Sunday, May 30, 2021

The Scammers

Last fall, I found out that the Model and his girlfriend perpetrated a con that lasted for months, fooling literally millions of people. 

The Model stopped texting me not long after I finally confronted him about the fact that he never came to see me after he moved back to the Midwest, despite his promises that he would. I didn't try to contact him either. I had finally decided to wash my hands of him and his b.s. for good. However, a few weeks after we stopped talking, a tabloid headline caught my eye.

I have to admit that despite the fact that I am an English professor who reads and teaches writing and classic literature, I often read tabloids for the celebrity gossip and salacious stories. The British tabloids are particularly interesting because they often have the weirdest stories. I read one story about a woman who came home from the hospital after giving birth, only to find out that the father of her children had run off with her mother. Apparently, they'd been having an affair throughout her pregnancy, and both her boyfriend and her mother were unrepentant, insisting that they'd done nothing wrong because they'd fallen in love, as if that justified their betrayal. It's like, wow, these are the days of their lives.

Anyway, I was reading one of those tabloids when to my surprise, I found a picture of the Model, along with a separate picture of a female influencer. I can't give away too many details about who she is because then it will become clear who the Model is; I've always been careful not to reveal too many identifying details on my blog in order to protect my anonymity, and the Model is open about where he's from, which is College Town (the town I live in). But the article accompanying the pictures proclaimed that the Model and this influencer were in a relationship and were madly in love. 

I checked his Instagram page to see if it was true, and he had already proclaimed on his own page that he was in a relationship with her. Their posts were full of their adoration for each other. What was puzzling, however, is that the Model kept posting pictures of himself in his other girlfriend's apartment (the same girlfriend he'd been on-again, off-again with for years at that point) while he was professing his love for the influencer. I didn't understand. If he was madly in love with this influencer, why would his old girlfriend continue to let him stay at her apartment? He did mention that they'd been in an open relationship, but in the article I read, he stated that he was committed only to the influencer. 

So, I checked out his old girlfriend's Instagram page. They were still following each other on Instagram, but she'd deleted almost all the pictures of them together. She didn't delete all of them, just the ones where his face showed up in the first frame. The few pictures that remained were hidden behind a series of other pictures. Either they really had broken up, or she was hiding evidence of their relationship.

Some of that female influencer's followers accused the Model of using the influencer for her fame because she was more famous than he was; like me, they suspected that this "relationship" was fake. But the Model and the influencer kept defending their relationship, and he gave interviews insisting that he really did love her, even though they had not been "dating" very long. 

I couldn't figure out what was going on, but I also figured that it wasn't my business and set the tabloids aside. If I wasn't reading them, I wouldn't have to see any more articles about this "showmance."

But then a few weeks later, he was trending on social media because he was accused of cheating on the influencer by some anonymous woman who claimed to be a college student who had had a one-night stand with him. In another tabloid article, there was a picture of him in bed with the woman, except she'd hidden most of her face from the picture. But I was startled to realize that the woman was his old girlfriend (and she is not a college student). I recognized the headboard in the picture as hers; I knew it couldn't be his because his headboard was different from hers (and obviously, I've seen the headboard on his bed in person) and he'd photographed himself in her bed on more than one occasion. 

It made me realize that he and his girlfriend staged that picture, and then they leaked it to the media to stir up more drama in his "relationship" with the influencer and get his name back in the headlines. 

This is crazy, I thought. But I just kept reminding myself that it wasn't my business, and I tried to ignore the tabloids again. But I made the mistake of reading them a few months later because I was reading articles about Britney Spears (I've loved her music for more than twenty years, and I felt sorry for her when everyone made fun of her during her nervous breakdown, although now everyone is claiming that they feel sorry for her too. Yeah, right, because apparently they all forgot about all the times they viciously mocked her back in the 2000s.) And that's how I found more headlines about the Model.

