Friday, October 12, 2007

talk about surreal

It's kind of -- well, fun is probably not the right word -- let's use educational, reading what other people think of the article, and of me.

How could I be so stupid? So gullible? So easily deceived? I ask myself that often. I am not any of those things, usually. Was I lonely? I guess I was, a bit, but any of my friends would tell you I didn't habitually trawl for love-n-stuff on the internets, or ever, really, for that matter. Even Josh would have to admit that. This "Jesse" spooled it out slow-ish, and we started out friends. Yeah, he sounded too good to believe, except for the crazy part, and the PTSD that he got from being traded as a sex toy for four years to pedophile drug dealers by his molesting hippie junkie dad behind his chilly feminist lecturer mother's back. Too good to believe except for the older brother who shot himself the first night Jesse was raped by the dealers, the night his father hooked him on heroin to help him deal with the pain. Big brother couldn't deal with not being able to protect his younger sibling, and so offed hisownself. "Jesse" may have been a journalist/fireman who loved yoga, but he was damaged. Janna had done her homework on me before "Jesse" ever made an appearance, so she knew what would prick up my ears (fnar).

Janna made a slurry of fact and fiction, hard to tell even now through the sludge how much of it had actually happened to her. I thought for sure that even though Annie Martel might not have been "Jesse's" therapist, that she must have at least known Janna from back in the John Denver days, because Janna had so many stories about them. I spoke to "Jesse" on the phone often, but he was always whispery and hoarse, because he was shy and didn't talk much in his 3D life, so his vocal cords were weak, but jesus, could he write. Now, I'm sure we all know people like that, folks who come alive in type but are pretty inept in person. "Jesse" and his family had been exposed to an internet freak who'd been stalking Janna trying to get close to Dan Fogelberg, and had gone as far as to impersonate her on the Dan Fogelberg boards and to telephone her home to freak out her daughter. "Jesse's" sister made him promise never to expose them to people like that again, so he (and Janna) were very leery of giving out any personal details to people they didn't really know. These are some of the backstories I was given, Janna covering her ass.

It would take pages and pages to explain how I got sucked in (operative word with my 20:20 hindsight being suck, of course) for as long as I did, but here are the main points in a nutshell. I was committed to a project with 100-hour workweeks for the entire year I knew "Jesse." I did try to fly to Denver early on in the "relationship" to see him, but his dog Wrinkle had just died, his grandmother was conveniently dying, and it would have been inappropriate for me to be there during such a tense time for the family. I had bought a plane ticket and was on my way to the airport when "Jesse" called and implored me not to come to Denver. He wanted our first meeting to be perfect, he was beset by anxiety, blah blah blah. We made other plans, but then of course after a weird buildup over several weeks, he shot himself and then was in a psychiatric hospital where only family and his therapist could visit. Then, of course, I couldn't cope with "Jesse's" nuttiness (he'd been diagnosed as bipolar) and we stopped talking for a while, although I was still communicating with Janna, because we'd become friendly.

Confused yet? Bored? Sorry. It's so convoluted.

We picked up again and made other plans, which were scuppered because "Jesse's" mother revealed that his father wasn't really his father, so the fact that he'd been molested by this man as a child wasn't so bad because it wasn't incest. "Jesse" then had to go on a quest for his real father, who was Irish, and a repressed Catholic, and gay, and repenting for sinning against the Scriptures (for fathering a child with a woman whose husband it was he really wanted to have sex with, being a hypocrite and marrying and fathering two more children, and of course the gay thing) by doing charity work for Concern in war- and disaster-torn nations worldwide. So "Jesse" went to Pakistan against his sister's orders, and she, being his legal guardian (since he'd OD'd after 9/11, but hey, that's another story) went to the courts so they would send authorities to pick him up at the airport when he came back and commit him for flagrantly disobeying her. There went that weekend we were supposed to meet in Laguna Beach. It was hardly ever "Jesse" canceling things, it was circumstances.

