Sorry for the length of this post. I just had to get this out of my system. If you want to skip directly to the apology, it’s in the second -to-the-last paragraph.
Sometime around last Valentine’s day, while reading comments on one of my favorite blogs, I came across this one:
LOvely post I got to spend my valentines day finding out that i had cancer
by kaylee2 February 15, 2008 at 8:28 pm
It stopped me in my typing tracks. I clicked on the name, and went to visit the blog of the person who wrote it. There, I began reading about a young girl with a very sad life. I was drawn to her story– a teenager dealing with typical teen angst, a dysfunctional family and a history of major health issues, who still had a way of keeping on the sunny side. And now she had cancer.
Kaylee’s story drew me in for several reasons. I have a daughter close to the same age, who had not so long ago had been treated for carcinoma in situ. I was also going through a major case of ENS (Empty Nest Syndrome). Kaylee and I started IMing on her blog, and as we talked, my heart went out to this poor, sick, lonely girl. I decided that, no matter what, I’d always set aside a bit of time each night to give her time to vent, and that I’d try to keep her spirits up. It seemed like such a small thing to do, and it gave me a chance to do some momming.
I believe in love, and the power of other people’s goodness. I wrote a post about Kaylee, which started like this:
There’s a blogger out there that I want to tell you about. Her name’s Kaylee, and she’s a sixteen-year-old baseball fanatic. She loves the color yellow, and has a fondness for monkeys, poetry and cooking (not necessarily in that order).
I directed people over to her blog, knowing that the kindness of my readers would surely help her. Soon, people wanted to send her things– baseball cards. A hand-beaded yellow necklace. Several began corresponding with her.
I began devoting a lot of time to her as well, trying to cheer her, encouraging her to take care of herself, to eat (she was apparently wasting away) and to talk to the counselor at the hospital when she confided that she was afraid to go to sleep because she might not wake up. I lit candles in her honor and said many silent prayers on her behalf. Tom, my Significant Other at the time, would ask, “Are you coming to bed?” and often I’d answer that I’d be there in a while, that Kaylee was having a rough time and needed someone to talk to. I did this for hours and hours, nights and nights. At work, I told my boss that I’d need to keep Yahoo Messenger open, just in case there was an emergency with my young friend.
During the course of all of this, some things started to nag at me, to not add up, but Kaylee had told me that she was on various medications, so at first I chalked up inconsistencies (and bad spelling) to that.
The number of tragedies that befell her was astounding. Her mother threatened her constantly, and eventually stabbed Kaylee in the hand as she lay in her hospital bed. The mother hated Kaylee because of her illnesses, had broken the restraining order that had been placed on her and was arrested at the hospital. This was the first real warning bell in what would become a symphony of warning bells.
It was apparent that she was seeking attention, but hell, I might be too if my family was that insane. I was troubled by how little time her parents spent with her at the hospital (she told me that they seldom came to visit) or seemed to care. At the same time, she regaled me with tales of her hospital roommates, the type of cancers they had, and the fun that she somehow managed to have with them from time to time. She excitedly told me about how her father had scored tickets to a Diamondbacks game, and how, due to her illness, she’d gotten to sit in box seats and meet the players. I spent weeks writing and talking with her prior to big event, trying to keep her spirits up, so that she’d live to see that day. It was some of these detailed stories that made me believe that there was much truth in what she was saying.
Others seemed to feel the same way. At first, many of us gave her motherly advice. “Get counseling,” “Talk to your doctors,” “Tell the hospital staff what your mother’s doing to you,” “EAT!” “Keep thinking positively!” Links to games, to message boards– I even looked up information about the Make a Wish Foundation, thinking that they could send her to Disneyworld or something, but I finally realized that as secretive as she was, she’d never help fill out the forms.
My mother, forced into early retirement by a routine medical procedure gone wrong, was visiting Yuma, Arizona to recuperate. At one point, she and I discussed the possibility of her traveling with my aunt to Phoenix to visit Kaylee at the hospital, since she seemed so lonely. At the same time, other people were letting me know that they’d tried to send her gifts, but either their requests for her address were ignored or they were given an incorrect one. Kaylee was evasive about her location, but I just figured that, as an underage girl, she was being careful about letting strangers know how to find her. Besides, who knew how her evil, crazy family might react to such an outpouring?
Her need for attention grew. Once, she mentioned that she’d read a story about my father’s suicide. Within days, she was telling me that she was going to kill herself. Another time, when I told her that I had to leave, she suddenly typed: “OMG! My sister’s dead!” Murdered (in an indirect way) by an abusive boyfriend. Within months, her father had kicked the bucket too, dying from a massive heart attack and leaving behind a wife, a new baby and a whole passel of kids.
It all started to feel like a constant kick in the stomach. I began searching for some of her more horrific stories in the Phoenix newspapers online (surely, an attack by a mother in a hospital would at least earn a mention), but could find nothing. It was while doing this investigating that I came across another, previous Kaylee blog with more tragedy and heartache. She posted a picture of herself there (she’s since taken it down), a sad-looking, overweight young girl holding a baby. As I read this old blog, with its stories of neglectful parents, mean siblings, tormenting friends, break-ins, stabbings, etc., I began to feel that she was sad beyond belief. Yes, she was a liar of epic proportions, but wasn’t it possible to be a terminally ill liar? It was all becoming quite draining, and guiltily, I began to distance myself from her. The IM’s ended, though we still e-mailed.