Apparently, he and the influencer "broke up", and he moved on to another influencer, who was in talks for her own reality show. He told interviewers that he hoped to get on TV with her so he could show off their love. But when the plans for her show fell through, he quickly dumped her, and a week later, he posted a picture of his girlfriend at the beach without revealing her face (he photographed her from behind), referring to her as his girlfriend. She posted several pictures of yet another luxury resort he took her to, bragging about the umpteenth luxury vacation they had taken together, though she didn't mention his name or post any pictures of him.

That second influencer, however, reportedly had a nervous breakdown after the Model tossed her aside, and she disappeared from social media for a long time. I didn't know her, but I felt sorry for her, and I felt sorry for the first influencer too. 

It's possible that both of those influencers were in on the scam, and that maybe they were just trying to elevate their fame, though they didn't give any interviews to the tabloids, unlike him. But even so, that didn't make the Model or his girlfriend look any better. They took advantage of these women's loneliness so that they could profit from it. The Model did it for fifteen minutes of fame and the opportunity to get on TV, and his girlfriend did it to please him, and to get a fistful of cash and yet another luxury vacation that she did not have to pay for. 

I felt angry that they got away with scamming literally millions of people, including the media (especially the media!). His followers egged him on, praising him for being so "loving" to those women. I was so tempted to expose the lies of the Model and his partner in crime to everyone. I had thought of warning both of those influencers and sending them a DM that said, "He's using you. He has another girlfriend." I thought of contacting the tabloids and giving them a "tip" about what the Model and his girlfriend had done; I actually know a celebrity blogger through a friend, and I thought of messaging the blogger first. I actually sat down at my computer to send them all those messages to expose the truth.

But all of a sudden, I thought about Miss Havisham, a character from Charles Dickens' novel Great Expectations (if you haven't read the novel, there are spoilers ahead). She is notable because she is jilted on her wedding day, and she continues to wear her wedding dress every day for years. She refuses to throw out her uneaten wedding cake, so it collects dust and cobwebs over the years. She sets all of the clocks in her house so that they are literally stopped at the exact minute that she found out that her groom had jilted her. It's symbolic of how her life stopped after her heart was broken.

Miss Havisham is consumed with anger and a desire for revenge, so she raises her adoptive daughter Estella to be cold towards men. When Estella breaks the protagonist's heart, Miss Havisham is initially delighted; since she was unable to seek vengeance against her former groom, she used Pip as a substitute. But she eventually realizes that her vengeance does not succeed in making her feel better, especially because an innocent person (Pip) got hurt; furthermore, she is still as empty and lonely as she was before.

I told my literature students that Miss Havisham is a cautionary tale. Dickens demonstrated what happens when you not only suffer from unrequited love but refuse to move on with your life. 

When I was tempted to expose the lies that the Model and his girlfriend had told the whole world, I realized that if I did, I would be like Miss Havisham. I mean, what if those two female influencers were not in on the scam and truly believed that the Model really had cared for them? If I exposed the Model and his girlfriend, those women would only get hurt even more, and they would be publicly humiliated as being fooled by those two selfish, deceitful scammers. Also, despite his facade on Instagram as a good guy, the Model can be truly vicious and vindictive when he wants to be. He would strike back by telling everyone about how I was just a jealous ex who was trying to get back at him. And in a way, he'd be right. 

I did not want to be like Miss Havisham. I did not want to spend the rest of my life pining for someone who didn't give a damn about me. I did not want to go out of my way to hurt other people, even if they deserved it. 

For two years, I felt guilty about hooking up with the Model two weeks before he took his girlfriend on a romantic vacation (although I hadn't found out about her until after I spent the night with him) because I didn't know that they were in an open relationship at the time. When I found her Instagram page after becoming suspicious of him and doing some digging online, I thought that based on her pictures she seemed like a good person. But now I know that she is not a good person at all. A good person does not help her boyfriend lie to the whole world. A good person does not help her boyfriend scam other women into thinking that he cares about them. She knew all along that he didn't mean a word that he said about those women, but she didn't care if they got hurt. She didn't care that he was lying to the whole world because she was lying too. She was just as mean as he was.

If I exposed them, there was the danger of sinking to their level and ending up like them. I don't want to be like the Model or his girlfriend. I mean, if being with him means that I have to scam millions of people like she did, then it's just as well that I'm not with him.

