(A scary story about social media.)
I’d completely forgotten about Myspace. Like, I’d forgotten it even existed. Never mind the fact I used it like a fiend at the peak of its popularity and I had countless photos and messages and connections still there, frozen in time, so anyone could see what a disaster I was in my early 20s. A couple weeks ago, I got an email warning me about some major hack that resulted in tons and tons of accounts being compromised; a compromise so severe that for some people, every shred – every bit – every datum – of their personal information could have been stolen. Then I remembered Myspace.
My early 20s were a bad time for me. I was dealing with a number of undiagnosed mental illnesses. Still, back then, I never thought anything was wrong with me at all; I just figured that’s how I was. I was a sad person. I was a volatile person. Not once did it cross my mind I had legitimate problems for which potential solutions existed. Instead, for years, I bathed in static and lassitude interrupted by bursts of rage and terror.
One thing I was acutely aware of was how miserable I felt. Unfortunately, I had no positive outlets for that feeling. My creativity was nonexistent. I couldn’t write my way out of a bad mood or compose music to take the edge off my self-directed anger. Instead, when things were at their worst, I sought simple, hedonistic escapes. Sometimes it was as innocent and selfish as overeating or staring at porn, but when Myspace came around and a vast social network of people came into view, my methods of escape changed.
A total non-secret but still-unpleasant thing to discuss in polite company is how social networks magnificently facilitate the meetings of damaged people seeking others to help damage them even more. Within a week of figuring out and forming a rudimentary network on Myspace, I’d started looking for kindred spiritless.
Before I could find one, one found me. Bethany. Bethany was unwell. Like me, she was a cutter. Unlike me, Bethany cut her face. And her neck. Her skin bore a lattice of old scars and fresh wounds sprinkled with middle-aged scabs. Her frame was slight and fragile. All her photos were taken from angles to maximize her bones, whether cheek, collar, or hip. Her message was simple: “Can we meet up and talk?”
Her profile said she lived in a town 20 miles away. I had a car, she didn’t. I drove over that night, not knowing what to expect other than probable sex and likely sobbing.
I was right about the former but not about the latter. Bethany was the flattest, most unaffected person I’d ever encountered. The sex itself was brisk and clinical; an emotionless pursuit of mutual, involuntary muscle contractions. Nothing more. Afterward, we talked.
Bethany was the product of two decades of ceaseless, hideous abuse. It began with her stepfather when she was a toddler and continued across multiple relationships before culminating in a suicide attempt and a six-month hospitalization two years before we met. In the space of those post-hospital years, Bethany dedicated herself to the gradual process of self-destruction. “Thanks for the help,” she told me.
It took a lot to surprise me back then, but the matter-of-fact declarations of Bethany’s professed desire for a slow, torturous death took me aback. I stared at the fresh slices right below her hairline that she’d made during her trip to the bathroom after sex. A feeling I can only describe as intense respect and admiration filled me. I produced my pocket knife, opened it, and while Bethany watched, I carved a thin, deep line into the flesh above my right eyebrow.
The cut wept and trickled in a lazy rivulet down the side of my face. For the first time since I’d met her, a tiny smile lifted the edges of the scabs around Bethany’s lips. She leaned forward, and with a gentleness I can only describe as angelic, swept her searing tongue from the base of my neck and into the drooling wound above my eye. Right when the sharp sting hit me, she moved down and slipped her blood-bathed tongue into my mouth.
And that was the first time I met Bethany.
We grew close over the following weeks. When we weren’t together, we were chatting on Myspace. She’d introduced me to a concept of physical intimacy I’d never even considered, let alone desired. But after our first night together, it was all I wanted to think about. It was all I wanted to talk about. And Bethany, for her part, was delighted to indulge me. Anyone reading our chats out of context would think they’d encountered a corrupted file containing meshed conversations between teen romance enthusiasts, gynecologists, and butchers.
By necessity, our physical interactions, while intensely sadomasochistic, were tamer than that which we’d chat about. Months flew while we ratcheted up the intensity of our online discussions and did our best to follow our talk with action in the bedroom. But as time passed, we realized we’d hit a wall.
Neither of us were willing to do severe, lasting damage to each other. We’d cut, we’d burn, we’d bite, we’d dilate; but nothing permanent. Nothing debilitating. And that began to weigh on our relationship. Following a night of spilled and leaked fluids and burned and bruised erogenous zones, Bethany told me what I’d both expected and dreaded. She needed more. I nodded and left.
Five days went by without either of us talking. I’d given up hope and had slipped into the familiar, benthic depths of abject loneliness. The prospect of suicide was a bright, hopeful beacon of relief. On the sixth day, Bethany messaged me. “Please come over one last time.” I was at her doorstep 15 minutes later.
When she let me in, I saw why she’d invited me. A dissonant sensation of arousal, fear, and nausea caused my knees to weaken and I sank heavily onto her bed.
