To: Jane K
From: M McCray
Date: 03/03/00, 17:20:25
Subject: Re: Re: Message to members of Paulel's contact list
I understand your anguish at learning that Paulel has died. Although
my message may have come across as impersonal, it was important to me
that members of Paulel's contact list learn that he had passed away. I
know that many of you knew him better than I, but as the person who lived
closest to him, the duty of administering his personal affairs fell to
As the one person who clearly was most important to him, you're right
that you deserve a more detailed account of the circumstances of Paulel's
Paulel left little behind that might help me make sense of his life.
He owned little. Only in his files, and the hundreds of letters to and
from the many people he touched, can I find some trace of the man he was.
Even this was not easy; Paulel guarded his privacy when he was alive,
and in death as well. There were passwords protecting these files, walling
off his elusive mind even when he was no longer around to defend his sanctum.
I knew that pry into his words would be a violation of his privacy, but
like you I am still trying to seek some meaning in his passing. So I pried.
Once I decided, it wasn't difficult. The password was Paulel's first word.
Paulel corresponded with so many people, it astonished me. Even in the
semi-anonymous strata of the Web, he somehow managed to communicate his
genuine caring for others. I know that you and he got to know each other
through the Lymphoma support group. I'm sure it will not surprise you
to know that he wrote avidly to many members of that group and dozens
of other individuals he met on the Web before his diagnosis. Many people
doubtless consider him a good friend, although to my knowledge he never
met any of them face to face.
Reading your letters and his responses, I was touched by your compassion
and determination in the face of your illness. You have heard many of
the details of Paulel's diagnosis and his struggle. He endured the last
few days with the same dignity and good humor that marked his life. The
tumors that recurred within his body were finally determined to be inoperable,
and he decided to allow them to take their course without additional medical
intervention. He saw his surrender to the disease as one final victory,
in that he would not allow it to destroy his optimism and faith in the
essential purpose of living.
For all the usual reasons, I had fallen out of touch with Paulel for
many months. I only renewed my acquaintance with him shortly before he
learned of his illness. I am glad that I could be there at the end.
What I have to tell you is not pretty, nor can I make it easier for you
to hear. I am responsible for Paulel's sickness. I killed him. It was
an act of both mercy and self-defense.
I am Paulel's father, or perhaps his brother. Paulel began as a pseudonym,
a log-in name, a way for me to protect my identity when I joined in chat
forums and email lists. I took his name from the Paul Street El Station,
where I catch the train every morning. It was nothing more than a convenience,
a mask for me to hide behind when I communicated with others. It allowed
me the freedom to speak out in a way I never seem to be able to do in
other areas of my life. As Paulel, I flirted, engaged in conversations
and arguments, and existed without reticence and fear. It was a powerful
lure. I felt like I was learning how to be someone entirely new with Paulel.
I began to see him almost as a mentor, a close friend whom I tried to
But as I formed so many new, treasured contacts with other people through
Paulel, I began to realize that he was becoming an increasingly complex
mask that resembled me less and less. His new friends were placing their
trust in a puppet. Paulel began to acquire characteristics that I only
wish I had. Although he had a childhood marked by incredible suffering,
all the bitterness had bled out of him, leaving a man who could see the
potential in life and the people around him. He was compassionate, unscarred,
and unafraid. He made fast friends with many of the people who chatted
with and wrote to. All the while, I knew that few of them would spend
much time with me if we ever were to meet. They loved a man whom I could
So I began to spend less time in Paulel's old online haunts, and I used
his alias with declining frequency. I cut myself off from him and everything
he knew. It was a painful time. I felt like I had lost all my friends
-- not only the many individuals who conversed with Paulel, but Paulel
himself. He had brought out something good in me, but I simply could not
continue to compete with him.
What I now know was that Paulel's past had given him a kind of determination
and will to live that I could not understand. He did not want to abandon
the life he was only beginning to explore. While I have few acquaintances,
he had developed a network of many friends who were not ready to see him
vanish. Perhaps their shared desires somehow helped him maintain his identity.
In any case, he continued to maintain and cultivate his network without
my conscious awareness.
I spend every day in front of a computer, and much of my time in the
evening as well. There was ample time for Paulel to write and receive
messages in the margins of my time. My doctor tells me that is not uncommon
for patients with symptoms of multiple-personality disorder to be unaware
of the actions and thoughts of their separate identities. In my case,
it was particularly easy for Paulel to maintain his own life, because
my body hardly had to move to accommodate his existence. My mind just
flipped over to his, and I continued typing out his desires. Some patients
like me note strange and missing gaps in their memory from the times when
other personalities asserted themselves, but I have no such awareness.
For the year in which Paulel lived apart from me, I never knew anything
was amiss. He developed his own accounts, passwords, and folders. After
I became aware of him I found these without much difficulty, but they
were completely invisible to me then.
