Days passed and we stayed in steady contact… I didn’t want to let on that I Googled his phone number and his name wasn’t attached to it. There would be many reasons for this– work pays for his phone, he’s on a family plan, he’s on a friend’s plan… many scenarios, so I was willing to let it go. For now.
At first he was the first to message, telling me that he was thinking of me and that he was so depressed from his hospitalization. I empathized but reiterated that his health was the most important thing and that he needed to take care of himself. Having spent the better part of a week in the hospital, he started to get more emotional. He texted me,
“Once we have some time alone and get to know each other more, I know you’re the one for me. I can’t wait to spend time with you. And get you alone.”
Hold the phone. What? I responded, “What do you mean get me alone? And I am looking forward to spending some time with you, too. But focus on getting better.”
Clarifying, he told me he meant that English wasn’t his first language and that he’s Armenian, so sometimes he says things incorrectly. I reassured him that it wasn’t an issue, I just wanted to better understand what he meant. He basically just told me he was looking forward to spending time with me one on one. That is a sentiment I could totally get behind– the whole beginning phase of whatever was unfolding was not ideal– what… now with two hospitalizations? I mean, SO not ideal. However, he seemed sweet enough, so I wanted to pursue it and hope for the best.
Another day or two passed, he had been in the hospital for a full week at this point, and he called me over my lunch break.
“Hi,” he said morosely.
“Hey! How’s it going?!” I overcompensated with chipper to balance out his tone.
He began, “Going ok. I think I do need to borrow the money. $200.”
“Ok. We can work it out,” I said, knowing that I didn’t necessarily have 200 extra dollars lying around, but I weighed the pros and cons of lending a small, yet significant, amount to someone I barely knew. While I could lose it all, the return on investment could be great– so I gambled and consented to the loan. “Let me know when you want me to get that to you. And how, I guess, since your account is frozen.”
“Ok. Thank you. I really appreciate it. I’ll let you know,” he sounded relieved.
I continued, “So, how are you feeling?”
“Starting to feel better, but they can’t find what’s wrong with me,” he sounded frustrated. “I’m actually calling because… um, I wanted to call to tell you that… so many people have taken advantage of me in the past, and you seem like a nice guy. I mean the last guy I invited over before you– it was months ago– he tired to steal some stuff. And well, you’re not like that. I am starting to really care about you and I see that you’re a really great guy. I’ve had a lot of time to think while I’ve been in the hospital, and I want to tell you something.” There was a brief pause before, “I want you to be my boyfriend.”
The blood drained from my face.
He continued, “I know that we are a good fit and I think that, yeah sure, we are still getting to know each other… but this whole hospital stay has really put things into perspective for me. And eventually, well, you know. You shouldn’t have to pay rent, my house is paid for, so you could just move in with me. It makes sense.”
“Are you still there?” He asked.
Clearing my throat and waving a friendly hello at my coworkers walking by going to lunch, “Yes. Um. I am here.”
He had more to say, “And you know, I don’t have family anymore, no family that I talk to anyway, and I need to start thinking about who I want around me, and who I have… you know, to put in my will,” NO HE DID NOT JUST SAY THAT, I was befuddled. “And every single family member of mine has died from a heart condition at an early age: my dad, my uncle, my grandfather, all of them. Sure, I didn’t talk to them anymore, but they all had heart problems. And this really scares me, so I want to plan.”
I took a second. “Wow. Ok. Raef. Wait.”
I sighed and then carried on with thoughtful pauses and was unsure of how much or how little to say. “That is soooo sweet. And a little morbid. So… don’t die, let’s start there. Focus on not dying… and as for the rest, I am not saying I don’t want that, but let’s hang out a few more times before we make any declarations. I mean, you might end up hating me,” as unlikely as that was I had to put it out there. “So, let’s just take it a day at time and in a couple… weeks or something, we can revisit this topic.”
There was a silence. And now I wanted to fill every second of it, so I did…
“So, why should we focus on this, when we should really be focused on your health…” I kept saying WE– What was wrong with me?! I COULDN’T STOP SAYING WE! “I want you to be healthy and happy, you want that too… at least I would imagine. That’s something we want… and then once that’s all squared away, we can discuss what that future looks like. After you are better.”
After some breathing through the mouthpiece, he uttered, “Ooook.” Did I not answer correctly? Was he upset? Suddenly I was wishing this was a face-to-face conversation so that I could gauge his expression.
“Are you ok?” I inquired.
“Yep,” he was curt. “I’m going to rest now.”
Inhaling deeply, “Ok. Sounds like a good idea. Let me know if you need anything… I can stop by the hospital or… whatever. And Raef?”
