Longtime visitors here might remember a 2015 Christmas-time visit we had from a new friend from Charlotte, North Carolina. I’ll call him E.
I met E. when he hired me via Voices.com to record the phone system for his company. He was a photographer and event planner. I recorded the job, got paid, and E. kept contacting me with questions, comments and compliments about my voice-work. We’d end up visiting. He asked me for – and paid me for – an update when a new staff member joined the company.
One day, FedEx dropped off a package. It was a set of Bose headphones from E. I emailed to say thank- you and kindly ask why he was sending me this gift. “I consider you part of my team now”, he said. “I buy something special for everyone once a quarter. This one’s for you.” My tummy tingled with discomfort. Something felt off. It was too much too soon. I kept waiting for the Amway pitch but it never came.
We chatted here and there, via phone or Facebook. He had been an airline pilot, he said, who was injured during turbulence. He was fighting with the airline for continued medical coverage. He told me about various weddings he’d shot as a photographer. He ran ideas past me. When I mentioned that I was thinking about updating my website, he offered to do the work for nothing. He was self-taught in tech stuff and web design. I let him do it and he handed me the “keys” and taught me how to manage it myself. (Much of the bones of what you see here were done by him.) He loved to teach, he said, and used to conduct training for the airline before he was hurt. He had been a copilot on 9-11 and was grounded in Gander. He’ll never forget the generosity of the people of Newfoundland. He wanted to go back one day and find a few specific people he remembered.
A couple of months later, another package arrived. It was an iPad Mini. “This is too much”, I said. “Really, you don’t need to do any of this.” “Nonsense”, he said. “Business is great and I want to share the wealth.” He purchased Adobe Creative Cloud and had no use for the audio software, so he gave it to me. It was the latest version of Adobe Audition that would have normally cost me a subscription fee – free.
One day he called from his car. “I’ve got some bad news. I have prostate cancer. They caught it early but I’ll be undergoing treatments so I won’t be chatting as much. But I’ll keep you updated.” More than once, he called on his way to or from a treatment.
He and his husband, a flight attendant, had dogs that they doted on. Sometimes we face-timed and I’d talk to the dogs and we’d laugh. He was fun and funny. He told me about growing up in a wealthy family. He showed me photos of their family home, long ago sold. Another time he called, extremely upset. His car had been broken into while he was at Temple, and his $800 camera, stolen. “I’m just glad I didn’t have my good one with me but still… assholes!”
He sent me codes Derek and I could use for flight discounts within the year, on the airline he worked for. Seemingly out of the blue one day he asked,”Can I come visit you?” He got free trips from the airline and wanted to use one to come see us while his partner was on a long-haul flight overseas. I talked to Derek about it. This was a fast friendship and still felt a little odd but E. had been nothing but generous and kind. “Sure”, I replied and he came on a weekend close to Christmas, landed in Toronto and rented a car to drive to London.
I bought him Canadian moose PJs that were waiting on the bed when he arrived. He brought us a bunch of cat-themed stuff as a joke, because I had mentioned I didn’t want a house full of cat stuff. He gave me a Grumpy Cat t-shirt which I still love and wear. We nearly lit the canvas over the fireplace on fire when the little menorah he brought for Hanukkah suddenly shot up in flames. Wax flew everywhere and I doused it with a glass of water. It was pretty hilarious, once the threat of a house fire had passed.
We took him to see the beautiful lights in Victoria Park. Derek had to work on Saturday but E. and I had lunch downtown and I remember a moment when he got really quiet and I felt that something was coming. It seemed as if he was working up the courage to tell me something important, but the moment passed. We carried on. He was a respectful house guest and there was a lot of laughter.
After he went home, our communication continued for a few weeks and then suddenly it stopped. He didn’t respond to emails or texts. I called him. Nothing. Several weeks later he called, and through tears he told me he’d been in a psychiatric ward because he had attempted suicide. He was fighting back from the brink after being a coma for several days. I was stunned. Suicide? Had something happened? What was going on? “It’s not the first time I tried”, he confessed.
Later, after telling me he got a settlement from the airline for his injury, he decided to take courses to become a realtor. He passed them and proudly showed me his photo on a real estate company’s website and sent me a link to his first listing.
After that, communication was sporadic. He disappeared again and I wondered if he had tried again to kill himself but was successful this time. Then I got a message from his now-estranged husband. He wanted to contact me earlier, he said, and felt guilty that he hadn’t done it. But now he felt he needed to tell me the whole story. He warned me to brace myself.
E. was in jail and it wasn’t the first time. He sent me the mugshots and copies of the warrants for his arrest. E. was never a pilot. He was a flight attendant with a poor record as an employee. Never landed in Gander. Wasn’t really Jewish. Didn’t have a photography and event planning company. All of those names I read for the telephone system – press one for this person – made up. He stole the prayer shawl from the local Temple. The realtor stuff was true but it “didn’t work out” so he took a part-time job at Home Depot and stole a Dyson vacuum and a bunch of other valuable stuff, bringing it home and telling his husband that he either won an incentive prize or got a massive employee discount. Insurance fraud – several times claimed expensive cameras had been stolen. The headphones and iPad? Purchased with other peoples’ credit cards or stolen. No wealthy upbringing and no idea where the photo of the waterfront “family” home came from. In fact, he stole money from a trust-fund baby he once dated. Didn’t have prostate cancer. Just a massive web of lies. The only truth: the suicide attempts.
The mixture of sadness and anger that developed was something I’d never known. Sad for his obvious mental health issues. Feeling stupid for being duped as these falsehoods were revealed little by little over a couple of years. Grateful that I wasn’t one of the people whose money he stole. And then I wondered, why wasn’t I? Why didn’t he try to defraud or rob me?
But he did rob me and my currency was just as valuable as money, if not more. He needed someone like me to believe what he told me, perhaps like a test-subject before he unleashed his lies on the greater world. I became part of his web, his “friend in Canada” and who knows what lies he told others about me. You read about people like this who pretend to be one thing but are another and you wonder how they get away with it. Charm. The gifts didn’t matter. I was always on guard for him to ask me for money and he never did. The asset he wanted was my trust.
My impulse was to try to save him, to talk sense in to him, to hear the teary confession and apologies. Instead, I blocked him on social media and deleted his contact info. I wished him no harm, but I wouldn’t play my role anymore. Later, out of jail, he emailed to ask what he had done to deserve being blocked and I told him everything I knew. I didn’t want him to harm himself but I couldn’t be part of this game anymore. I never heard from him again.
Less than a year later, E’s ex contacted me gain. E. had died of a massive heart attack. He was living with the ex, who had made a deal with him: get a legitimate job, and you can stay here. E. had nowhere else to go. He had alienated or stole from everyone else. He was working and doing what he could to keep up his end of the deal. It’s not easy to get hired when you have a rap sheet for stealing from employers. When I cut off contact, I hoped he wouldn’t die young. He was only in his mid-30s. So I really wasn’t surprised that he died, only by how it happened.
Thinking about E. gives me a weird sense of having dodged a bullet, and having been so close to someone who was so deceptive. And it makes me sad that he didn’t get the chance to really turn his life around. He was so sick and he never got the help he needed to get well.