My darling General;
I know you don’t like it when I call you that, but sometimes I can’t help myself. When I see you all dressed up in your “uniform”, or I look at your photo – so very handsome, even distinguished with your greying hair – I just think of you as a general, in command of all before you.
This letter is by way of an apology. I want to explain why I defied your wishes and went back to social media. I was not “teasing” those men, and I didn’t mean to cause any trouble. It was all totally innocent, despite how things turned out with Barry-from-England.
Whatever happened, I want you to know that you are the only person in my life, and you will always be the only person in my life. Just because I sometimes crave contact with other people, doesn’t imply that you are somehow isolating me from the rest of the world. You’re not. I know that. Everything that has happened to me, and all of the restrictions on what I can do or say, or where I can go, are all in my best interests. I am absolutely clear about that. They aren’t even such difficult restrictions. I have a great deal of freedom, and for that I’m truly and perpetually thankful.
The first time I put up a profile on that website, I will admit that I made mistakes. You were right to be stern with me. Looking back now at what I did, I certainly made it look like I was some loose girl, looking for illicit relationships with men. You know that’s not what I was trying to do, but I can see that is what happened. It was very reasonable for you to insist that I shut my profile down, although I still think that banning me from using the internet for those two months was cruel and unusual punishment. Too much punishment, I think, for an honest mistake.
How could I have known, though, that so many men that don’t even know me would somehow be attracted to a forty-five year old girl? I am not beautiful. It’s true that I like to dress in the many lovely clothes you buy me, but surely any man could see that it is nothing but dressing up a pig. No-one thinks I am actually beautiful, not when I was younger, and not now, all grown up.
Yes, I have heard you many times say that the pretty clothes you bring me are for a pretty woman, but I don’t really believe you. Yes, your warnings that boys – men, really – will see me as attractive have not reached deaf ears. But…you love me. Naturally, you are blind.
Even with all that, I will admit that I learned a lot from that first profile I posted. I would never want to repeat that experience, with all those men wanting to be my “friends”, and some of them saying things that a boy should not say to a girl, no matter how well he knows her. Would they have said those things to me if they really knew me, if they knew that I am still a virgin? (Well, almost.)
Maybe I should have spoken to you before I put up the new profile, but I was very careful. I didn’t make all those same mistakes. The profile was clear that I didn’t want a boyfriend, just people to talk to. Whenever men contacted me with private messages, I was blunt that they should not see me as girlfriend material. I told them I was simply not available. I couldn’t have been clearer.
You saw. When we had the disagreement, that profile was more than two years old, but I had only five “friends”. Each person who showed any interest in romance, or sex, or anything other than friendship, was absolutely disqualified from being a friend.
Even Barry-from-England, who was so innocent himself, and had a girlfriend who could see everything he did on social media, learned quickly that he had to be careful. Early on, he sent me a message saying I looked beautiful in my photos. I liked to hear that, but just the same I immediately de-friended him. (Is that a word?) It was months before I was willing to add him as a friend again. He had learned his lesson. Talk to me like a friend, and I’m OK. Talk to me like a woman, and sayonara.
I realize I posted those hundreds of pictures of me in many beautiful outfits. Perhaps some men thought of that as something like advertising, despite what I said about my interests. Still, you took those photos. All of them. Was there something prurient in your mind when you took them? I sincerely doubt that. Both your profession, and our relationship, say that is not really possible. Besides, you’re too old to have thoughts like that. Aren’t you?
Albert-the-pilot said, in one of his first private messages, that he thought I was a model. When I laughed it off – a model, with my face? – he said being a model is about style and grace. I liked that so much. It felt good that someone would say that, to me of all people. Sure, maybe he was just trying to make me feel good. I understand that sometimes happens. But if that was the intent, it worked. I felt good.
After that comment, I spent almost a full day in my room, looking at my magazine collection and trying to see whether the models had beautiful faces, or not. Many do, but not all of them. Some of them are just unusual. Like me. He could have been telling the truth. It is not ridiculous.
Getting compliments wasn’t my reason for the profile. I think you probably realize that. I just wanted to talk to some people. That’s why I had an entire photo album devoted to my crafts. I felt that would allow people to talk to me about “stuff”, rather than the sort of talk between a man and a woman that I didn’t want. When people believe your purpose in being there is to sell your art, they will talk to you as a person, instead of just as a member of the opposite sex.
I don’t know why no-one ended up buying any of my crafts. Some of it – the jewelry, especially – was pretty good, if I do say so myself. Perhaps I priced it too high, but what do I know about pricing things? I just make it in the workshop. Surely $10,000 for a fine necklace of semi-precious stones is not unreasonable? All I got was men wanting to meet me to talk about it, which I am smart enough to realize is not the same as actual interest in my work.
The other thing is that, when I saw that they were only interested in me, and not in my art, I reduced the number of photos of me on my profile. Most of the time, if there were a hundred pictures, ninety were of my work, and only ten were of me. I rotated the pictures of me, keeping each one up for only a few days. I know you think of that as teasing, but all I was really trying to do is make my profile not about what I look like, and keep the focus instead on contact with me as a person. I would have really loved to post all of the photos of me at the same time, but I didn’t want all those men to get the wrong idea.
I even had a photo of you and I together, with you looking completely dashing in your formal business suit.
How could I possibly know that Barry-from-England was downloading all of those photos, creating a gallery of his own that grew to hundreds of pictures of me? Why would he do that? That was quite unusual, you’d have to admit. I couldn’t have foreseen that.
OK, OK, I get your point – you repeated it again in your last email – that everyone who contacted me, or wanted to be friends, or even looked at my profile, was a man in his forties, or older. Some of them were older than you.