If I exposed them, it would be proof that I was refusing to move on with my life. I did not want to suffer and stew in my misery for decades like Miss Havisham did. I wanted a life where I was free of my anger towards the Model and the pain he caused me. It made me think of a scene from a memoir written by the advice columnist Amy Dickinson, where she was sitting with her first husband. She loved him and wanted him to stay, but he was in love with someone else. She realized that by trying to hold on to him, she was only hurting herself in the process. Save yourself, she thought.

Her words echoed in my mind as I sat in front of my computer. I didn't expose the Model or his girlfriend. Instead, I closed my laptop, and I did something that would make members of Generation Z gasp and clutch their cell phones: I walked out the door without my cell phone so that I wouldn't be tempted to look at it, especially not the social media pages of the Model and his girlfriend. Leave them be, I thought. Save yourself. 

I took a walk in the local park. It was a beautiful day outside, and unseasonably warm. I looked around and thought, There is so much more to life than him. It was part of the mindset I'd developed since I was diagnosed with an incurable, life-threatening disease. Life is too short to waste on jerks who aren't worth my time. 

What about you? If someone you knew had conned people, would you expose them, even if there was a risk that they could strike back at you? 

Sunday, May 23, 2021

A Life-changing Diagnosis

 Last winter, I went to the doctor for a regular check-up. I ended up in the emergency room that same day. 

When the nurse took my blood pressure, she said it was too high. The doctor took it again to make sure, and she said it was dangerously high. She said that I had to go the ER right away or I might have a stroke. 

I ended up staying in the emergency room for more than ten hours. At first, they put me on a gurney and hooked me up to an IV and an EKG. They gave me blood pressure medication and took my blood pressure every fifteen minutes because they were trying to get it back down. The blood pressure cuff hurt because it kept squeezing my arm. The gurney was left in the hallway so I had to just sit there while nurses and doctors bustled about. 

After a couple hours, they finally put me into a room where several other patients were, but our beds were separated by curtains. I heard an old lady across the room who kept complaining about her bowel movements, and she literally kept yelling, "POOP! POOP! POOP!" over and over again. One of the nurses' cell phones had the Batman theme song as its ringtone, and it kept going off again and again, to the point that if I wasn't still hooked up to the IV and EKG I would have jumped out of bed and thrown the cell phone down the hall, shrieking, "MAKE IT STOP! MAKE IT STOP!"

I was scared. I didn't know what was happening. It made me think of the time I ended up in the emergency room six years ago, when I was diagnosed with a neurological disorder and I almost went blind. I have recovered from that, but I suffered from permanent hearing loss in my right ear as a result. I can hear a little bit out of that ear, but I mainly rely on my left one now. I can't watch TV without subtitles (why does everyone on TV sound like they're WHISPERING these days?), and I often ask my students to repeat themselves when I'm teaching. 

The doctor and nurses couldn't tell me what was wrong with me, but they told me to go to another doctor the next day. After more than ten hours, one of the nurses told me, "OK! You can go home now!" 

I stood up, but I felt really dizzy and disoriented after lying down that whole time. The nurse looked concerned and asked me, "Are you OK?" 

"Oh, I'm fine. I'm fiiinnne," I mumbled, before I literally passed out on top of her. It was like that scene in the movie Elf, where Will Ferrell fainted on top of a shrieking elf. 

Then the nurse helped me up and said, "Uh, I'm going to put you back in bed for a while." She gave me some graham crackers and apple juice because I hadn't eaten since breakfast. After another hour, I finally got to go home, and fortunately, I didn't faint on top of any other nurses.

Since then, I have been back to the hospital fifteen times. I've had an echocardiogram, a renal artery duplex, and a kidney ultrasound. I have to go back to the hospital several times this summer. I am currently being treated by a team of doctors at the local hospital in College Town, including a cardiologist, a nephrologist, and a primary care provider. 

