Insomniaville: The Journal

5/22 -- Truth Hits Everybody.

In my junior year of college, I lived in a suite of dorm rooms. One of my neighbors was named Sadie. (I don't have to add "Not Her Real Name (TM)" to the end of that, do I?)

Sadie bothered me. She sent off deafening "weird" vibes from the first day we all moved into Smith. And not "good weird" vibes. I've always liked and been drawn to offbeat people. Hell, I like to think that I'm pretty weird. But I'm not weird the way Sadie was.

artist's conception of Sadie's house pictureSadie tacked up several slick, professional-looking, sophisticated fashion sketches to her bedroom walls and claimed she'd drawn them all. But when our RA brought us crayons and construction paper for a little group bonding project (I know -- yick), Sadie produced your basic gradeschool-level "box-with-a-triangle-on-it" house and a stick 'n' scribble tree. Though I couldn't fathom why anyone would lie about such a stupid and meaningless thing, Sadie couldn't have done the fashion sketches.

And Sadie regarded our rooms as her personal supply closets. Leave your room unlocked and unattended for a few hours and you'd come back to find the food you were saving for dinner gone, and Sadie brushing the last crumbs of it off her jeans -- but hey, weren't those actually your jeans? The clean spiffy ones you'd been planning to wear uptown that night?

Sadie didn't understand that simply wandering into someone's room and taking stuff without asking first was wrong. She thought that as long as she was open about it, nobody should mind. Your Spaghetti-Os were her Spaghetti-Os.

We all started locking our doors. Sadie made me want to lock my door anyhow. Maybe it was the way she'd chew her food with her mouth wide open in our lounge, and then lean over and chomp even louder and smack her lips in your ear if you asked her to stop it. Maybe it was the time she ran into her room during a group Uno game and rushed out with a big pink dildo that she tossed in the middle of the table. (Game over!) Maybe it was the way she'd bray out more than anyone ever wanted to know about her sex life with her boyfriend.

I found Sadie so repulsive on so many levels that I couldn't imagine what kind of a guy could possibly want to see her, much less sleep with her. The boyfriend had to be another lie. He never visited. She never went away to visit him. She had no pictures of him. How strange for two people who were supposedly so very much in love.

And then the boyfriend died. Sadie came back from Christmas break claiming that they'd been driving back from a holiday party when she lost control of the car and slammed into a tree. "He went right out the windshield and died," she said blithely.

"Oh my God ... I'm really sorry to hear that," I said.

"Well, I've moved on," she announced. And that was pretty much that. When she didn't feel like driving somewhere she'd announce that the accident made her way too afraid to drive again (or until she felt like driving somewhere the next week, at which point she'd suddenly recover from her trauma). When another girl in our suite complained about something her guy had done, Sadie snapped "At least your boyfriend's not dead!" Never a word about missing him, or grief that he was gone -- just a few stray comments about how his so-called death affected her, usually as a way to club the rest of us who hadn't suffered such a profound loss into silence.

As certain as I was that Sadie was lying her ass off, I still felt like a cynical, coldhearted bitch for thinking such an unkind thing. I never confronted her. But a few months later, I asked our RA about it during lunch. We'd been having a freewheeling, gossipy conversation and the subject of Sadie came up. I said I'd deny it if my RA ever told anyone I'd asked her this, but ... well ... did she think maybe Sadie could be, um, making that up? And my RA laughed at me.

"Nobody believed she had the boyfriend. Nobody believes he died. But I think it's a good thing that she said he was dead. I think it shows that she got tired of lying about it and just decided to put an end to the lie."

Um. But. Couldn't she have just said that they broke up? Inventing a boyfriend was strange but not really inexcusable in a climate where far too many of the women defined themselves by the men they were seeing. But claiming that he'd died as a way to earn herself attention and sympathy (not that she got much of the latter, granted) struck me as borderline psychotic. Manipulative. Sick.

I can only imagine what kind of fun Sadie's having now if she's got Web access. She can invent any kind of life she wants for herself, and people have even fewer clues to figure her out than we did back in the dorms. She can play on the sympathies of lots of people who don't see her every day to know that the woman lives to lie.