And "Jesse's" real father's name? Davian Blaine. Yes, dear readers, I know. But I was already in so deep there was no way I suspected "Jesse" wasn't real, as outlandish as that all sounded. I'd been having email conversations with other friends of his, his ex-wife and other friends of his had posted on his blog, I'd seen pictures of his friends and ex-wife and son, his sister's house and his llamas. Which, of course, turned out to be Dan Fogelberg's house and llamas.

I finished my taxing job after a year, prepared to make a move so we could try each other on. And then, well, "Jesse" died. And Janna was utterly lovely to me. Of course, most of "Jesse's" other friends were quite horrible to me, because they never understood why he was interested in me in the first place, and constantly criticized me for not making more of an effort to be with him. But Janna was always a comfort, telling me stories, and encouraging me to set up the tribute blog. I was emailing with "Jesse's" son, who was going to spend time in Spain. I had an address. I was emailing with "Jesse's" ex-wife and his best friend Cakey. And Annie Martel, "Jesse's" therapist. I met Janna, and she was real, we spent a few days together driving around Colorado and New Mexico, while she showed me some of "Jesse's" favorite places. She cried real tears when talking with me about "Jesse" on his birthday. I saw them. Seven months passed between "Jesse's" death and Janna's visit to my house, and the now much-viewed confrontation.

Now, I've known people with strangeass names, and for the offspring of hippie parents, Jesse Jubilee James isn't totally off the wall. His other siblings had stupid names too. And hey, should Sandra Bullock be worried because she's married to some guy called Jesse James? [editor's hindsight note: why yes, yes, Sandra should]  I've met Moon Unit Zappa, for fuck's sake. So, that really didn't raise any alarms, 'specially since "Jesse" was pretty goddamned embarrassed about it, the way any real person with fucked parents would be. I've known people who seem to be disaster magnets - I lived with a girl called Laura, and another called Tammy back in the 80s who were precisely that, so that was believable also. The weird life, well, shit, I've had a weird life, which I will not go into here, but suffice it to say that rather than raising any alarms, someone else with a weirder life just made me feel more like a kindred spirit.

And if that shit ain't weird enough, tell me, we have Harlan Ellison, a man whose Love Ain't Nothing But Sex Misspelled was read by me at the tender age of ten, snatched off my mom's bookshelf, which made me a fan fo-evah. Harlan Ellison, the man who bound me to the incredibly talented, funny-as-shit, far-too-opinionated, love-you-till-it-hurts, Macaulay-Culkin-lookalike Joshua Olson. Harlan Ellison, whose books I've toted around the world more than once and now fill two boxes stashed downstairs till I build my bookcase. Harlan Ellison, who has been the significant influence on me for more than three decades, whose work I still quote chapter and verse anytime the situation deems it necessary, which is quite often.

Harlan Ellison, THAT Harlan Ellison, is the fella that breaks it to me about Jesse Jubilee James. Harlan. Ellison. For fuck's sake. Now who has the weird life? Who's surreal now?

So, I can't say I blame anyone who thinks that Josh's article is a piece of internet trickery, or that this blog and the video is all part of the hoax. Would that I was as skeptical two-and-a-half years ago.

But it ain't. It was real. Horribly real.

And so I ask myself again, How could I be so stupid? So gullible? So easily deceived?

It wasn't that easy. But I have no answers for the rest of it.

16 comments:

Soup said...

I think for many people, when they go out onto the Internet, there's this suspension of belief that occurs, especially when one finds something that they really like or want to be true. I had an Internet romance with a girl a few years back, and even though there were so many reasons why it wouldn't work out (age difference, distance, etc), I kept thinking about the relationship and romanticizing it in my head because I wanted it so much to be true and work out with the fairytale ending.

I didn't have the terrible experience of finding out it was fabricated, but I can relate with the feelings of euphoria that are so intense in a way that only Internet romance can cultivate. And just trying to imagine what it must feel like to discover it was based on a lie makes me ache with sympathy.