It turns out that I have polycystic kidney disease, which I inherited from my mother. She had a kidney transplant when she was in her late forties. My nephrologist said that I will most likely need a kidney transplant by the time I'm in my late forties or early fifties (I'm 40 now). But the wait list for a kidney is at least 5-7 years, sometimes more. My kidney function is already low, but when it gets dangerously low, I will have to be on dialysis for years while I wait for a kidney. If I don't get one, I could die before I turn sixty.

I also have to stay on medication for the rest of my life. I am currently taking two different medications to control my blood pressure, and I have to monitor it by taking my blood pressure with a digital monitor twice a day (which is why my arm is perpetually sore now). One of the medications made me cough incessantly, to the point that I kept having to buy cough drops. I couldn't drink cough syrup because it didn't work well with my blood pressure medication. 

The doctor finally took me off the one that made me cough and prescribed a different one, which fortunately does not make me cough. The medication I'm taking causes birth defects, meaning if I get pregnant, my baby will be born with birth defects or it will be born dead. So, I will never be a mother. I don't have the money to hire a surrogate, and no adoption agency is going to give a kid to someone who may die before the age of sixty without a new kidney. I wasn't planning to become a mother, but I sometimes think about what it would be like to have a child. It makes me sad when I see parents leading their small children by the hand because I know that that is a path in life that has now been closed off to me forever. 

The nephrologist recommended Jynarque (have any of you ever heard of this, and if so, do you know anyone who's taken it?) to protect my kidneys. But it can cause liver damage, so I'm like, NO!

I lost my temper with my doctors and nurses because they kept insisting that I come back to the hospital for more treatment or yet another medical procedure. I couldn't afford to take time off from work because of the mounting medical bills (which I had to use my stimulus checks to pay), so I had to stay up late every night to get my work done. The doctor even prescribed me a new blood pressure medication that cost more than sixty dollars for a 30-day prescription, which I couldn't afford, and he only backed down after I proved to him that it kept making my blood pressure shoot way up after several weeks of taking it. I hate my nephrologist because he's been a jerk about this whole thing, but there are only two other nephrologists in College Town, so I don't have a lot of options.

I made the mistake of telling my father about this, and he has not been helpful at all. The other day we got into an argument over the phone because he told me not once but six times not to get so worked up about my health. Then he called back and told me six more times. I should have known better than to think that he would be there for me.

I still haven't told my mother. She screamed at me over the phone and blamed me for my health problems when I ended up in the emergency room six years ago (so did my father), and she always makes everything about herself. She will call to cry, rant and rave every day if I tell her. So, despite pressure from my father, I've refused to tell her unless I get worse.

I just feel really angry, sad, and scared. I've tried to be a good person my entire life, and yet I feel like I'm being punished somehow. Other people like the Model and his girlfriend literally scammed the entire country (which is another post in itself, and I will write about that later), and they not only got away with it but got everything they want. But I never did anything like that, and I'm the one who ended up in the hospital. It's scary because now I know how I will die. I will most likely die of kidney failure. Even if I get a transplant, the new kidney won't last forever. I will most likely not live a long life because of this disease.

I confided in one of my friends about my fear of not living a long life, and they said, "Well, if this is God's plan, you just have to live out the time that you have left." That did not make me feel better; it made me angry. I haven't been very religious in a long time, and I don't want to believe that God's plan is for me to have a short life. 

I don't want someone else's kidney. I don't want to have surgery. I don't want to go on dialysis. I don't want to keep going back to the hospital again and again for the rest of my life. I don't want to die. But none of that is up to me. All I can do now, according to my doctors, is maintain my health so that I can hopefully put off the transplant. I've been exercising 5-6 times a week, and I rarely drink soda anymore. If I buy coffee I get decaf. I rarely eat fast food, except for the sandwiches at Starbucks because they're a lot healthier than burgers at Wendy's or McDonald's. I've lost ten pounds, and my blood pressure has gone down. So I still have hope. Maybe I'll be one of the select few who doesn't have to get a kidney transplant. 

Sorry about the depressing post. This whole situation is partly why I haven't blogged in a long time. 

But this whole situation has made me have a different outlook on life, and it's made me more determined to make some changes. I'm going to write about those too, so stay tuned.