I know this much is true
I've decided that the best way to handle such a deeply bizarre situation as this one is to treat it like the ludicrous thing it is; something so dumbfounding and jaw-dropping that, well, all you can do is just laugh, because there isn't a rule in the rule book for this sort of special circumstance.
Everyone over the age of twelve likes to fancy themselves the keenest, most astute judge of human nature to walk this earth, myself included. Luckily enough, most of the time, the fact that you're deluding yourself only sends you out on a couple of bad dates or leads you to bet on the wrong sports team in the Super Bowl.
But there's a flip side to those illusions, a deadly serious, ugly flip side that can sink you deep in trouble before you've even had the chance to realize that you might be wandering somewhere near trouble. Only occasionally does that end up getting you dead, maimed, raped, or robbed. Most of the time it ends up getting your feelings hurt, maybe pisses off a co-worker or two; stings a bit, but nothing permanent.
In the past few months I've watched that flip side happen to some people that I know; watched that flip side flip up and land very, very close to my own feet.
I know this much is true: his name is Aaron Lowe, although Aaron is actually his middle name, and he is now a convicted felon. His court records are available online; I can show you where they are.
(Kinda ruins the suspense, doesn't it? Hey, I never went to screenwriting school; if you want better writing, you can underwrite my second bachelor's degree.)
I don't really know where to start, other than a bald statement of the ending and a delicate tracing-back of what few facts I know. About a year ago, Geof suggested that I get in touch with this Aaron fellow, as we seemed to have interests in common and would probably enjoy talking to each other.
I know this much is true: he was better-versed on movies than most people I know. Film buff? Very likely so.
We ended up talking on a wide range of subjects—centering mostly around code and movies. He was a complete novice at PHP, and wanted my help, which I provided. We chatted. I found him interesting and amusing - and, as a bonus, he lived less than an hour from one of my oldest and closest friends.
When I made plans to drive up to stay with Andrew and Joy, he offered couch space at his house. It meant that I could do more exploring on my own, and give Andrew more time to write the paper he was working on. I took Aaron up on the offer.
Through various and bizarre events that are multiple entries unto themselves, for most of the time I was supposed to crash at Aaron's house, I actually ended up in Chicago. Afterwards, I packed up my bag (singular!) and headed to Andrew and Joy's.
At this point, things got weird. Aaron flaked out in an impressively spectacular way. Why do I not explain fully? Call it a sense of dignity on my part; strange, considering how unnerving the flake-out was, and my lack of feeling any obligation toward Aaron whatsoever. But - Andrew and Joy will undoubtedly remember the repeated phone calls I made during the time I stayed with them, trying to determine if Aaron was actually still alive, and Geof will remember the worry/anger/upset in my voice when I called as Aaron basically barricaded himself in his house.
I hustled home, where my friends had thoroughly decked the walls of my house for a very nice Christmas dinner.
After the trip, I started paying more attention to details, questioning things, and came away…disquieted. I realized that the person that I had shared a few meals with was a person attempting to scrub away his past as quickly as it was created, something that I couldn't understand and couldn't trust.
I realized, later than I should have, that he was probably not trustworthy. Took me a while to forgive myself for that one; my policy in life is to give everyone, no matter how deserving or undeserving, a chance to earn my trust. Once earned, it's almost impossible to shake.
Once broken, wrath comes.
Then….the bottom fell out. Late January 2002, my father was diagnosed with cancer.
I know this much is true: Aaron's father died several years ago. (I have confirmed this with another person who knows his past.)
After his conduct in December, the mathematics of Aaron never added up right again. Little things began to manifest. I base a large part of my opinion of a person on the sum of their everyday actions. As the reasoning goes, if they cannot be counted upon to follow through on the small things, how can they be counted on to follow through on the big things?
So, as my family life was flying apart at the seams nearest you, I discovered that one of the best people for me to talk to about Dad's illness was someone I didn't feel I could trust any further than I could throw him.
Given the more pressing issues in my life, I put that one aside for a while.
Then he disappeared. Not without warning - with about twelve hours of warning. Aaron popped online one night to say that he was packing up and moving, and that it would be a while before I'd hear from him again.