Anyway, I read the story in LA Weekly (online, natch) and just had to throw out my random words of encouragement and/or commiseration or whatever. You went through hell, and it did not break you. May you one day find that happiness that you seek and truly deserve.

ephemerina said...

Apparently, sez my therapist, my coping tools are hella good. It'd take a lot to break me. I've been through the death, what's a little impersonation compared to that, right?

1970s Abraham Lincoln said...

Hi. I followed the Boing Boing -> LA Weekly -> forwarded it to my girlfriend -> girlfriend Googled "janna st. james" path to get here.

Anyway, it occurred to me that lots of other interlopers may arrive here soon, so why not put one of those Google Adwords blocks on your blog and profit from this woman's newfound misery in the same way that she profited from yours?

You could even do something noble with it. Just a thought.

ephemerina said...

What are these Google Adwords of which you speak? I shall investigate.

Way to go freeing them slaves, Abe!

William said...

Hi! Nice work on the blog. I'm glad to see you are working through things, and delighted that you're doing your best to make sure she can't strike again.

I'm sure you'll get some skepticism for a while. The LA Weekly article has a whiff of fiction, probably just from the habits of a fiction writer. And given how your tale centers around the possibility of internet fakery, you can't blame people for wondering.

But for me I figure the LA Weekly employs some fact checkers. And if you were going to run a hoax, dragging Ellison into it would be a mistake. I can't imagine he'd be supine if you had made this up. And I equally can't imagine him being in on it. So barring some volcanic eruption from him or Internet sleuths, I'm sold.

Regardless, good luck getting on with your life.

Faith said...

Jezuz, I just read your story coming over from another blog. Me being just another random person on the internet, I'm sure my unsolicited advice will be taken with a grain of salt. There is, however, solace in knowing one is not alone.

In 1991, I met a true psychopath on the internet. Spent three years IN PERSON with him before I discovered his double, triple, quadruple lives. As an Ivy educated professional woman, I spent a long time wondering (and in therapy) how I could have been so stupid as to have not seen it from the beginning. Over a decade later, I still don't have an answer, and indeed when I met my husband at a party a few years ago I was suspicious as hell about him for a long time. Thankfully, I've learned to trust someone again.

That's a much better goal than trying to answer the unanswerable.

Best of luck to you.

michele said...

I suspect I was a victim of a story just like this many years ago, when I was new to the internet. To this day, I refuse to research too much because I know what I fill find and I don't want to see in writing what my heart doesn't want to believe.

I understand how this could happen and how you could believe what you did.

You are an incredibly strong person to come through this without falling apart. I wish you happiness.

Bindyree said...

A friend of mine sent me the L.A.W. article along with your blog, because a creepily similar thing happened to me about five years ago. I wish I could count the number of times I talked my impostor out of suicide; the number of times he stopped speaking to me because he would claim he was attempting to medicating himself to death (then golly gee, somebody in the background would burst in and save him) or ... sigh ...the number of times he begged for sexual attention on the phone because Every Other Woman In The World But Me Had Hurt Him So, But I Was The Only One That He Felt Anything With, So Please Listen And Tell Him If He's Doing This Right, And Oh By The Way If You Want To Join In, Please Do.

It was difficult to understand or explain my own level of gullibility as I let this monster unfold and cover me like a huge and very suffocating blanket, but once I did, I got mad and wrote about it -- and since shit does tend to decompose when it's exposed to sunshine, I thought I'd shut *my* motherfucker down.

Then I saw what you went through, and realized that people like my creep are still out there. And there's more than one.

Brava to you for having the courage to write about what happened. Maybe it might help somebody out there. And you go ahead and run with it and mourn what happened and be angry and powerful and ANYTHING else you want to be and feel. YOU DID NOTHING WRONG.