“I’m really looking forward to spending more time with you, whenever that may be.”
“Mhmmhmmm. Me too. Ok, bye.” He hung up the phone.
“B-,” I stopped myself since I could tell he was no longer on the other end of the call. Then to myself, “Um. Bye.”
The next day we were back in regular communication… whatever that meant at this point. We texted and called. There was one strange thing that I came across while texting him, however. Apple has created monsters of all of us… when you send messaged from Apple device to Apple device, it shows “Delivered” after the message is sent. Well, one morning my messages weren’t being delivered. As a persnickety person, this often throws me into a tailspin. However, on that particular day, I was attempting to remain Zen about the whole situation. I thought, he’s in the hospital, there are many reasons his phone might be switched off: a procedure, X-rays, he just wants to unplug for a bit… it could have been any of those. I was fine for a bit, and then after an hour or so, my messages still weren’t sent… I tried calling. Straight to voicemail. Strange. I called again, voicemail. Third times a charm! Called one more time, directly to voicemail. Ok, I conceded. His phone is definitely off. So, like any non-persnickety, totally calm, grounded, and secure person would do, I just logged into the proximity app on which we met. Fucking fuck. He’s online, and still less than a mile away. I sent him a message there. “Hey good morning! Not sure what’s going on, but my texts are going through and I tried calling. Hope all is ok.”
Soon thereafter, of course, I received a couple of text messages… no mention of the text I sent on the app, just responding to my previous messages. This undelivered message pattern followed by a message sent in the app in order to get a response emerged on two separate occasions… Something didn’t feel right, and yet, I persisted.
Our communication was sporadic over the rest of the day, nothing of note to report, other than the fact that once again, I was in sleuth mode after the whole undelivered text thing… and I looked up his address 755 W Luscious Avenue on good ol’ Google Maps. You just have to love that satellite view, and then street view! It’s so helpful when you’re trying to remember what someone’s house looks like, or when you’re trying to figure out the best place to park, or when you’re trying to verify the actual address of someone whom you just met. Guess what… that was his address. I zoomed in on the maps, and he address was 747 W Luscious Avenue… close enough to what he told me, but all the same, not his address. My curiosity was piqued.
I took my search further and looked on Zillow to see if there was any ownership information– none. I could tell that the house was last purchased on March 15, 2017 for $1.2 million, and it was paid for in cash. No mortgage. But sold to whom? I didn’t know. Like his phone, I couldn’t link his name, Raef, to the house in any way. He hadn’t registered for anything at that address, and after looking into social media… I couldn’t find him anywhere. There was no trace of Raef, anywhere. Granted, I didn’t have his last name, but then again, he didn’t have mine. Hell, I didn’t even know when his birthday was– we have been getting to know each other by talking ailments… his ailments, and I was doing what I do– playing caretaker.
The next morning– 9 days after he was admitted to the hospital, I received a text at 6:38 a.m. stating,
No punctuation. Nothing. Just “I’m home” — I didn’t see it right away because my phone was on silent.
And then I woke up at 7:59 a.m. — I remember the time because I looked at my phone and was about to return his text when the phone rang. It was him.
“Hi! You’re home? I just saw your message and was texting you back?” I started.
His response was, again, that of a withdrawn teenager, “Hi. Yeah. I’m home.”
A small silence, “Ok. How are you doing? What are you up to?”
“Just relaxing. I have a lot to do today. Can you come over? And can you know… bring the money?” He asked.
“Sure. Now? Um. Yeah. I can get there soon.” I was still in bed.
“You don’t have to come right away. But maybe in a couple hours?”
That felt better. “Yes, I can totally do that. But wait… how did you get discharged from the hospital already today?”
“I mean, it’s so early, and you text me almost two hours ago– how did you get discharged and home by 6:30am on a Saturday?” Spidey-Sense tingling.
“Oh. It was the end of the shift and they wanted me out.”
“Huh. Ok. Well, glad you’re home. I will see you in a couple hours– And I will bring the money. Cash ok?”
“Yep,” he simply responded.
“Looking forward to it.” We hung up the phone, my brow furrowed more than it typically did… This doesn’t feel good.
Having been in the hospital numerous times and knowing how discharges typically work, they don’t get you out by 6 a.m. Especially on a Saturday. I am sure there are exceptions to every rule, so I was going to have to, once again, give him the benefit of the doubt– and yet my bullshit meter was ringing. So, I sent a text,
“Hey. Send me your address when you get a chance. See you soon!”
I know I could have scrolled up in our conversation to find his address, but instead I wanted to see what address he gave me.
His response dinged,
757 W Luscious Avenue
Wrong. Different address that last time… and not even the actual one! So now three addresses were in play: 755, 757, and 747 (the real house number which I knew thanks to Google, but he never gave me).
