OK, this is–
Hmm, where to begin?
See, it’s a little hard to explain….
What the hell, sometimes the best thing to do is just jump right in there.
This week’s featured female blogger is one ‘isabella v’ who runs a blog called–no, I’m not kidding…I’m not–‘….she’s a flight risk’. Yes, it’s a quote. This blog isn’t just hard to explain, it’s hard to characterize. ‘isabella’–who isn’t hiding the fact that that’s not her name–claims that she is a 20-something hiding out from her rich and powerful family. The best way to do this is probably to let her tell the story in her own words. Her blog begins:
On March 2, 2003 at 4:12 pm, I disappeared.My name is isabella v.
I’m twentysomething and I am an international fugitive.
My name is isabella v. But it isn’t.
I’ve been careful up to now. Careful to leave few clues or to obscure them if I did leave them, to mix them with something else and make them unreadable. The first two weeks, the hardest, are over. I feel mostly safe. As safe as I can feel. There is still, of course, a constant “over the shoulder” paranoia to all this. The fear that I’m giving something away when I talk to a realtor. A clerk. An airline ticket agent. I doubt I will ever really be free of that.
I’ve been careful up to now to avoid contacting anyone who knew me before. I know that is the kiss of death but the temptation is always lingering. The temptation to reach out and touch the old world. There is danger there. I can feel it. Real and palpable in the air of that world. But I am still tempted.
It feels stupid and careless to keep a weblog, but it feels smart too. It’s a release for the much more dangerous temptation to pick up the phone and call someone I once knew. That other girl once knew. She. Her. Not me anymore. To meet someone. To write a letter. A post card. Something clever and coy. To leave physical evidence. Here I can cover my tracks better. Or I think I can.
And perhaps publicity will help. If my story is public, it’s harder to hurt me. Isn’t it? Harder to make me disappear? People will notice. Questions will be asked. That’s the last thing they want. Questions.
And so I begin to tell my tale.
Intriguing, right? There seems to be a debate swirling in a certain corner of the Blogosphere over whether or not isabella and her blog are a put-on. I’ve read a lot of this thing (there’s pages and pages of it) and all I can say is, she might be for real. I’m tending in that direction for a couple of reasons, one of which is personal. The other has to do with the writing.
At first–I mean, look at the excerpt above–it feels like an obvious fake, a set-up hoax from the git-go: the novelistic opening, the episodic adventures, the emotions that don’t quite ring true. But as you go through this thing, you’re struck by the fact that it’s clear she is learning how to write: her sentences get less hoary and cliched, she starts to tell her story more simply, less for effect than clarity, and the result is that it becomes more believable. She is ‘growing up’–becoming a little more honest, a little more complicated, and a little more mature. This is either a brilliant writer aping an amateur developing her skills or an amateur developing her latent talent. The former would make this the work of a rare and startling literary genius, but the work itself is often mundane; the latter is easier to accept. It makes sense.
The personal reason is in the nature of a disclaimer.
When I was young and foolish (for reasons I won’t bore you with now and which wouldn’t surprise you much if you knew them), I spent several years as a sort of private detective. It was easy to do–the state where I was living didn’t require training or background; all you had to do was register with the State’s Attorney’s office and submit a form (name of the company, address of the office, telephone number) with a $25 filing fee. That was it–you were in business. I started this business because a girl I knew ran away from home just before her high school graduation. I was young, I had long hair, I knew a lot of the people she knew and I fit in, so her father offered me money if I would find her. I needed the money, so I found her. It took a week.
It isn’t so easy to hide as you might think. To succeed, you have to be ruthless: cut all your ties with everybody you know, learn to answer to different names without goofing up, learn to keep the stories that you invent straight so they don’t crash into each other and give you away, and most importantly, find a way to make a living–and somewhere to live–without using your real ID and SocSec number.
I chased more than a dozen of these runaways and I found all but two of them. In the process I had to get to know who they were and why they’d run off, and their stories are remarkably similar to the story isabella tells. They were all bright, all motivated, all less sure than their parents that money, position, and power were the Holy Grail their families treated them as. They felt trapped in a life that made them desperately unhappy, even ill, by the demands of parents who were used to being obeyed, used to getting their way no matter what they had to do.
