"Mom," I said, "Do you really think I can follow my dreams?" I was sitting on a chair on our apartment balcony while I looked up as the clouds passed over another layer of dotted clouds which felt like sand on the shore in the sky.
My mother, who looked more tired than she tried to hide, got herself to smile enough when she said, "Honey, if you ever get to do something you really like, something that makes you happy, then that can be both of our dream." She then held my shoulders as I turned around to kiss her cheek.
"I love you mom." I said as I gave her a great big hug.
Her voice cracking, all she could manage was, "my sweet girl. Promise me that you will come right back here and tell me when you reach that dream. Can you promise me that?"
"I promise... H-hey mom."
"What is it Haley?"
"Think I can help you back into your chair?"
"Oh don't you worry about that honey, I'll be fine." She chided as she shook her hands onto her wheelchair as she gently blocked me with her trembling hands, telling me to back away and let her do this. She trembled as she got into her seat and looked at me with confusion. The caretaker came and asked if everything was alright. I told her things were fine and she recommended it was around the time to leave. So I got my coat, took my purse, and kissed my mom goodbye for the day.
It was difficult to convince her step by step that she needed assisted living conditions. Needed a caretaker. She even got real upset with me when it was my idea to install a "Life Alert" system in her home. She was losing her hearing but the hearing aid was doing half its job. Her vision on the other hand, had a bad scar in one eye as she loses her vision I try and try to convince her to get some eye surgery. She tells me "when she is ready for it" every time I ask but seriously, who is ever ready for surgery?
As I walked out the door I guess no matter how many times I hear it before, and no matter how many times I prepare for it, it always hurts.
For lack of a better word, her eyes "change." Suddenly she looks around her surroundings as if the walls had expanded.
"Who was that?" She asked her caretaker.
"Your daughter." The caretaker said.
"No. Haley's my little girl. She's still in the 2nd grade."
I couldn't stand it. I opened the door again.
"Mom, I grew up." I said.
The caretaker looked startled, as if to warn me to stop but she was too late. I didn't care. I love my mother and I want to be by her side. Because she first loved me and I know that beautiful lesson from this teacher. I know it's real, and because of her I still feel it, no matter what happens to me that makes me despise it. It's there.
Even when she forgets.
"No you didn't. Who ARE you, young lady? Where's Haley? Somebody HELP!"
"Mom, it's me." I said as I pressed my face against hers. She resists as usual and is about to push me away when I tell her. "Mommy, you forget this all the time. I grew up."
She stops resisting for a moment to wonder if what I'm saying is true. I know that she has to process this all over again. She reaches for my face and her thumb makes tiny circles around my cheek.
".....Is it? Is it really you, Haley? My little Haley?"
"Yes mom. It's me, Haley. I'm not going anywhere." I said with tears in my eyes. We held each other for a while and then I decided a few more hours just gently sitting wouldn't be so bad.
When it's really time for me to leave, she sits in the chair watching me leave, smiling.
That's how I want to leave the room from now on.
A lot has changed since I assigned a caretaker. People tell me that maybe I should send her to a home. However, she really wants to keep one last piece of her independence, and my heart burns with power when I think of her strength. I lie to friends and family that I read up on it but I actually have very little knowledge of how retrograde amnesia works. By lying that I know more, in a sense, I guess it's my stupid way of letting people know that I can emotionally deal with it and that I am allowed to be there for my mother without hurting when it does. As though false knowledge gives me the right.
My mother doesn't even know her symptoms but she fights on like a delirious knight, swinging blades in the darkness and jumping into the danger. She is, and always has been, my hero.
I'm no hero.
I didn't make much money. I was a waitress when I was told I was going to be laid off. I visited Mom to comfort her. At least that's what I told myself. I knew that I was really trying to comfort myself, really. Even though I know she wouldn't, I wanted Mom to sit with me and help me sort life's problems with short hugs and warm smiles along the way. I wanted that reassurance you can only get from a mom who loves you.
