Catfish lurk in dark areas of the water and mud, not unlike those that intentionally pursue relationships with real people under the guise of another, they have to be in a dark place to do this in the first place. Cat fishing has grown in the recent years, however my first experience with it was when I was 17 years old. My small town in South East Arkansas was slow to get new technology, especially our household, so to say I was surprised to find a computer with internet access connected in our home after I returned from my Dad’s and our summer trip to Woodstock, I was over the moon. I had gotten to go to my dream festival and now I would have a way to keep in touch with the people I met during our travels.

We finally made it through the summer working hard and saving up our money and it came time to depart for our trip to New York. We drove up in Dad’s old jeep and made many pit stops along the way. I wanted to be a criminologist so we stopped in DC so I could get an FBI shirt. My brother was obsessed with baseball so we spent a couple of days in Cooperstown, NY to see the Baseball Hall of Fame. My dad, the history buff, ensured we made our way through Hersey and Gettysburg, PA, and we got to make a stop in Scranton, PA to see my cousins that I had not seen since childhood.

The day finally arrived that we made our way to the festival. We quickly unpacked our jeep and worked our way to the front gate entrance. We finally were admitted and scouted out what we thought was the perfect spot in an already crowded camping area. We got everything set up and then spent the next four days exploring, learning, meeting, and thriving with all of the people that we came across. I met friends from all over and went from camp to camp to spend time with them, always after I had checked back in with my Dad of course. I had the most freedom I had ever had in my entire life, yet I was still a pretty sheltered child. I did not do any drugs or have sex with anyone at the festival. I left it still a virgin.

We returned to Crossett and my parents had surprised us by getting the internet at our home. I quickly logged into the “world” as I called it back then and began chatting with people almost immediately. My parents had no knowledge of the dangers of the internet or giving out personal information to strangers online, so I never thought twice when I started talking to a man I met in the Woodstock chat room. He said he was twenty-two and had been at the festival with his friends. I was still seventeen.

We began an online relationship as I knew there were not any guys interested in me in my town, or if they were, I never knew it. I had never had a date, I had been made fun of and lied about the first time I kissed a boy, so I to say the least, I was smitten with my new “love.” He gave me attention and compliments I had never had before. He made me feel wanted and special, and that anyone would be lucky to end up with a girl like me. I finally sent him a picture in the mail and we began writing not only on the internet but back and forth to each other as well.

We talked on the phone, he sent me gifts, he sent me money. None of these were items I asked for, he just did it he said because he liked me. One day after school I hurried home to check my inbox before scuttling off to dance practice and there was no message. I thought it was odd as he always left me messages before practice during the week. When I got home that night and finally logged back into the computer, I got it.

Across my screen in bold letters, “JACK IS NOT THE MAN YOU THINK HE IS.” At first I thought he must be playing some kind of trick, so when I responded ‘What?” a flood of messages came across my screen back to me. The next message stated that I was no longer talking to Jack, but his wife instead. She informed me that Jack was a Vietnam veteran, whom I later found out as technology progressed is older than my Stepdad, and was pretending to be twenty-two year old son who was incarcerated for vehicular homicide.

My heart dropped immediately. How could I do this to another woman, I thought. What did she know about me, what did he tell her. All of this was stupid, of course, I did not do anything to cause his problems, but at the time, I was mortified. She told me she had installed software on the computer and had been reading all of our conversations for the past several months. She asked me to stop talking to him in an effort to save her marriage. She never said anything about me only being seventeen or that a much older married man had tricked me into having intimate conversations with him.

My sense of security and trust changed after that. I wasn’t sure who to believe as the cognitive dissonance was too much to bear. He attempted to contact me again after the initial confrontation, as a man his own age, but I found it hard to differentiate between reality and bull shit the longer we continued to speak. I eventually stopped talking to him after I was stationed in Virginia Beach, two or three years after his wife busted him. In fact, after I returned from cruise, I was in his area in New Hampshire to get my friends belongings to bring back to her ship in Norfolk. I spoke with him on the phone that day for the last time in my life.

Although this man never met me, he had an enormous impact on my development.  The only relationship I had before Jack was with the guy that lied about me and made fun of the way I kissed. I started to doubt myself and my self-esteem continued to plummet. After Jack’s outing, he tried to be like a father-figure type I guess, and would tell me how proud he was of me. He sent me money for toilet paper and food in college, a four hundred dollar check for graduation, and many, many letters.

A few years back, I looked him on social media to see what he was up to, to finally see the face of the man that knew me inside and out. I found him, and he is still with his wife. His son is out of prison now, his youngest is grown, he’s a grandfather, and the least gratifying thing I found out was that he had been named the winner of an award in his community for being an outstanding citizen with exemplary re pore. I felt sick to my stomach. I wondered how many other minors besides me there were during his years of online sex seeking adventures while his wife and kids went about their normal routines in their home.

It made me wonder how many others this had happened to? Did they still think of their cat fishers? Did they still feel exposed and violated the way I did, half a lifetime later? Did they still trust others or had the experience made them a better or worse person for it? Finally when the television show catfish came out, I realized this happened to people all over the world. It made me horribly sad to think that so many people were out there making these connections through invisible means, but did it ever really lead to happiness?

As a seventeen year old girl, excited that a guy liked me, for me, for the first time was a big thing. The violation I felt after this incident stayed with me throughout the remainder of my other relationships, and is still with me today. Why do people treat others with so little respect to get a few mere minutes of gratification? I may never know the answer, and of course, I trusted and put myself out in the world again, but each time I do there is always a little reminder that Jack and others like him are everywhere in this world. They can’t keep us from trusting and loving others, but they will always leave their mark on the innocent souls they deceived.

 

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