I dsicovered Paulel's existence when an email arrived in my account that
was intended for him. It didn't surprise me much; when I first stopped
using Paulel's identity, I would still occasionally receive messages from
his old contacts. This message was a reply to a letter from Paulel, and
included the text of his previous message. Paulel's message was sent less
than two days earlier.
My doctor tells me that sometimes a personality will make such an inadvertent
"mistake" to force a confrontation with dominant personality.
It's much like a cheating spouse who "accidentally" leaves out
evidence of infidelity because they subconsciously wish to end the marriage.
Perhaps Paulel was tired of living in secret. Maybe the strain of his
underground life was beginning to wear at his optimism.
I discovered Paulel's files, cracked his passwords and read his messages.
Incredulous, I watched the history of his life unfold, his friendships
grow rich and trusting, his mind develop. He became increasingly alien
to me, a man I could not understand or hope to become. He was perfect,
the kind of person that makes you see only your own deficiencies. And
I doubted that if he ever met me, Paulel would have found much to like.
You probably feel differently about him. I'm sure you'll say that Paulel
taught you about loving life unconditionally, that he saw the possibilities
in everyone. I'm sure there are dozens of his close friends out there
who believe the same thing. But you trusted him, and he lied to you. You
thought he was the embodiment of something rare and wonderful, but he
had no body at all. You're in love with some cheap scrawlings on a chalkboard.
I can erase Paulel's entire earthly legacy with a single keystroke.
Of course, I quietly sought help. A doctor has been coaching me through
the process of dealing with my disorder. He told me that there are three
primary options: I could try to integrate my personalities into one, gradually
extinguish the behaviors of other personalities, or find ways for them
to coexist. Most patients opt for reintegration as the first course of
treatment. I decided to try it.
My doctor told me that we would need to contact Paulel and begin talking
with him. Many patients attempt hypnosis to contact alternate personalities,
but my doctor made a simple suggestion: send Paulel a message. I knew
his address. The doctor advised me to keep it simple, just ask how Paulel
was and tell him I wanted to renew our friendship.
That night, I sat at the kitchen table with my laptop, trying to start
my email to him. It wasn't easy. I imagined myself receiving the message
in the mindless fugue that was Paulel's personality. Paulel would borrow
my eyes, my hands to read and respond. He was like a parasite devouring
my mind. How many hours had I sat in this very chair, as him, my own personality
strapped down like a madman in a dark room? I was sick of him hijacking
me for his own use.
So I told him so. I told him we had to fix this situation because it
couldn't go on any longer. I told him he was selfish to take from me what
I had never granted. He had stolen the most precious thing I had.
I sent the message. Immediately, the machine beeped. A new email had
arrived. I looked at the clock; twenty minutes had gone by. Since I had
sent the message. This is what it had been like for me for the past year.
Little bits of me, gone.
The message was from him. It said only this: You are right. I am sorry.
Please forgive me.
I decided then that Paulel had to go. I would never win against him.
He would absorb me, as he absorbed the love of all those other people
I took a week of vacation. I checked into a hotel room and I subjected
myself to endless hours of television. There was no computer nearby. I
was depriving Paulel of his very means of existence. All the while, I
concentrated on probing the dark inner walls of my mind, seeking the soft
edges of the chamber where he resided. On the third day, I began to remember
little snippets of a message he had sent -- moments in which he had struggled
to find the words to tell a trusted friend about something he regretted
he had once done. I held fast to that frail line of text. I pulled on
it and bits of Paulel gradually came to me. First in dreams, then in my
waking hours, I began to understand the proud man he had grown up to become.
The last night, I lay on the flabby mattress in the darkness of the hotel
room and held Paulel's hand in my own. For a moment, we shared a sense
of our common fever, the binding imperative to live. It flowed between
us, the raw tissue from which we both sprang. And as I pulled back, I
infected it with all my hatred, my resentment, and my fear.
Paulel was diagnosed two weeks later. He immediately began to seek solace
and companionship the only way he could: in people like you. You and the
other nameless, faceless entities he loved so much were doubtless impressed
by his wit, candor, and unquenchable thirst for life. I watched your ghostly
love affair unfold as I read his mail every day. Paulel must have known
that I was out here, but he apparently never thought I could watch his
every move. Like most people, he was smug, convinced of the infallibility
of his own existence.
The tumors were too much for him, and Paulel surrendered. There wasn't
any effort to save his life, and I don't know if he sagely decided to
avoid medical treatment or if he went screaming and mewling into death.
He simply stopped sending messages. When it happened, I felt that part
of me quietly curl up and dry out within my mind. The chamber in which
he lived was closed and sealed, like a tomb.
There's no way to know if he went with dignity or not. I made up that
part because I thought it would be easier for you to hear. But that's
like something he would have done: made up a story just to make you and