I hosted a makeup show on YouTube. I would just connect a camera to my laptop while I applied eyeliner and nail polish and somehow I garnered a following. To try and stretch my limits, I ended up played some puzzle games and dating sims. People thought I was cute. A good kind of cute. They liked me when I would joke around or mess up on a game. I guess I liked myself more back then as was a fan of along with them. It was around 2010 when people told me in comments that I could make money through something called "ad sense
". At the time all I knew was it was some kind of partnership program so when I figured it out I knew I had to join up. At first, I thought the comments were trolling me, but I saw other YouTube users doing it and before I knew it, I was signed up and actually going to be making money.
I was connected with it through the help of some of my friends. I was at a party when Tiff, my glamorous friend who always flaunts herself around and is way too forward with everyone around her, especially me. Tiff is the girl who usually never notices signs that I am uncomfortable, or that I did not want this to happen. Then there is Chris. Chris is that awkward little neighbor I used to have and after he moved away we remained close. We still went to the same schools and kept in touch over the years. He was at the party, because he knew how I can go through Google ad sense
since he claimed to know one of the Google ad execs so I can make more than a usual creator. They set up my account and got me in through my PayPal account using my credit card and my social security number. I admit in retrospect I could have planned it out better but they told me to keep things simple. Then I told them to create a GoFundMe page for my mother's upcoming surgery expenses.
I owe her that much.
At the party, Tiff introduced me to some of her roommates' friends who were really loud and wild girls while in the back of the dance floor (kitchen) was Chris, adjusting the volume on the iPod speakers to low. He stood neatly in a suit and tie, and I thought I overdressed. Chris took me upstairs to a computer, and he shut the door and there was someone already on the keyboard, typing quickly as he dictated and asked me exactly what kind of show I put on YouTube. I told him I do makeup and games. He put me in the system, I "signed" documents online and before I knew it I officially had a job. Online. How cool was that!!?
Chris thanked me for being patient as he had a dial-up modem and the process took a LOT longer than it needed to be. I was alright and he invited me to go downstairs and have some fun while he and his buddy do a bunch of boring legal stuff for me online. Tiff immediately grabbed me and shoved me in front of this hunky guy who made me get into a cold sweat. I quickly checked my hair and hoped what I was wearing was nice enough. He was a European friend of her roommate who came over to the states to see some cute American girls.
He was Kris, who was much cuter than Chris.
Kris Dieb. Even his name was incredible. He was full of grace, charm, and wit. The caliber that he held was so high. He just finished talking and shouting back at Chris when I approached him.
He gave me one glance-over, and then gave his verdict.
"Chris here, tells me that you are cute...."
I trembled where I stood.
"However I do not think that you are cute." He put his hand on my chin and told me. "I think that you are beautiful."
My heart flutter-fainted as I swooned over him cartoonishly. I just melted into a puddle and he danced with me into the night. It was like a fairytale. They even played "You Belong With Me'"
by Taylor Swift on the speakers. He was the prince and I was the princess. I will say yes...
I was blushing a storm while Tiff excitedly begged me for details as she pulled me from him for a chance with him herself. I figured this was a good a time as any to actually go back home. Before I do that, however, I realize that I just had a major breakthrough. Not the guy. The YouTube Partnership Program. I had a job! Online! And all I have to do is what I like doing all the time, and I get PAID for it? Oh my god, my mind was ready to blow.
I have a job now. A real job.
Immediately, I knew there was someone else who had to know.
She was sitting in her bed watching television when she looked my way. "You're not the caretaker," she grumbled. As she got into her wheelchair, she pushed herself towards me with a look of suspicion and bewilderment. "What is your name, young lady?"
She looked startled upon hearing the name. I was worried she was going to have another freak out and then I would be pushed away from her. I was scared, but the face I gave her was a straight one. Then she looked at me with a much softer expression. She was lowering her defenses and that was always a good sign. She started a small smile.
"You know, I have a daughter named Haley. She's still in the 2nd grade. Sweetest little thing, too. Do you want me to show you her picture? I think I have it around here somewhere. Hold on, let me get it."
