out. It was to be my last. After this, I would take other steps to protect myself if necessary. Real world steps. The police. I’d buy a gun. Get an alarm system. Stay up all night, if I had to, watching for him. The e-mail simply said:
“If you hate yourself that much, why don’t you take your own life instead?”
I knew they were powerful words when I sent them. I wanted him to do it.
It was self-defense, wasn’t it?