The night we met, when Bethany was telling me about the abuse she’d endured over the course of her life, she’d mentioned how her mother left her stepfather when Bethany was 16 and she hadn’t seen him since. Her mother said he still lived in the same county, but fell headlong into his drug and alcohol addiction following the divorce. And now, back at Bethany’s apartment, I discovered Bethany had lured him there.
He was emaciated and obviously quite sick. While I was surprised Bethany had been able to overpower him and bind his arms and legs, the smell of alcohol on the man made me think he didn’t put up a fight. He probably didn’t even know where he was.
“You know,” Bethany said, looking into my eyes, “we don’t have any pictures of us together on our MySpace accounts. Everyone else in a relationship does. We should too.”
My heart soared. She still wanted to be in a relationship with me.
As the man on the floor groaned and drooled around the sock in his mouth, Bethany sat on my lap in her computer chair and we posed in front of her webcam. We snapped photo after photo, losing our clothing and inhibitions with each shot. My knife split her lower lip and she bit through mine. We kissed with a passion I never knew could be possible, pausing every minute or so to take more pictures. I knew they’d be removed from public view by Myspace, but I didn’t care. We’d still be able to see them privately. We were the only ones who mattered.
We stopped, our chests heaving as we worked to catch our breaths, and Bethany started to caption the pictures. I looked at the man on the floor. Bethany, sensing that my attention had shifted, stopped captioning and followed my gaze. We both stared at the writhing, wretched molester and abuser.
“No one will miss him. No one will look.”
Bethany’s voice melted in my ear like warm tallow. My mind raced through all the online conversations we’d had with one another; fantasies that spliced bedrooms and abattoirs, speculums and chisels, sex organs and offal. The raw savagery of my self-loathing coupled with an intense sense of duty to Bethany. I wanted to show her how much she meant to me.
I dragged the man into the bathtub and opened him while Bethany watched. I unpacked and unfolded that which he contained, feeling the weight and texture of each bit before passing it to Bethany for inspection. She considered every piece with her hands and eyes; the knife travelling over it all in intricate, discerning swirls. The mood was broken only once when the man had a moment of lucidity, was able to free one hand, and tried to pull his parts back inside. I borrowed the knife from Bethany. A moment later, the stepfather never would never try to grab anything again.
Hours passed and Bethany and I reshaped the abuser into a form that was no longer recognizable. No longer threatening. When the last portion was excised, we made quiet love among the debris. Our act was shrouded in peaceful silence broken only by gentle sighs and the sticky coupling and decoupling of our crimson-kissed bodies. I’d never experienced such closeness. When it was over, we drifted into a peaceful sleep.
Once we woke up, we did what we had to do. Following the ten hours it took to clean, remove, and bury the parts where they would never be found, Bethany kissed me goodbye and I returned home.
That night was the peak of our relationship. We attempted to rekindle the passion through our usual, explicit online conversations, recalling moments of that night in detail which, before experiencing the reality of it, would have been more than enough to provoke our mutual desire. The provocation didn’t come. The desire remained unavailable. After another month, we’d stopped talking entirely.
I attempted to contact Bethany a few times later in the year. When she didn’t reply, I did a Google search for her name. There was a short news article saying she’d been found dead in her apartment a couple months after we’d last spoken. It was ruled a suicide. When I found out, I was less devastated than I would have been if it were closer to that night. But I’d sunk into a crippling depression since then. I was on autopilot; if I wasn’t cutting, I was sleeping around. If I wasn’t sleeping around, I was fantasizing about my own death. And there was one more thing. Something entirely different.
While I wasn’t devastated about Bethany’s death, I was still affected. That “one more thing” was the burgeoning prospect that my life could change for the better if I sought help. I didn’t think I deserved it and I didn’t think it could ever work. Still, I knew I’d never have the courage to give myself the death I so desperately desired. So, on a whim, I checked myself into a hospital and said I was a threat to myself. It was funny, because as I said that, I realized it was the first time in as long as I could remember that I actually wasn’t.
It’s been 10 years since Bethany. My life is entirely different, thanks to medication and regular therapy. I’m married and I have a young daughter whom I love more than anything. My scars have faded and my hope for death has been replaced with excitement for the future. And then, a couple weeks ago, I got the email about my Myspace account being hacked.
Why am I writing all this? Because two days later I got an email from some Croatian domain I’d never seen before. It was in broken English, but what it said was clear. It contained my full name, my current address, and the names of my wife and child. It also had the pictures of me and Bethany, along with snippets of the conversations we’d had together. And at one point in those conversations, toward the very end of our relationship, Bethany specifically said we should “go back to Sunflower Point to see what the worms have done to Henry.” Whoever sent the email had a picture of Sunflower Point.
But why am I really writing all this? I don’t expect sympathy. Why would anyone feel sympathy for me – a person who brutally killed a helpless man and has gotten away with it for so long? Because whoever sent that email has a demand if they’re going to stay quiet. And it’s not money. As payment for their silence, they want “that sexy thing all the customers are dying to taste.” Attached right below the demand is a picture of my 3 year-old daughter.