Take care. And if there are any jerks out there who have no conception of what you went through and are going to say stupid stuff like How On Earth Did You Let A Thing Like This Happen... please continue to ignore them.

I wish you continued strength, continued peace of mind, and continued vigilance in what you write about. Thank you for being so brave and honest about what you've been through!!!

Best

Brin-Marie McLaughlin

Laura V said...

Hi. A friend posted a link to the LA Weekly article, and then I Googled and found you. I'm sad to say this is not even the craziest, weirdest emotional vampire/scam artist story I've heard (that would be the whole Jordan Wood/Victoria Bitter situation -- Google *that* for some quality crazy!)

Anyway. What I wanted to say is, it's both harder and easier than people think to end up a victim of these kinds of people. Harder, because it's harder work on their end than normal people would even consider putting into anything like this; easier because there are so many of them out there, and they're so willing to do damage.

Best of luck to you, and to your (real!) friends.

Helen-Louise said...

I've been through something similar myself: J & her dying baby. After being caught out by Munchausen by Internet once, I've made a point of being suspicious and skeptical. Which has meant I've caught a bunch of other fakers mid-fake. I really must update my internetfraud journal with more of the drama I've encountered.

Don't feel stupid for being taken in. It happens. Most of us have at least one romantic bone in our body, and the person's story appeals to that.

I take it you've heard of Kaycee Nicole Swenson? If not, check out Wikipedia & the links on my livejournal.

I wish you healing and peace.

ephemerina said...

william - you are so right about Harlan, he'd be kicking my ass down the block by now if I'd invoked his name without his consent. In fact, when Josh wrote the thing and said he'd change my name, I believe Harlan threatened physical violence if Josh changed his name. faith - I'm with you, and am still optimistic, albeit wary. Glad you found yourself a good man. michele - there are loads of them out there, but you should do the research. There are some that could do worse than Janna. Don't think I don't consider myself lucky to have escaped so lightly. bindyree - nobody can be harder on me than I am on myself, so I don't take to heart other people's comments. Although, in retrospect, this may be what got me in this situation in the first place! laura and helen - I will Google this stuff when I have the stomach for it. Thanks for the names.

Karey said...

It's embarrassing but I fell in love with a guy who claimed to be some secret agent in the British military. Many phone conversations and pictures (and one present) later, I wasn't ever entirely convinced of his occupation but I didn't care. He really got me, you know? Understood me, cared about me blah blah blah.

All I have are pictures of some guy. He's long gone, email dead, etc etc etc.

And sadly, 4 years later, I still miss him.

It happens. All. The. Fucking. Time. There are entire communities on Livejournal devoted to outing fake journals and fake deaths. You wouldn't believe the stuff people do to others who care about them. Well, you probably would. Others would still be shocked.

Georgia said...

Audrey,
I came here by way of a livejournal community I belong to where your story has been linked.
I just wanted you to know that you aren't the only one to have been so 'stupid'. This is a fairly common internet phenomenon, unfortunately. There are some very evil, crazy people out there. There is no sense in beating yourself up about it. We're all naive at some point. I have been in similar ways to yourself. Anyway, I hope you feel better soon and move on from this whole trainwreck. Take care.

ephemerina said...

I'm doing okay, just had a bunch of stuff shaken up again cuz of the article. The snowglobe of my life will settle soon, at least till the movie comes out. Ha ha ha.

berriewine said...

We are deceived in real life as well. Very few people sit down and tell you about all his/her crazy upon first meeting. No, it unfolds over the course of the relationship. Just as this deceit unfolded over the course of their communication. Evolving, suspending disbelief.

Jennifer Emick said...

Berriewine, I think there's some difference between a person's neuroses and inventing an entire fraudulent identity. I've never met a completely fake person in real life...

Helen-louise- you should check out the story of "Pastor Russ" one day...although a relatively minor player, this one's been a pastor, a rabbi, had fatal cancer, you name it.