Somewhere around the fourth of fifth of these runaways I found, I ran into a girl who was terrified that she’d been discovered. ‘You don’t know these people,’ she said. ‘They’re not human.’ I took that to be hyperbole, but her fear was genuine. I brokered a deal for her to meet her parents at the home of someone she trusted and talk, just talk. Her father–a high muckety-muck at Sylvania–solemnly promised not to do anything untoward; he said he just wanted to be sure his little girl was alright. Fine. As agreed, I gave him the address.
That night I went to the trusted friend’s house–I’ll call him ‘Rob’–to meet her as arranged and find out how things had gone. She wasn’t there. ‘She went home with her parents,’ Rob said, and there was something in the way he said it that I didn’t like. There was shame in his eyes and in his voice. It took a while to get the story, but what had happened was a scene that I would have been able to predict if I’d paid more attention to the kind of man her father was instead of buying the sincere front.
Daddy had used his connections to find the telephone number attached to the address I’d given him. He had then called Rob and offered him $10,000 to hand his daughter over to his ‘representatives’–he wasn’t even planning to be there. Rob balked at first, so Daddy upped it to $15,000 and as a closer threatened to have Rob arrested for ‘aiding an abbetting a fugitive’ if he didn’t co-operate. It was BS, of course, but Rob didn’t know that until I told him it was–he wasn’t a lawyer.
The girl had shown up a little early but she was hardly in the door before three men burst through it, tied her like a calf at a rodeo roping, put a gag in her mouth, and carried her out of the building, wriggling frantically and trying to scream for help through the gag. One of the men tossed an envelope with money in it on the bed. He said, ‘That’s for the kid.’
I felt bad about the way it had gone down, as if it was my fault, so I tracked her down. Her father had put her in an ‘institution’–a high-cost sanitarium for the sons and daughters of the rich and famous in Connecticut called the Institute for Living, a combination Betty Ford Center crossed with Bellevue. She was locked up in a psycho ward. Her father insisted to the doctors that running away proved she was ‘mentally unbalanced’. They agreed to keep her ‘for observation’.
The Institute–which did not have its reputation for nothing–kept her for two weeks and then let her go, saying she was normal but her parents were as loony as a crateful of fruitcakes. I tried to apologize for what I had allowed to happen but she wouldn’t speak to me. That was one of the hardest lessons I ever learned. ‘They’re not human.’ It wasn’t hyperbole, it was a simple description of a fact. The rich and powerful don’t think they have to live by the rules they make for the rest of us. And that was just a senior VP at Sylvania. isabella’s parents are supposed to be the latest in a generations-long line of Europe’s rich and powerful; can you imagine what forces would be arrayed against her?
Alright, I’ve explained why I think she might be genuine–I’m predisposed to think so; old guilt and all that. But here’s what really matters: True or not, this woman is getting to be a helluva writer. Simply put, her blog is a fascinating read. Some of it is marginal, mundane, even trite, but some of it approaches the poetic.
The dark in an abandoned resort is far more menacing than most dark. It amplifies sound. Dramatically. Boosts ambient presences, before giving them a more hostile tone. The white noise of the sea becomes a sound masking static. Stepping on those auditory hints and suggestions of danger at the very edge of perception that you would otherwise just barely hear- just barely in time.I expect something to happen at any moment. It is the anticipation of waiting for a crash. Hearing from your window the long wobbling whine of tires dragged, kicking and screaming across asphalt, waiting with teeth clenched, eyes unseeing, upwards towards the ceiling, or squeezed closed as tight as muscles can be commanded, waiting for the inevitable crunch, knowing it must come- or maybe not. They go on… a near miss? Silence? The long silence of a wheeled craft plummeting to the ground below from cliffside? A fiery wreck? The subdued, absorbed sound of metal crunching against the ancient wood of a sturdy tree? Or the sharp, bell like clash of a thin telephone pole? Darkness as squealing tires on their way to a wreck. It hints, but it also conceals. It conceals entire universes. Hidden worlds.
‘…she’s a flight risk’ has some of the best pure writing on the net–and some of the worst. But what do you want? It’s a soap opera, the kind that harkens back to the Dickens days of novels-by-installment, and the story she tells–when she tells it–is fascinating. So it’s uneven, so was Dickens. So it might not be true, neither was everything Mark Twain wrote in his ‘non-fiction’. This is a blog you read for the pleasures of docu-drama (and take it from me, when it comes to the ins and outs of fugitivehood, the girl knows whereof she speaks) and originality.
‘…she’s a flight risk’ is, if nothing else, unique, and that’s cause for celebration. Always.