I didn’t bring up the fact that he gave me the wrong address via text, but my heart was in my throat. I responded, “Great, thanks! See you soon!” I was choosing to go into this with an open-mind, a guarded heart, and $200. What was I doing??
Soon after, I was on the road and on my way to his house. Of course I had a ton of hesitations at this point– there’s no online record of this guy and he’s given me the wrong address twice. But, I was still there. In my head, I kept grappling with the idea that he didn’t seem like a bad guy. So, I continued to give him the benefit of the doubt– I have a huge flaw… I am too forgiving of people, even to my own detriment. And more than forgiving, I believe in the goodness of humanity. When someone gives me misinformation, I assume it’s a mistake– even when the same mistake is made repeatedly.
I arrived and this time he wasn’t waiting outside for me since I had already been there– and plain as day on the mailbox was “747.” Now I could bring it up without appearing nosy or suspect of him. I let him know I was there via text, and then he shouted from the house, “Be right there!”
After being let in, the dogs once again greeted me in their docile way. I handed him the cash I brought and then we sat on a bench outside, he looked at the neighbors. Suspicious at the absence of movement for the windows I saw.
We visited for a bit and while we sat there in the sun, I noticed something on the house… the house number. 747. “Oh… by the way, you have gave me the wrong address. Twice.”
“I did? What did I say?” He asked.
I told him that he had one two separate occasions given me the wrong house numbers, and then he said, “Oh it’s this phone. I keep sending the wrong things.”
Huh. Sure. Ok. “I mean, I found you– and it didn’t hurt that you were standing outside the first time, but– you should probably know your address…” I left it dangling.
“Yeah, sorry about that.”
There was a small silence, then abruptly he stood, “Oh shit. What time is it?” I looked at my watch and informed him that it was a little after 11 a.m. “Shit, I have to get ready. My chauffeur will be here at 11:30.”
“Um. Your chauffeur?”
“Yes,” he responded nonchalantly.
I laughed a little, then, “you have chauffeur? You don’t drive?”
He smiled, “I have cars and I can drive. But work pays for a driver.”
In my head, WHAT KIND OF MORTICIAN HAS A DRIVER?! What funeral home is going to just have their workers carted around even on weekends?! My bullshit meter was dinging, but yet, I continued. “Ok. That must be nice.”
“Yeah it is… oh, by the way. The estate sale at the house I inherited is this weekend… so maybe if you’re not busy, you could come with me tomorrow after it’s closed and we could go shopping.”
I again laughed a little. “Um. Ok. That sounds fun. I can meet you there, or here… or wherever.”
He agreed and told me that he would have to see how the day turned out, but we would be in touch before then. I was soon back on the road to my neighborhood. While in the car he called to say, “Hey. I just wanted to say thank you for coming to my place and hanging for a bit. I really appreciate it and it was great to see you. Soon, everything will be settled down and we can just start hanging out like normal people. I promise.”
I was reassured by this. He knew how to be a decent person, even if the details were not his strong suit. Again, in that moment, I thought to myself, Why are you allowing yourself to be so naive? There is something totally not right about this situation… he didn’t know his address, there’s no record or him anywhere… and yet, he seems to be a really good guy and he seems to really like me… so maybe I am just being paranoid? So perhaps he’s just super cautious with giving out his actual address?
Give it a little more time. I was convinced there wasn’t going to be another shoe that dropped. I was convinced that all the naysayers in the world, including the voices in my head, were wrong. Ok, I might have not been completely convinced… but I was trying my damnedest to give him the benefit of the doubt. After all, he was a 37-year-old man who was having heart and kidney problems, who’s been taken advantage of, who doesn’t have any family left in the picture… all according to him– no reputable sources to corroborate his story. In fact, no sources at all. And I was still in the game… wanting more.
What the fuck was wrong with me?
Days passed and the communication with Raef was stilted and spotty, at best. He ended up not inviting me to the estate sale, and couldn’t seem to find any time in his schedule of meetings with lawyers about the estate, with his boss about returning to work, and with the estate sale company to finalize the sales. After a couple of days of expressing my interest in seeing him, something happened…
“Hi. In emergency room. Something doesn’t feel right.”
It’s happening again!
It’s happening again?!
It’s happening. Again.
I inquired about the symptoms: chest pains, shortness of breath… you know, everything WebMD tells you when you’re having a heart attack. I offered to leave work to join him at the hospital so that he didn’t feel alone (and also because I couldn’t believe this was happening to him, AGAIN.) But like before, he refused any kind of care, and I sat at work, my mind racing and attempting to figure out what could possibly be going on with him.
