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As I was preparing for the last week of College Writing, I found myself reflecting on what we’ve been exploring this term: How regular writing—even if it’s not long, or even directly related to a single subject—can capture the essence of experience. Joan Didion calls it “keeping in touch with our past selves.” I call it a survival kit. Let me explain.

Almost exactly a month ago I got a “friend” request on my Facebook page. It was from a gray-haire but otherwise beautifully preserved man who called himself “David,” which, in the reality of internet security, I understood to mean that his name might or might not actually BE “David.” I don’t judge; I am known in some internet circles as “Bodie Parkhurst.” I have a friend who goes by “Shamala.” This is common practice. But I digress. 

Unlike many of the men from whom I get “friend” requests, David wasn’t a three-star general, a Nigerian prince, nor even a doctor with Doctors Without Borders. He said he was a marine engineer. Given a steady diet of generals, princes, and philanthropists I was understandably eager to learn more, but David proved surprising coy. “I don’t want to talk about work,” he said. “I talk to you to escape from work.”

I thought about that, and wondered if I wanted to be anybody’s “escape” from life, but I didn’t worry too much about it. After all, I had a good friend in law enforcement who once told me that she told people I was her “Bohemian” friend, because I lived below a tattoo parlor and designed things on the computer rather than going to a regular office job. Maybe being trapped on a ship doing machiny and engineers things got old for David. Who was I to criticize?

In the beginning most of our conversations were of the, “Hi, how are you/Fine, I’m just headed out the door/Okay, have a good day” variety. David was invariably polite and supportive of my busy schedule. He never implored me to switch to What’s App, which seems to be the generals’, princes’, and surgeons’ platform of choice. He never became angry when I couldn’t or didn’t respond immediately. In internet friendships on my page, this counts for quite a bit. But then a few weeks in things started to shift. Maybe David caught me on a good day or maybe the long series of tiny polite exchanges just gradually evolved, but one evening I was somewhat startled to discover myself in a real conversation with David.

We talked about his daughter. We talked about my son. We were suitably guarded and respectful, but it felt real. And then one day David said it: “I’d really like to meet you. I feel like I’m developing feelings for you.”

Well. I am not a person for whom men readily develop feelings, particularly on such a scanty basis. I’m more the “wear them down and then pounce in a weak moment” kind of person. When David said he had feelings for me, it took me by surprise. What surprised me most of all was that I wasn’t terrified. Something in my brain woke up and said, “This is the point where you’re usually scared spitless. Why do you just feel good about this?” A part of me worried that maybe I SHOULD be scared, but the larger part felt a little bit proud. Maybe the thirty years of therapy were finally paying off! Maybe at last I was figuring out how to be comfortable with being courted? Maybe I could learn not to laugh at romantic overtures? Maybe I was finally learning how to be normal?

So I took pride in my lack of fear, and chatted happily back. David talked more and more about his feelings. I took some time to reflect on my own. I didn’t love David, but I thought that maybe, once his current contract ran out, it would be nice to meet and see what, if anything, developed. As I have said, I’m not the sort of person who provokes amorous intent in available men, so I was prepared for David to retreat hastily to friendship upon meeting me in person. Still, though, it was nice to think that someone found me worth pursuing. Someone said I was beautiful. Someone enjoyed my conversation, even if he was strangely leery about offering details about himself.

And so it went. Until David’s birthday came up. “I have a small favor to ask of you,” he wrote. “I need you to buy $500 of Steam cards and send me the numbers. I need them for my phone. I’d like to do a video chat on my birthday.

“I’d like to help,” I chatted back, “but I’m not made of money, and $500 is a lot for me. Also, isn’t Steam just for gaming?”

“I use the software on my phone,” he responded, somewhat ambiguously. Still, though, we had been talking for a month. He had feelings for me. More, he made me feel beautiful. “If the money’s a concern I’ll send you my banking information and you can transfer the money out of my account into yours.”

I breathed a sigh of relief. “Okay,” I said. “Let me get home.”

At home I told my son what was happening. My son is the tech savvy member of our household. Also, my son had not been chatting with David, so he tended to see things a bit differently. “This sounds scammy, Mom,” he said. “Why does he want Steam cards? You can only use them in gaming. They won’t help with his phone.”

“He says he uses them to run the video chat software on his phone.”

“How long is he planning on chatting?” my son asked, and he asked it with a certain tone. At least I thought I heard a tone.

“He’s going to be at sea for another couple months,” I answered.  “And he’s not asking me to front the money; he’s given me access to his account.”

“He gave YOU access to HIS account?” my son asked. 