Yes, I've got Miss "Kaycee Nicole" on my mind. I usually pride myself on steering clear of the various controversies and psychodramas that have a way of consuming online journalers and bloggers. But this one reeled me in, dammit.

Stop me if you heard this one: I've known for a while about a journal/blog/whatever written by Kaycee Nicole, a teenage girl gravely ill with leukemia but somehow staying sunny and optimistic in the face of her impending death. It always sounded like an incredible read, but I admit it -- I'm shallow. Stories from a teenager bravely coping with a terminal illness and the end of a brief life are far heavier than I like my online journals to be. I only looked at her page once or twice after seeing it recommended elsewhere.

And last week I read that she'd died and thought "Oh, that's a shame." And then the rumblings started and got louder and louder until the truth came out: Kaycee Nicole never existed. The Web has one less interesting personality and one more ignorant fuckhead. That's the only thing that seems certain as I write this. Someone has confessed to writing the journal, claiming that Kaycee Nicole is some sort of composite of three people she knew who really did die of cancer. The woman created Kaycee so that their stories would be told.

It's impossible to know where the lies stop and the truth begins in a situation like this, and people are still digging. A woman in Kansas supposedly confessed to the hoax -- but is she for real? If so, is she evil or is she mentally ill? Was anyone else in on this? People are posting WHOIS lookups and IP addresses and phone numbers and addresses and real names of anyone who's ever publicly supported "Kaycee" in the past in an effort to unearth the real truth. It's getting pretty ugly, but then again Kaycee's creator pushed a hell of a lot of buttons. A lot of people got their teeth kicked in on this one. Some people went beyond sending her supportive e-mail and IMs -- they sent her gifts. They may have sent her money. And now they're pissed.

I spent a good deal of time this morning plowing through Metafilter (which I just discovered last week) in horrified fascination. Everyone's got an opinion about this whole pathetic mess.

What's mine? I didn't follow the phony journal enough to feel personally taken in by the hoax. I've written extensively about my MS diagnosis, and frankly it pisses me off a little that because of the Kaycee scam, someone might happen by my site and think I'm another attention-seeking liar. It only bothers me a little, though. Unlike "Kaycee's" creator, I didn't write that stuff in order to get attention or sympathy -- I just don't like the idea of being lumped in with the fakers out there.

But maybe the suspicion is necessary.* When I wrote about my diagnosis here, I got lots of kind e-mail (and in a couple of cases, gifts) from readers. Every kind word meant a lot to me. I think about those same people reaching out to a dying teenager and getting their compassion thrown back in their faces. That pisses me off, too. Maybe people need to put up their guard a little more, lock their mental dorm-room doors against the Kaycees and the Sadies out there -- even if it means they treat me with the same skepticism. People have been lying and hoaxing and scamming each other since time immemorial. The anonymity of the Web and the possibility of reaching a wider audience just makes it that much easier.

*Added 5/24: It strikes me that the line "Maybe the suspicion is necessary" might be the single most unintelligent and obvious thing I've ever written here. And because several people apparently corresponded with "Kaycee" regularly by phone as well as by e-mail, regular old paper mail, and IMs, I don't think that a lack of healthy skepticism was the culprit for everyone who got suckered. Hell, I've forged friendly relationships with people on Crunchland and elsewhere on the basis of far less contact than that.

See, this is why I really try not to comment on the various tempests of the online journaling community. I post my two cents, I read it the next day, and I immediately want to start editing. "Shit! That's not what I meant to say! It came out totally wrong!" Especially when new information comes out or the situation changes dramatically.

And I wanted to add something else I don't think came across in the initial entry. I'm genuinely sorry for the people who got flim-flammed. The person or people posing as "Kaycee" did a miserable thing -- I don't give a damn what the reason was or what personal problems might be behind it all. It wasn't funny. It wasn't cool. This was wrong. Period.

Okay. I think that's it. Really.

A few stories about famous hoaxers who pre-dated the Web:

Kaycee Nicole, welcome to "Jimmy's World."

Meet Rosie Ruiz. (I have to admit that I find this story kind of funny.)

George Dupre was someone else who tried to claim that even if he lied and duped a lot of trusting people, the importance of his message somehow made it all okay. Ugh.

And this book is just a great read.

Indulging my inner hit slut

(Clix for your thoughts?)

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