Your Voice, Saving Me
by Chelsea Hodson
(To be paired with Tom Oristaglio‘s response to Kiss My Annulus)
God, remember when the phone was ringing and everything was possible?
—Dolan Morgan, Kiss My Annulus
The FBI has over 150,000 complaints on file under a category called stranded traveler.
In this scam, the criminal takes over the victim’s email account and proceeds to ask the victim’s family and friends for money. The scammer pretends to be the loved one, stuck in a remote location after being robbed at gunpoint, now without their wallet or passport. Friends and family are asked to send money to help the victim return home safely.
The subject line of these emails usually says I’m writing with tears in my eyes.
I once knew a pathological liar that claimed he owned his own island. I asked to see photos of it, but he said he’d never been there. I chose to believe the lie because the lie was beautiful.
Once, I drove us to a parking lot and we dipped french fries into a chocolate milkshake as he talked about his island. If he invented enough details, he could believe in it, too.
He used to call me after he got drunk, the calls lasted longer that way. His pattern included complaining about other women and then telling me something like That’s why you’re better. What he meant was You’re younger—I hadn’t had time to ruin anyone yet. I liked that he was older but had nothing of value to pass on, nothing to teach me. It was a relief to never receive advice.
I thought bad men were aware of bad things. I thought their vision was fine-tuned, I thought they could see bad things coming before I could. I thought they might protect me.
I’m writing this with tears in my eyes. I’m alone in a parking lot and I need some money. I know you lied, but I believe you have family money. I don’t blame you for writing your own legend. In fact, I’ll retell it for you when I get back. But right now I don’t have my passport and I’m desperate.
Two electric signals transporting sound in real time. Two people believing in something. Buzzing.
I don’t believe in God, but I can buy a convincing voice.
A man once told me he owned a river. I don’t think he was lying.
My friend and I were on the Lazy River, we floated on inner tubes in a circle around the water park. Two boys swam up and the more attractive one began talking to my friend and her buoyant tits. The other boy sat upright on his tube and showed me his love handles. I asked him to repeat the term, which I’d never heard, and he said You know, handles. For love.
Our alliance formed once we realized we lived an hour away from each other. We were too young to drive and we agreed we’d never see each other again. Soon, we began talking on the phone every night. I relayed my secrets into a translucent lime green handheld phone. It was so safe, sometimes I fell asleep mid-sentence.
I don’t remember your last name, but please know I’m writing this with tears in my eyes. Remember when our friends told us they kissed? Our friends were so good looking. I liked thinking about them kissing. We knew we’d never kiss—I think that’s why we got along. Can you send me some money? I don’t know where you are now, but I’m here, stranded.
I used to only call people when I was doing poorly. I interpreted someone else’s silence as proof of our bond.
German chemist Fritz Haber has been called the father of chemical warfare for his work developing chlorine and other poisonous gases during World War I. Distressed by his work, his wife, chemist and pacifist Clara Immerwahr, shot herself in the heart with Haber’s revolver. Their 13-year-old son found her in the garden. Haber left that morning and, three years later, won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
Six years before her death, Clara Immerwahr wrote to her friend: …I ask myself whether a superior intelligence really is enough to make one person more valuable than another… Everyone should be allowed to go his own way, but in my opinion even a genius is justified in permitting himself… a sovereign contempt for every rule of human behavior… only if he is alone on a desert island.
By 1920, financial conditions in Germany were so bad that Haber thought he might pay off his country’s war debts by extracting gold from seawater. He’d read reports claiming 65 milligrams of gold could be extracted from one metric ton of seawater. Instead, he averaged a gold content of 0.008 milligrams per metric ton. Haber said There is nothing as varied as the conditions in the oceans.
I love your chemical mind so much that I’m writing this with tears in my eyes. Don’t you know you can’t hold the gold in your ocean hands? Either way, can you help me? I lost my passport and I need money. I’ll pay you back. I will start a war for you.
If I believe in something hard enough, I can make myself an island. I could pay off my country’s debt if my country was not making more debt every second of every day. The gold disappears as soon as I set it on the beach to dry.
The Grand Canyon is one way of explaining the deficit. We travel to view the demonstration. We take donkeys down it. We photograph ourselves in front of it. Some of us fall into it.
In the Stranded Traveler scam, the victim’s computer is infected with malware that logs keystrokes and reveals user names and passwords. Then, the scammers can sign on, change the password, and take control.
I’m writing this with tears in my eyes.
The phone gave me distance. The internet gave me more distance. My curiosity grew.
I had a pen pal that lived in Oregon. She emailed me a photo of her house and I showed my mother, Look where she lives! I couldn’t believe it. The house was so huge. In her next letter, she wrote I have to confess that the house I sent you is not mine. Mine is much smaller.
One way to tell if someone’s lying: observe their face. Look them in the eye. And if you’ve never seen their eyes, good luck.
My voice is trembling, though I am typing. I’m writing this with tears in my eyes. My mind is trembling. I know that big house wasn’t yours, but I loved you anyway. I loved writing to you. And now I need you to love writing to me. I need you to love sending me money.
A voicemail from a blocked number: I’ve missed you so much. Don’t try to call me back.
Blocked number: The FBI reports a home break-in every two minutes.
May I come in? Through the garden?
In middle school, I met someone in a chat room that happened to go to a neighboring high school. I told him my friend had red hair and he said Ooh I like that. I didn’t have any photos to send him.
One day, he asked if I wanted to talk on the phone. He said If we talk, we have to talk about sex and I said OK even though I’d never talked about sex with anyone. I typed my phone number and the lime green phone lit up. But when we spoke, we didn’t talk about sex. He said I was afraid you were going to be some dirty old man. The way he said that told me he wished I was some dirty old man.
Later that year, my middle school track team had a meet at his high school. I told him where I’d be—with my red-haired friend. He walked by with his friends, laughing. He was tall and muscular. A man, I thought, meeting his gaze. In the sun, he looked golden, and we never spoke again.
Truth relies on my belief in it.
A lie thrives without a face.
Hello. I’m calling from Windows.
The computer company?
No. The travel company. Windows.
I’m calling to let you know you’ve won your very own private island!
Wow! How did I win that?
By not owing any money to the government. I’m from Washington D.C. I’m calling from Washington D.C.
Well, I did pay my taxes last year.
Indeed you did. And now you will have your very own private island. I’m just going to need you to turn on your computer.
So I can give you all the information you need.
Ok, it’s on.
Wonderful. Now just connect to the internet and type in your credit card information.
CHELSEA HODSON is the author of two chapbooks: Pity the Animal (Future Tense Books, 2014), and Beach Camp (Swill Children, 2010). A 2012 PEN Center USA Emerging Voices Fellow, her essays have been published in Black Warrior Review, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Immaterial, Sex Magazine, and elsewhere. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.