Later that afternoon, he called me.
“Still at the hospital,” he started.
“Oh babe. I am so sorry. What did the doctor say?”
He cleared his throat, “They found three blocked arteries that were missed before.” Are you kidding me? “I’m going to have surgery tomorrow.”
Sitting in disbelief, not because of the three blockages, not because of the fact that the previous doctor missed those blockages, but because I was actually supposed to believe that a 37-year-old man who was in fair shape suddenly had three blocked arteries? No way. That didn’t compute. But again, because I am most-likely to believe anyone’s story until they give me reason to disbelieve them… I listened and empathized and I let him know that if he needed anything, I would certainly be willing to be there at any moment. He simply thanked me and then hung up the phone to get some more rest.
The day passed and there were a few sporadic messages exchanged. Frequent and steady enough, but spotty at the same time. I went to bed that night thinking about the day, and what it must be like to prepare for heart surgery… IF that was even what was going on!
The next morning I checked in about his mental state, the time and location of the procedure. He finally gave me a clue:
He told me he was feeling anxious and that his blood pressure was elevated; I again offered to come sit with him, he declined. Sweetly, he mentioned that the nurse would be calling me after he got out of surgery to give me an update, and this landed us in new territory. I was his emergency contact now?! Wow. Things are moving quickly.
Once we got off the phone, I stared out the window into the open sky, there was a little voice in my head telling me to put the pieces together. Now that you have a concrete facts, look into it. I wanted so badly to just believe him, to take him for his word. But humans are flawed– they often disappoint.
I focused my brain onto the facts (or the things he told me which I would trust as facts)– he was at Cedars-Sinai which was about 5 miles from where I was currently; the procedure was happening at 3pm; the nurse would call me when it was over.
Starting with the first of those “facts,” I logged on to that proximity app that was so convenient for finding out how close people are. There in front of my face was the grid of humans… my eyes locked onto his profile. I refreshed a few times to make sure it was accurate. And then the knots in my stomach started to tighten.
He was less than a mile away.
Weighing my options of what to do in that moment– did I want to confront him and get some clarity, potentially upsetting him and his three blocked arteries causing him to have yet another “heart attack”? Was I willing to turn the other way and play stupid… again? I was torn, and yet, I was invested– both emotionally (for some reason) and financially. I wanted to walk away right there, but after hearing him talk about how he has been taken advantage of in the past, I didn’t want to be yet another person who walked away from him.
I took a few deep breaths, don’t act based on pure emotion. I picked up my phone and wrote a text,
“Hi babe. Sending lots of good vibes your way. And, something strange is going on with your phone, I think. The app tells me you’re online and less than a mile away.”
I sent the message and stared at my phone. The message showed “delivered.” Then the typing began… I could see the thought bubble in action. Then it came through,
“I don’t care about the app at moment sorry. That’s the last think I want to worry about.”
Feeling duped and a little confused, but sure that I made the right call in bringing it up, I sat there formulating a response. Then my phone rang.
“Why would you do this to me?! I am about to have surgery and you’re bringing up the app? I don’t care about that! Now my blood pressure is out of control even more and I may not be able to have the surgery.”
I interrupted, “Whoa. Do not blame this on me. I am simply asking for some clarity. You say you’re a Cedars-Sinai, and yet the GPS on your phone indicates that you’re less than 1 mile away, about as close as your house. So I am trying to understand what’s going on.”
He continued, “I am not blaming you, I just don’t know why you would bring this up right now?”
“Because I care about you and something doesn’t feel right. I just want you to tell me what’s going on.”
“I’m in the hospital,” he maintained. “And I am really nervous about the surgery.”
“Ok,” I backed down. “Please make sure the nurse calls me afterward. I would really like to be updated.”
“I will. Try to breathe and it’s all going to be ok.”
He agreed and then we were off the phone. A few minutes later and the following text exchange occurred,
“You got me all upset now. My blood pressure, it’s out of control again.”
Babe. I’m sorry. I’ve been nothing but kind to you and I’m asking for clarity about why the app says you’re online and less than a mile away. I’m supportive of you and want the best for you. But I need you to be completely honest with me.
“It’s ok. Will talk later. I’ve been honest with you.”
I didn’t believe him. So, I laid my own trap.
Ok. Good. Good luck this afternoon. I really like you. And I’ve been thinking a lot about the conversation you mentioned when you were in the hospital last time. And I do want to be your boyfriend. So. Hang in there. And looking forward to seeing you soon.
It didn’t feel great to say those words, but I was convinced there was an honest person somewhere in the shell of a human who was playing GPS games with my heart. So, I persisted. AND I wanted my money back! So, he wasn’t getting off so easily.
To be continued…