Thursday, 10 July 2014

I Was Catfished By My Best Friend

real catfish story, quotes image, sea image, beach image, catfish image
*Names have been changed to protect identities. Despite everything I'm not going to name and shame someone because of their past mistakes. This isn't to smear her identity, but to share a lesson. If you are this person, I ask that you don't read this blog because it's going to open old wounds. Ignorance is a kindness.

A year ago, something happened. I never wrote about it because I never felt capable of telling the story. But the more I see that people are playing masquerade and acting the jester, the more I feel that I have to share it. 

This isn't your typical Catfish. In some ways, I guess the whole story started online. But I knew this person. Rebecca* was my friend throughout school since 2001, and when I left school for homeschooling in 2005 we stayed in contact. I suppose we drifted for a couple of years, with the occasional conversation and visitation. But it wasn't the same.

We were each other's confidantes, and we were practically the same person.We loved the same things, and we often said things too eerily similar. Often, I wonder if parts of my own personality were neatly extracted to fit perfectly into her own.

When I ended my first doomed relationship in 2008 she was automatically there for me, and we kept in touch online and through social media. That's where the story really starts, because that's when her life changed. 

Rebecca had a long term boyfriend, Adam*. Their relationship was riddled with complexities and the common mistakes of youth. She would always take him back, except when she found him addicted to drugs. Then she went to university and by the time I arrived at the same university a year later, he had found his way back into her life. She lived two streets away from me, but I never saw them together. I never even saw a picture. I didn't really think about it, because some people are more private than others.

Still, I couldn't shake the feeling that no one knew him.

She told me her housemate at the time, Alexandra*,  was jealous of her relationship and asked her why "do you have a black boyfriend?"  She told me how she argued with her over her unashamed racism. She also told me Adam was clean and reformed, and moving to Cardiff Bay. 

After Rebecca's graduation, she went on holiday with Alexandra. Soon after, they aborted their friendship. Alexandra also removed me from Facebook, but I guessed because we were never really friendly towards one another. Now I wonder if she thought I was part of a bigger story.

She would namedrop people we knew, as if to authenticate her stories and prove his existence. When she worked for my parents she would tell us she was leaving to drive back to Cardiff Bay to go to his work party at the casino. This was believable, as she would have been going home to her parents in that area anyway.

"How could you not know she did this? Maybe, you didn't want to know."

I tried to unsee the shreds of information that I had exposed myself to. I knew she hadn't Skyped, iMessaged or called him. We travelled frequently together, went to concerts together, shared hotel rooms and my bedroom at home when my parents gave her a job for 3 months. There was always an opportunity for me to check her interaction with him, despite my gut telling me I shouldn't. There was no history in her phone of him, no electronic or physical trace of him was found. No matter how hard I investigated, I couldn't find anything. No one wants to think that their best friend fabricated an entire life for 6 years out of a 10 year friendship, and even when you pry for details, the information is so dense and solid that you can't unravel the falsities.

"How could you not know?" Maybe, I ignored my gut.

It came down to when she said he had a drug addiction. Or when she said his mother died of cancer, and she had to attend the wake after her graduation ceremony in 2011. It came down to when she told me she was pregnant, and I shrugged it off and told her "You're fine." We were waiting to see Perks of Being a Wallflower at the time, and I cried at the end. Two days later she told me she had a miscarriage in his shower, and was taken to A&E after Adam found her unconscious in their bathroom. 

She blamed me when I wasn't there in person, because I worked all the time. She told me her mother blamed me for not being there. She told me he had fostered her niece because her half sister was an unfit mother. I felt consumed with guilt over my lack of physical presence while she went through these traumatic changes, and I couldn't make it any better.

These were intricate details, and I will admit they were impressive. How would you even keep track of these things? It's possible that some lies were half truths, elaborated and exaggerated for my own benefit.

But of course, I was unaware of any of this. The truth was only exposed when I handed the situation over to my parents, because I couldn't deal with her anymore. You could blame me, and say I turned my back on her in that moment. But for over 10 years, I hadn't. I had spent hours discussing these issues and events that never even happened, and my history in my old BlackBerry clarified how many lies had actually been told.

We were going on holiday together, and I couldn't afford it. I told her so while we had one of our coffee dates in Starbucks, but she told me there was no point cancelling so we had to go. I was so poor I couldn't eat anything other than toast for months, and I couldn't pay my bills even though I worked all the time. Student debt had crippled me, and the minimum wage had stagnated my finances.

