“Is this Pry-ank-kaw,” said an unknown woman in a voice barely containing her fury. “Yes, this is Pryanka,” I said, correcting her pronunciation, “and it is currently 3:30 in the morning. What is this about?”
A pause. And then, “Do you know Paul?” Just like that, no introduction, no apologies. Do I know Paul? I racked my brain, starting at my circle of immediate college friends, expanding outward to acquaintances and then classmates, and finally, trying my hardest to go back to a Paul I might have known in high school. I could remember nobody, so I responded abruptly, the irritation seeping into my every word. “No, have a good night.”
As I hung up, I thought I heard what sounded like a strangled sob on the other line. If this wasn’t a prank call, I had to figure out why somebody had called me about a certain Paul, and why she had been in such distress. After a few moments of concentrating on the subject, I lost interest and snuggled back into my bed, ready to fall asleep. I lay there, but sleep would not come again. I had an 8AM class the following day, and suffice it to say that my irritation was growing more and more with every passing second that I was not asleep.
And then, I realized just who this would be about. My forum. Paul was on my forum.
Breathless, I called the number back, hoping I wasn’t going insane as I did so. Which one of you would call back an unknown number from another state on the assumption that something had happened to a boy who frequented your forum. It was supposed to be a cheating forum, but somewhere along the years, it had devolved into nerdy high school and college students looking for homework help. But if you wanted to know where Paul fit into the equation…he was a troll.
Now those of you familiar, even in the slightest way, with forums, may have smiled – or even laughed – there. A forum troll can be the best and worst kind of entertainment. Members love egging on a troll; administrators do not. I had developed some serious hatred toward Paul as he broke my rules over and over, dodged permanent bans and IP bans over and over, and kept coming back like the persistent cow that he was.
But Paul hadn’t always been this way. Turning him into a troll – that was Kai’s doing. In fact, I had been friends with Paul once. Though he was younger, we had become friends, and spent weeks enjoying each other’s company online. He preferred AIM. I’d show you some of our discussions on true literary genius and philosophy, but I deleted them all when he turned bad.
Kai, on the other hand, was a nuisance from the very second she joined. Everybody loved her – she was the badass that they themselves were too nerdy to be. Somehow, during the few weeks she had been active, Paul decided that he loved her. Kai lived in London, and he, in California. How that was ever going to work out, I had not a single clue. I do know though, that once they had decided that they liked each other, all hell broke loose on my forum. Joey and I, we owned it together, and spent all of our free time there deleting threads and issuing warnings, infractions, and bans to those who followed in their wake. It was a terrible time for us all. For no reason at all though, they both decided to stop, and forum life went back to normal again, sans Paul, Kai, and a few other members I hadn’t thought would turn to the other side.
The phone number I was calling back continued to ring. I held my breath, hoping the woman would pick up and offer some sort of an explanation. Call it curiosity or concern; I wanted to know what was going on.
She picked up. Before she could say anything, I told her quickly that I did, in fact, know Paul. I waited for her to tell me what was going on. And although I half-expected Kai’s hated voice to tell me they were just prank calling me and getting me charged international rates on top of it, the words I next heard were not those I was prepared for.
“Paul’s in a coma. He tried to kill himself.”
I blinked, let out a gasp, blinked again. The world did not change. I wasn’t fond of Paul after his stint with Kai, but this was still shocking news – this was somebody I knew in peril. I don’t think I spoke for the next minute. The air was heavy, the weight of her words tangible in the air, stifling me as I tried to reason with her. “It’s not my fault.”
“I know,” she said, “but I hate you all the same. He met that girl, Kai, on your forum. He had you as a friend on Facebook. I read his messages – he messaged you and apologized and asked that you set aside the past…and you said no. So yes, it’s not directly your fault. But I still hate you.”
I sat, unable to form coherent thoughts, as his mother went on, beating me brutally with one accusation after another. I began to hear from her a stream of his past, far too much information than I wanted. She told me about how he had traveled to London to visit her. She told me that he had lost his virginity to her – and she, no doubt, to him – and that she had gotten pregnant. She told me that Kai was now harassing her for abortion money while her son tried to kill himself to escape the stress.
Kai was 16. Paul was going to be 17. They were both far too young to have gotten themselves into this position, but what was I supposed to say to his distraught mother? That it was his fault? I wanted to console her, but at the same time, my brain fought me – it wanted nothing to do with their tragic situation, and warned me that I shouldn’t let myself interfere.
I sat there on the phone with her, this unknown woman, for the next two hours. Sleep had long since abandoned me. She cried her heart out and my own mind was traumatized after hearing just how badly Paul had messed up his life. Dropping out of school to chase after the girl “of your dreams” at the age of 17, getting her pregnant, and then freaking out and running away. Well, that was just stupid. So I sat, and I listened, and I tried my best to keep my opinion silent.
She hung up and, just before she did, I impulsively asked her to call me once he felt better. I hung up, wiping the tears away from my own eyes, and looked over at the sleeping figures of my roommates. I got up to take a shower to try to wash away her pain. I tried to forget, and she never called back. The following day, I made sure to delete and block Paul and Kai from all my instant messengers as well as my Facebook. I never called back. I was too scared to.