Behind the scenes, some of us bloggers began talking a little about what was happening. We all agreed that she was probably a major prevaricator, but was Kaylee truly dying? She hijacked our blogs, popping into the comments section to say things like, “Great post! I really need to talk to you…” or “I don’t know anything about this subject, but I have to have another surgery,” or the ever popular, “I’ve got bad news.” E-mails with her were one sided– we sympathizers would write requested letters to her, and in return received vague, one or two word responses. One blog friend called them “non-email emails.”
Posts on her blog became increasingly strange. Supposedly, she got a tattoo after her radiation treatments, a really beautiful one, but requests for a picture of it were never granted. We read about a boyfriend who was pressuring her for sex a couple of weeks after her bone marrow transplant. She posted a picture of a young girl, supposedly Kaylee herself (not the same young girl on the other blog) with a full head of hair, and no scar from the surgery where she’d had her “throat cut.” She was (supposedly) confined to a hospital bed, receiving love and sympathy from the Blog World, and writing about “using drugs again,” when in past posts she wrote of her disdain for cigarettes, alcohol and illegal substances. Where was she going to score these evil drugs anyway? From the visiting clown at the children’s hospital?
Okay, I know I’m an idiot. But I wanted to believe that we weren’t all being duped. We all wanted to believe that, and I think quite a few of us vacillated between doubting her and ourselves until that very last post. When I’d question her about some of her taller tales, she responded without missing a beat or batting an eye. Still, on some level, I knew that this was one screwed up human being. All of these tragedies couldn’t logically land on one person in such a short amount of time. But I still maintained that it was possible to be a pathological liar and a dying teenager, all at the same time.
Someone wrote a post about scam artists who invent physical ailments to gain online sympathy, and I knew that in part, she’d written it in hope that Kaylee would recognize herself in it. Of course, she didn’t, or if she did, she chose to ignore the message. At one point, I was feeling so crummy and conflicted about the whole thing that I wrote a diatribe about blog honesty (in large part inspired by her online antics), but obviously, she didn’t see herself in that one either. Actually, I think she did, but she’s great at deflecting such things.
There is this babe-in-the-woods immaturity that comes through in Kaylee’s writing, and throughout all of this it made me feel sympathetic, not to the increasingly bizarre tales that she’d tell, but to the fact that she was this bottomless pit of need. Many of us came to disbelieve many details of her life, but it seemed plausible that she was making a little fantasy life for herself, and possibly it was to keep her mind off of the fact that she was dying. I think it sucked a lot of people in, at least for a while. She seemed so much younger than my own daughter, and exhibited behaviors that I’d never seen in my own kids, but my own kids had never had that kind of life.
A few days ago, I received an e-mail from Kaylee that said:
im overwhelmed right now im dying
Another kick in the stomach. I got teary-eyed, and told the person I’ve been staying with (I’ve told almost everyone I know about Kaylee). Within a few minutes, I received another e-mail, this one telling me that she had something to confess, but that she didn’t want me to judge her or to be angry. I promised I wouldn’t.
She told me that she’d been lying. In the end, it was no surprise. I asked her pointed questions about what exactly she’d lied about– did she have cancer? A heart transplant? Someone else’s bone marrow? Had her father died? Her sister? Was her mother a psycho daughter stalker? Nope. None of it. That other, later photo she posted was of her sister.
Let me say that Kaylee didn’t fess up voluntarily. Another (smarter) blogger got fed up and finally confronted her, and demanded that she let everyone know the truth. This person is a cancer survivor, and was simply tired of all of the B.S. To her credit, Kaylee heeded her advice and wrote a post telling all. She wrote to me prior to spilling the beans, mostly I think because she was afraid, and partly because she was a bit worried about my reaction.
At first, I commended her on coming forward (and I still do). I wrote her a long e-mail, telling her the effects of her sham and urging her to get help. I did the e-mail hug thing and wished her well. Her response? Another “non email email.”
Moonbeam, this email really hit me hard like it should have thanks!!!! I love you!!!!!!!!!!!
Really, I’m working on keeping my promise to not be angry. But reading the responses to her last blog post is hitting me hard. All of those people, all of that manipulation. The time, the tears, the energy, the postage, the emotional drain. I think what’s made me the saddest was realizing that Kaylee was posting on cancer patient message boards, taking time and attention away from those who are truly struggling for life.
No, what makes me saddest is that Kaylee may never really understand what she’s done.
Kaylee, in my opinion, is ill, just not the kind of ill we’d initially imagined. I believe she’s the unhappy girl I saw in that earlier blog photo, and I somehow doubt that she’ll ever seek help (please Kaylee, prove me wrong here). A lot of people are exploding with confusion and anger, and many are hating on her right now. My hope is that she REALLY reads their comments and is able to understand what people are saying to her, and why they’re furious.
I want to apologize to each and every one of you who found Kaylee’s blog through me. I’ve been dealing with a lot of guilt, and the responsibility of knowing that I fell for a scam and took others with me. There is no way I can make amends, but I am so sorry. This little paragraph doesn’t fully convey the depth of my emotion about this, but I think that those of you who read here often understand.
I still don’t hate Kaylee, and am trying to keep my other promise not to judge her (although I’m doing it on some level by writing this, I’m sure). She’s hurt a lot of people, but I have to believe that she wouldn’t have done such a desperate and horrible thing it if she weren’t hurting so badly within herself. She’s got to be one incredibly miserable girl (and if she wasn’t before this incident, she certainly is now). That doesn’t excuse her behavior, but it’s how I’m explaining it to myself.