So I paid Rebecca back, gradually. When she booked it, she told me Adam was booking it because she refused to go away with him until she went with me. She told me he had the money, and I could pay it whenever I felt I could. I had paid half of what I owed, but money was desperately low. I was moving from my house because our time was up, and I needed money elsewhere. The interesting part was, I was paying her parents and not Adam. She told me her father had felt so guilty that he had paid Adam's credit card bill, and so I now owed him the money.

While we were away, she was in a constant hybrid state of confusion and curiosity over who I was texting or emailing. Looking back, I see that there wasn't anything healthy about it. Because this was the same reaction she had whenever I would go out with a new friend. It was an unquenched thirst for details on what I was doing, and that unsettled me. 

Last July, I had a message. She told me Adam had left her but said that I wouldn't know that, because I wasn't there and that "even Alexandra has checked on me". Even though they rarely spoke. She demanded answers as to how I was moving, and I told her my boyfriend was taking care of it. Which was true. The thing is that I had no idea how she knew exactly where I was moving to, when I had only told a handful of people. I knew for a fact I had covered my tracks, and I knew no one had told her. I handed the situation over to my mother, who then dealt with it.
catfish mtv image
Source: MTV

During a heated conversation with her mother, my mum discovered that her parents had no idea who Adam was. Now, if you had paid off someone's credit card for a holiday for your daughter and her friend, wouldn't you know who he was? She told my mother I had always owed her the money, no one else.

Instantly, we were all removed from her Twitter. Her Twitter was the only place where she would share details of her relationship with Adam, so she ensured I would now have no proof. I can't say that she never had a boyfriend, or never had some of these things happen. But I can say that an entirely different life was created. She made a great storyteller, and I couldn't even see it.

Eventually, a notice before action letter arrived at my parents' house last November. It went there because my current address was unknown, a calculated move on my part. My parents wrote back, and repeated her whole story and web of lies to her own family. A month went by, and no action was taken, because we had offered to pay in installments. It wasn't that I was trying to cheat her out of her money, but I had been trapped into the situation and I wanted more time to pay my debts. She eventually wrote a letter, addressed to me. But she didn't mention any of the Adam issues that we raised. I never wrote back.

To say I was angry would be expected, but it's irrelevant. I was shocked, and slowed down by surprise. The anger came in waves, but not that bitter kind that you naturally feel when you are wronged. A sad angry that it had come to this, after so many years. Whose fault was it? Did I enable it? Did I ask for it? I refused to believe it for a long time, but I did remove her from all social media. We weren't going to get anything more from each other, and we had served our purpose.

We haven't spoken. That doesn't mean I don't know she's there. I know she reads this blog, and I can't stop her. I know she started following my friends (who she couldn't possibly know) on social media, and I know she probably keeps an eye out. 

As for me, it's like that feeling when you're walking home alone at night. You know no one's there, but you can't shake the nagging feeling that there are eyes watching you, reporting you, waiting for you. It's that instinct you feel when you know someone has your name on their lips. I still feel it, like a haunting.

I never got given an explanation. I did get a "I'm sorry it all ended up this way." But nothing more. 

The occasional scary thing will occur online, but I can't necessarily pin that to one person. I wonder if coincidences exist online? Maybe, but it is a transparent example of the flip side of sharing an uncensored life online through blogging and social media. I wondered if I was feeding a beast, and if I was doing more harm than good by sharing so much of my life on the internet.

I don't know what she told others, probably that it came down to the money. Probably that I cheated her, or maybe she told them nothing at all. I can't make assumptions, because I've learned my assumptions are underestimated guesses.

Maybe there was an underlying issue, and I hope that no matter what it was that she found it got resolved. 

I hope when her parents found out, that they gave her help. I hope she was given the aid she desperately needed to confront her own life, instead of creating another. I hope there are no more false impressions, and I hope she can live one life instead of two.

There are of course, two sides to every story. I'm sure hers would explain a lot, but I never got given it. So this is all I have. In an effort to be balanced, I will say that she is not malicious in nature but that she was capable of trickery that I never considered. She was not vicious, but she was smart. Maybe smarter than I was.

The trouble with the truth, is that it gives you a brand new beginning. But only after it's cut you a brand new ending. I hope she's found solace, and honesty. I hope her next best friend gets and gives the friendship they deserve. But I hope we never cross paths again.