I stood patiently waiting with my hands behind my back against the wall and bouncing on my heels like a cartoon. I was tempted to whistle.
"So Haley, what do you do?"
"I make money on YouTube now, mom." Oops. I slipped my tongue. She is my mother and I am used to talking with her like that. It's almost as if she is playing a part for a theater sketch and she only has to pretend she doesn't know me to dive deeper into her character. That's what I tell myself. Really, she is at the ocean's floor, as deep as she can go. It is so hard to follow her down.
"Calling me mom are we? You are a strange woman to come and visit a lady all cooped up here and call me 'mom'. Is your mother missing?"
"She always is..." I said quietly.
"That's too bad. Shame on her, leaving a nice young lady out to fend for yourself. I guess your'e just one of those people with abandonment issues or what do you call it?.... " She trailed off in her thoughts and didn't come back. She was still searching her drawer though a pile of messy photographs.
"Here we are. Haley.... meet Haley." Mom said proudly as she held up one of the pictures.
The small freckled girl in the photograph was holding a baseball bat in front of a chain-link fence along a large shady weeping willow in the middle of the park. The girl was smiling and had missing teeth. Her shirt was stained in flecks you can barely see but I was only looking for the mustard from the nachos her Dad got her before her big game. I still miss Dad, but he left us a long time ago...
As I looked into the little girl's eyes tears began to form in my own as I wish I could tell her that something very bad was about to happen. If I could somehow tell her. I wanted to warn her. I wanted to encourage her. I wanted to say so many things that I was going to have a mental breakdown if I continued thinking about them all. About that little girl. So instead, I hit reset and played pretend with her.
"She's a beautiful little girl."
"Isn't she? Makes me proud to see her do so many things. You know, I bet your mother loves you too."
"I know she does."
"That's very good to hear. When was the last time you spoke with her?"
"That's a very personal question. I think I'd better leave." I was about to make my way towards the door. I meant it.
"How about you tell me what you would want to say to your mother, you know, if she were here."
If she were here? Does she even knew what she was saying?
"If she were here..... I'd tell her that I did it. I want to tell her, 'Mom, I did it. I'm doing what I wanted to. That I'm going for my dreams.'"
She looked at me and said, "That's strange.... I'm not sure.... but I think it was a dream where I wanted someone special to me, someone close, to have the same thing....."
I smiled at her. "Funny isn't it?"
"Well, I suppose as long as you are doing what you want to do, I'm sure your mother is very proud of you."
Then she sat up and she turned her head to look at me and gave a knowing grin.
"You can call me 'mom' if you want to. It's fine."
"Okay. I gotta go. Take care, mom."
"Bye honey. Oh honey, you forgot your purse. Don't forget that."
I realized that I did leave it. She handed it to me as I clumsily made my way back outside.
That was as close to normal without the tearfully long reveal that "it's me" that I ever had to do. Sometimes as a stranger, I get to see another side of her. It helps me appreciate her more. I still can't believe that this wonderful, suffering woman is my mother.
I got back to my apartment and began unpacking things and got out my laptop. I recorded another video and realized I can do movie reviews and that's when I saw the new messages. I guess I enabled live chat as I was streaming and there was this woman who said she was an ad executive but wanted to thank me so wanted to know more about me. She told me that I needed to join her in her sister's wedding and on a whim I sent her a private message and gave her my address. Normally, I would say never give your address but she was a girl and girls don't do anything besides I wanted to get drunk and party with some real girls.
I sat alone with my fingers resting on the keyboard with my thoughts as I stared mindlessly into the glaring white of the Google's screen. There was no Google Doodle that day, which was odd since they celebrate practically anyone's birthday or landmark in the world. However, I just kept staring. For a very long time. Until I come back to reality and realize that I just overthink certain things and that I should really get on with living my life.
I know that's all in my head, but I could have sensed that something on my screen began to flicker. I checked the cord and it seemed okay. I recently downloaded an update for Adobe flash player and my computer has been buggy ever since.