“Yes, so I can transfer the money.” I clicked into his bank account. Lines wiggled. Bar graphs shot up. It looked far more creative than what I was expecting. Also, the spelling on some of the terms was creative, to put it mildly. Maybe it’s a bank from a non-English-speaking country, I decided. Maybe this is badly translated.

“Call your bank,” my son insisted. “This sounds like a scam. Listen…” and he started reading from some site discussing scams and Steam cards. 

“But David’s not asking me to spend my own money. He wants me to transfer the funds to my account and then buy the cards. How could he be scamming me?” I asked. And I defiantly pushed the button. 

“Call your bank,” my son said again. “Ask what they think. This sounds like a scam to me.”

Every time he said “scam” I found myself getting more and more irritated. Finally I offered a compromise. “I’ll call the bank. Whatever they suggest, I’ll do.” 

This would probably have been easier to say if I hadn’t just spent the last couple weeks congratulating myself on having moved past my fear of intimacy to the point where I could feel good about chatting with David.

You probably know how this story ends. The bank called back. “We’re locking your account, closing it, and opening you up a new one. This is a scam. When you put in the money transfer information they have your banking information. They get you to give the Steam card numbers, then they reverse the transaction. Sometimes they empty  your account.”

I felt heartsick. David had been my friend, or at least I thought he was. Worse, I had had all the old messages from my childhood, that romance wasn’t for me, that people wouldn’t care for me for myself, and that I was only worth duping, reaffirmed. Suddenly I was right back at the “self” I had been in the bad old days. I felt worthless. I felt stupid. I felt embarrassed. I felt ashamed.

How had I, veteran kicker-to-the-curb of three-star generals, Nigerian princes, and philanthropic doctors, been fooled? How had David slipped past my defenses? And then it occurred to me: I could know exactly how it happened. I had our chat. 

And so I went back and started reading, analytically this time. I noticed how often David evaded responding to questions about himself. I noticed how his language challenges—he said he was Norwegian—ebbed and flowed. I noticed how often the details he offered reflected details about myself that I had previously offered. 

And then it hit me: David had provided me a framework—a few chats and a few pictures—and I had constructed a person. And then I had decided that person was my friend. I had participated in my own scamming.

The people who know about this all said I should block David, but there was still a part of me that hoped for some explanation—even as the smarter part of myself recognized that the most overwhelming possibility was exactly what appeared to be the case: David wasn’t David at all. He was probably some kid seeking out vulnerable people online, and then scamming them.

David and I had a final conversation. I told him that what had really tipped the balance for me was the long list of evasions. When the time came that I really, really needed to trust him, there simply was nothing there to trust. He responded sarcastically, telling me he had been “straight” with me, and answered every question.

I sent him a list of all the questions I had asked, questions he had carefully slid around before charging off on another conversational tack. 

“That’s what you’re basing this on?” he asked. “Those are details.”

And then he informed me—in perfect English, yet, that I was the “sketchy” one, and that he would never trust me after the “stunt” I had pulled. 

“I googled your bank,” I said. “I couldn’t find it.”

He shot me back a screen capture. “Here’s the bank you “googled,” he said. “Click the link.”

I read the name of the bank, went into my search engine, and entered the name. “The bank’s name is different,” I told him. And it was. The screen background was the same. The client information box style was the same, but the bank’s name and logo was completely, completely, different.

“There were a lot of misspellings on your account page,” I typed.

“Probably because you were making an unauthorized transfer,” he shot back, conveniently bypassing the fact that he had instigated the whole thing and had, in fact, pressured me to transfer the money.

“People who have seven-figure bank accounts don’t need random people on the internet to buy Steam cards so they can use their phones,” I finally said.

And that was when he told me that I had been a waste of time, and that I had “trust issues.”

I thought about that. “In this case, you’re right,” I finally typed. And then I blocked him.

***

So what is the meaning of this? Why am I writing about this? Because tonight I found myself thinking that the record of our conversations—a kind of journal, certainly a kind of notebook—I had kept had, combined with my son’s sharp eye and persistence, had first, saved me from quite possibly devastating financial loss. More important, though, they showed me what it meant to be me in this last month—and what it meant to be David. In the end, that chat has shown me that I don’t know myself as well as I think I do. When I look at that I see a woman who is not as ready to give up on the idea of love as she has thought. I’ve seen a woman so entranced by the idea of being thought beautiful and valuable that she was willing to risk far too much to perpetuate the illusion. But it also shows me a woman who, once she has a place to start, can analyze, evaluate, and learn from an experience, no matter how embarrassing. Finally, I see a woman who, while she might be embarrassed, refuses to be ashamed. She speaks up. She tells her story—even if she doesn’t look particularly good in it. She owns her truth. 

The truth is that David was a scammer. But I helped. And in looking at HOW I helped, I am learning a lot about who I am, and who I want to be.

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