Geof and I compared notes, compared logs, and it didn't take long for either of us to come up with an idea of where he might have gone. There was a woman, married, out in Vegas, whose conversations with both Geof and I had provided very broad and un-subtle hints that Aaron might be headed her way.
(Did they have an affair? I don't know, can't prove it, rather suspect they probably did, but in the end, find myself not terribly interested in knowing full details.)
I know this much is true (but I didn't know it at the time): Aaron fled west to avoid being arrested. According to court records, a warrant was issued for his arrest on February 8.
When he began to reappear online, he reappeared under screen names that, while not his old names, were plainly his. (Names of his cats were frequent nominees.) Shortly thereafter, I began to be contacted by women I didn't know.
One of them asked, "Are you in love with him?" —A question which, unfortunately, caused me to howl with laughter for a few minutes. At the time, it was the most ludicrous question in the world.
But, as time went on, I heard from a few more women, with similar questions, and my laughter melted into unease, then only a slight case of incredulity, back to gut-busting laughter again. I began to hear stories that were as sad as they were similar—women far away, lulled by the power of word and promise, who were all in love and promised love in return.
…one of whom said, "Yeah, he said you were a pain in the ass, always trying to muscle in on his code projects."
At this point, I was laughing incredulously on two points.
1) Muscling in on his code. I promptly sent her a vat of chat logs, plus original designs and code snippets, that made it rather devastatingly clear that not only did Aaron not know how to code his way out of a paper bag using PHP, that most of the things he claimed to have written were, in fact, actually my code or designs.
(Or, as I said to her…'I keep copies of everything. Source code, original graphics, ideas, everything. I'm a lousy person to try to steal from, because I document heavily, keep all my notes, keep plenty of backups, and have no problems whatsoever with showing them to others to prove my ownership.' Add to that, 'Ask yourself this question - which of us is coding a CMS in PHP? Chances are, the person that's doing that is the real person behind the code…')
2) All those years I spent wishing I were beautiful, lovely, fun to look at, generally desirable—hell, even anything above rather motherly and plain-looking? Guess it's a good thing I've never been good at getting wishes granted. He was either intimidated (which I highly doubt, as I'm more dotty-aunt-ish than intimidating) or thoroughly uninterested. Never thought that my lack of physical attractiveness would ever save the day…can you imagine trying to tell that to teenagers? ("No, honey, be glad you're not pretty. The felons aren't interested in the plain ones…")
So, anyway. There's not really a moral to this story, unless you count "the felons are only interested in the pretty girls," but somehow I don't think that's really the point here. To avoid making this longer and more drawn-out than what it is, the women in question started comparing stories and swapping barbs and anger and hurt like trading cards, and that's where I bowed out of the story.
Why? That evil flip side I mentioned at the beginning of this piece? It flipped, and it landed near me, but didn't land on me. In the end, I was a bystander, really; they were the ones who got hurt. I drove home, had a lovely Christmas dinner with a lot of people I care tons about, and went on with my life.
He, on the other hand, ended up pleading guilty to forgery and burglary, both felonies.
I haven't heard from him since.
Nor do I expect to.
Nor do I want to.
But sometimes, I can't help throwing a bit of a metaphorical glance over my metaphorical shoulder, and saying to myself, "That was close." I fit his pattern well, and yet it appears that I'm the only person in that pattern to emerge the whole sordid mess untouched, unhurt.
Part of me is grateful. Part of me is sad for the people he hurt.
I've spent a lot of years online, with a tiny opening salvo in 1990, then followed up by full-time access, starting in 1994. Jeff reminds me that, in those eight years, I've gotten to know some truly wonderful people. John. Brad. Andy. Gareth. Dan. Stephanie. Noah. Geof. Will.
Most importantly, Jeff.
Despite all the ugliness in this situation, I know that I cannot allow it to limit my ability to trust others. What was true then is still true now: the overwhelming majority of people, given half a chance, bloom under a bit of trust and love. Trust cannot be given blindly, but to go about life unwilling to extend it virtually guarantees that I'll miss out on knowing someone worthwhile.
In the end, I know this much is true.