No other girls, that’s true, but I didn’t really see that as a problem. Would you prefer that I be stalked by lesbians than that I have intelligent conversations with successful and interesting men? Anyway, I’m surrounded by women every day, with no men to talk to except for you. For my life to be well-rounded, some contact with other men seems to me to be essential. I am not a nun.
I have absolutely not forgotten what happened thirty-two years ago. As I’ve told you many times, it is seared in my brain, how he loomed over me like a monster, his foul-smelling cologne, his rough skin. It is vivid to me still, the physical pain, and the fear, and the overwhelming sense of betrayal. The look on your face when you learned what had happened – shock, anger, sadness, guilt – is burned into my heart, and I see it in the wrinkles around your eyes even today.
I may be slow – “challenged”, as they say so politely – but I still know what happened, and I think I’ve dealt with it pretty well, all things considered. I still think of myself as a virgin, because that time doesn’t count. Not to me. Not ever. Maybe I will never have a chance in my life to really lose my virginity, particularly now at my age, but there is no way anyone can make me count that time. That wasn’t me. That was him. He did something. I did nothing.
In some ways, I think what happened then changed you more than me. Somehow you thought it was your fault – how silly! – and that made you change your life. You were a rising star in business, but you threw that all away and turned to religion. For what? To protect me better? (Funny, though. Even after you took on your new calling, you have been successful, maybe more so in the collar than in business. That’s why I think of you as the general. Completely in command.)
So I have not in any way forgotten the past. It lives within me, but I will not let it convince me that all men are bad, like that one was. All men will not take advantage of my weakness, my disability. All men will not see me solely as a sexual object. I still believe that men are people.
I know you think me naïve, but look at the results. Did any of the men I communicated with on the internet say or do anything bad? You saw the messages, the posts, the comments. Sure, some of them reacted to me like a woman, but all of them were respectful and dignified. They didn’t even know my real secret, my “mental age”, the reason I need protection. They just treated me properly. Nothing wrong with that.
Even when the nurses here saw my messages from Antoine-with-the-cape, and reported it to you, they saw nothing shameful. Antoine-with-the-cape, despite his dramatic photos and macho pretensions, was completely nice. He never once included even a hint of anything bad. His compliments were just that, compliments. Respectful compliments.
Honestly, the way things were going, there was no problem. I had been talking to men on the internet for two years, and everything was fine. The real problem came when you forced me to shut down that profile. That was a mistake, as we both saw.
I said some things to you then that I regret. I was acting childish, speaking in ways that you did not deserve. Although I disagreed with your decision, and I still today think it was the wrong decision, it was your decision to make. I should have been calmer, more rational, in discussing it with you. Maybe if I had been more mature in my reaction, we could have reached a better result.
That doesn’t mean I’m blaming you about Barry-from-England. He was one of those people who try to save others. I’m sure as a child he tried to save the baby bird with a broken wing, and took home the stray puppy. But you couldn’t know that, and you certainly couldn’t know that he – or any of my internet friends, for that matter – would be concerned when, without warning, I suddenly dropped out of sight.
Remember, I was very careful not to give my real identity, or where I live (other than the city), or anything else that would allow someone to find me. I am slow, but not stupid. I learned from the first time, and there was nothing, I thought, that could allow anyone to track me down.
Give him credit. Identifying the backgrounds in the many photos of me could not have been easy, given they were scattered around a city of 250,000 people. How he identified the public buildings from narrow views of corners and fields is really quite smart.
Also, keep in mind that he was not trying to do anything wrong, or evil. He was worried. In his mind he was trying to save me. As you must realize, he doesn’t have a lot of money, yet he took time off work, flew from England to Canada, rented a car, and drove for hours to get here. When he got here, he didn’t have any idea how he would find me. He was just going to try. I can’t imagine what his girlfriend thought when he told her he was jumping on a plane to “save” a woman whose name he didn’t even know.
I don’t even think the confrontation on the lawn was his fault. You saw from the pictures in his hand, he was just seeing if he could match backgrounds to real buildings. He didn’t know that he was on the grounds of a hospital, in a restricted area. How could he? He was so focused on his mission that he didn’t see any of the signs.
And even once he found his way here, he never saw me. I saw him. When the commotion started, I looked out from my window, and there he was, surrounded by nurses. He looked more scared and confused than anything else. He was not violent, or angry, or even loud. By the time you arrived, flushed with excitement, he was sitting quietly on one of the benches, and the nurses were trying to guard him as if he were a criminal.
You saw what he was like. He was like that in his private messages as well – a gentle soul. Even though you were angry with him, he was not angry or aggressive at all. He had realized the true situation, probably felt a little foolish, and didn’t want to cause anyone any problems. He had assumptions in his mind: you were the older, wealthy man and I was your mistress or something, under your complete and abusive control. When he understood where he was, and learned the real relationship between his friend, the forty-five year old girl, and the handsome seventy year old man in the picture, it all fell into place, of course.
I do appreciate that you didn’t call the police, and that when your anger calmed down you treated him with dignity. No-one – except for you – has ever tried to save me before, so I will always keep for him a spot in my heart. In different circumstances, it would be romantic. It’s not, of course, I know that. But, it could be. Really.
Sorry I went on so long. This letter was supposed to be an apology. Instead a whole lot of words kept tumbling out.
You have been the most important man in my life since I first opened my eyes as a baby. No-one will ever occupy that central place in my heart. I don’t want to do anything to hurt you. I know you are still trying very hard to protect me, and I love you even more for that.
I am so sorry that it all came to this, and I hope that one day you’ll forgive me. Maybe one day you will even let me go back to talking to people on the internet. Except for the problems, it really made me happy.
– by Jay Shepherd, May 18, 2015