Someone was at the door, I quickly logged off and closed my laptop. I went over to see who was there.
I was greeted by the sound of Chris, who sounded worried.
He asked me to log in to my Google account and he wanted to check something. I didn't know what he was doing but he clicked a lot of "Agree" buttons before logging me off.
He also looked really shaken up, like somebody had just scolded him. He never looked at me that way before, like I was a vicious animal, ready to strike and at the same time like he deserves it.
After that, he left.
So I go online and decide to make a new video that week.
In the video, I put in a clip from a movie out-of-context as a joke. I remember clicking "I own this so I can post it" and the message said, "that still does not give you the right to share copywritten material." Then I hit that I think that this is "fair use" under sections of criticism and education (and fun).
It was a large file, about a 30 GB video, since the effects of the studio app I have render the video like a monster. It takes HOURS to upload the whole thing, and even more to process the video.
Within 2 minutes after "your video is available at " https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hfe73Dhd
" it got 3 strikes in one go. I don't know how, but multiple flags were in place and my account was removed from Google. Subsequently it was obvious the video was pulled too, so don't bother clicking the link.
I even had a charity live stream and I got a message saying that all the funds have been kept by the issuer of the strikes on my channel. Again, it doesn't sound like it could work and I could be making up details but that's all I know.
I don't know how it worked but it did. Not only that, but my PayPal account, my Chase account, and even my BitCoin were all gone. Nonexistent.
I went to the DMV and presented my driver's license, but.... it was no longer a match. I tried to claim that maybe somebody stole my identity, but when they asked if there was anyone who could verify my identity, I went to see her again.
She looked at me and the man with the notepad. "Mom, it's me. Haley."
She looked up at me with tears in her eyes and said, "I know you're not."
She was right. There were tears in my eyes, too.
Haley Petersen was killed while she studied abroad in 2014. Back then she met this charming man who we never got to know the name of. I happened to be an identity thief myself and took her place when I found her credit card in the states. When I went to visit her mother with retrograde amnesia, that did it. The perfect job.
It wasn't so perfect when I saw what a good woman this was. I really wanted it to work.
I really wanted her to be my mother.
Because I was so stupid to investigate my own identity theft, my record immediately caught up with me and I am charged with counts of fraud and embezzlement and probably some false charges added by Google on top from my accusers.
I read up on everything about Haley. Her missing father, her baseball games he used to driver her to. The pit stops and meals they shared as a family. It was all right there, in her diary.
Her bedroom was my study.
After reading so much about her and trying to think like her, I actually began to think I was her. I eventually felt like these mental images while I read her life stories slowly became mine. As though it were thought transference. It's not possible that we can think the same way, but given how close I come to a description of Haley it was only stranger that I can imagine what I think her way of thinking is... I think.
I was caught. It was over.
I called up Kris Dieb and told him the jig was up. We both had to confess. Youtube and the scam we tried to pull off with the help of my friends are no longer the concern. The very identity of the "Haley" I almost thought I was proved to me that I got in this too deep.
I don't feel like a criminal. I just know I am one. I guess my feelings will never catch up with me.
So as the police are investigating this and I am allowed one last post. I want to tell you. Yes, there are people who make invalid strikes on YouTube. Yes, the algorithm seems one-sided. Yes, there is censorship. Yes, smaller creators are being taken advantage of.
I took one last look at my "mom." There were tears in her eyes. When she saw the police report of her real daughter's death. How my real name is [removed] and how everyone I knew in my life before I abandoned long ago. This woman, the woman I had lied to, feigning sympathy for her memory loss wasn't all fake.
At one point this became real.
I miss you. Mommy.
You were the only real mother to me, and I was taking advantage of you. I should feel terrible. Strange fact of the matter is, I don't. I loved spending time with her. I just felt a connection that I never had with anyone before.
I know what I did was wrong, and I cannot feign ignorance. Nobody is going to give me any pity. I was in the wrong.
I can't call myself a victim if I know what I took.
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