The summer between my 6th and 7th grade school years I developed a special friendship. Early that summer I got a call from a guy who had participated in theatre camp with me the year before. At least that’s who I thought he was. I spent that summer talking to him on the phone, becoming closer and closer. I developed feelings for him that were greater than friendship. Our converstions were never inappropriate, but I opened myself up to him, sharing personal thoughts and revelations. We attempted to see each other once. We made plans to meet at the Parkwood Hills swimming pool on a Saturday. I showed up early. I thought I saw someone who could be him, but they took off before I could be sure. I thought it was strange. A little red flag popped up in my head, but He called me later that evening and apologized for not being able to make it afterall so I dismissed it. And so the summer ended without our ever advancing beyond telephone calls. It didn’t seem strange to me at all. I had many friends from theatre, all over the state, many of whom I only saw once a year. It was normal. Disappointing, but normal. But that was ok with me, because during our phone calls I felt special. I felt desireable. I felt noticed. After years suffering from bullying and disregard from my classmates at my school to feel accepted was a very big deal for me. So, I was happy. It didn’t last.
On the first day back to school for 7th grade, a gang of my classmates were lingering on the sidewalk in front of the church. (Yes, I went to Catholic School. The long since closed Queen of Peace in Madison, WI.) The crew of boys and girls were chatting amongst each other, but when I walked by they stopped and quite unexpectedly turned and addressed me. They asked me how my summer was. Surprised by the pleasant attention, I told them it was fine. Then they asked if I had made any new friends. I started to answer, but was drowned out by their laughter. I don’t remember all that was said after that, but I do know that they made sure I learned, in the cruelest way imaginable, that my new friend, the one who I felt so validated by, the one I had poured my eleven year old heart out to over the phone during the summer, was in fact a figment of their wicked imaginations. They had spent their precious summer building me up so that they could smack me down with humiliation. Here now some 31 and a half years later I can still taste the bile in mouth, feel the knot in my stomach, the burn of my tears just from thinking about that story. That relationship, eventhough it only existed on the phone, was intensely real for me. And while I did want to see him in person, the fact that we never had the chance to connect didn’t dampen the intensity of my feelings for him. The him that didn’t really exist afterall.
As you may have heard, Notre Dame Senior Manti Te’o just reveled this week that he was the victim of a simliar hoax, (known in some circles as a “Catfish” hoax). Deadspin.com broke the story revealing Manti T’o’s girlfriend, known to the World as Lennay Kekua, was a completely ficticious person. Why the big deal? Because Manti Te’o was on the road to the Heisman trophy. And the fact that he had to play a football game despite the supposed death from leukemia of his “girlfriend”, just hours after his grandmother’s real passing, became the stuff from which legends are born. Well, no doubt Manti Te’o’s story will be a legend, but the questions still remains whether he was the victim or the perpetrator in his own legendary story. Listening to all of the pieces of the story and watching video clips of interviews of Manti Te’o talking about his “phone girlfriend” definitely leaves me confused. In this high tech age when we aren’t limited to voice communications across the World, let alone across the street because programs like Skype and FaceTime are easily accessible by your computer, your tablet, heck even your phone, it’s hard to believe that this young man would not have any idea that his girlfriend was nothing more than theatre. It’s hard to believe, but not impossible. At least not for me, because I’ve lived it. It doesn’t matter that I was merely 11 and Manti Te’o is 21. If you really want something, really need something to be true, you will believe it despite all things that may be pointing to the contrary. Despite logic even.
For more tips on talking to your kids about violence and the Newtown tragedy please go HERE.
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