It went down like this: In mid-January Darren was jockeying the phones
at Atlantic Records on a weeklong temp assignment. The phone rang. He
answered it. The husky female voice on the other end explained in mangled
Franglish that she would like tomerde! how do you say, see
the lyrics of the Corrs. Instead of telling her that he didn't have that
kind of information readily available, or that it wasn't his job to provide
song lyrics, he put her on hold and searched the web for a Corr's fan
site while tending to the phones. After finding a site that included every
trite, uninspired lyric the band ever committed to CD, Darren got her
back on the line and read her the web address. Here, he ran into complications.
Even while alternating between French and English, and approximations
of both, his two years of high school French and her flimsy grasp on the
English language made communicating a lengthy Internet address near impossible.
(How do you say backslash in French anyway?) The Atlantic hotline was
ringing non-stop and he needed to get off the phone quick. He promised
to e-mail her the information and waited patiently as she suffered through
the spelling of her e-mail address. Being a nice guy and a man of his
word, Darren sent the information she'd requested as soon as he got a
In New York, where a random act of kindness is basically a random waste of time in the eyes of most of the populous, Darren was touched that his efforts didn't go unnoticed. Darren ignored the phones while they chatted awhile, awkwardly negotiating the language barrier. Her name, she said, was Gwen. She lived in a small province about 100 kilometers (62 miles) from Paris with her parents and sister. Darren told her about life in New York and about his job at Atlantic. For her benefit he beefed up his job title from temp to assistant producer.
"What age you are?" she asked.
"Twenty-three," Darren responded.
"Me, I am fourteen."
"Oh," he said, obviously a bit disappointed.
"I just kid you. I'm seventeen. In Fraaannncce, that's, you say, légalité?"
"Oui, legal... You are, handsome?"
Darren didn't have a picture on hand, but he agreed to send her one soon. Toward the end of their conversation Gwen made him promise that he would send her an e-mail telling her more about himself as soon as possible. A half-hour later an e-mail from Gwen appeared in his inbox asking why he hadn't written yet. Darren dismissed Gwen's obvious peculiarities as foreign idiosyncrasies. Still caught up in exotic sex fantasies, he wrote back to his new underage pen pal. Back and forth the e-mail banter continued throughout the day.
After work, Darren and I met a group of friends downtown for drinks where he filled us in on the Gwen episode, occasionally using two fingers and his outstretched, wagging tongue to illustrate his point. We all agreed that the situation was purely innocent, harmless Internet fun. My only concern, I cautioned Darren, was that he not engage in cybersex using my laptop if the relationship progressed to that level.
We made it back to our apartment near midnight, beer-woozy and laughing. As I unlocked the door, I could hear the phone ringing inside. Darren stumbled past me and answered the phone in the living room. "Gwen? Is that you Gwen?" He disappeared down the hallway smiling broadly and struggling to carry on a conversation. It occurred to me that if it was nearly midnight in New York, then it was nearly 6 a.m. in France. It also seemed strange that Darren would give out his home phone number to a random e-mail acquaintance.
Darren emerged from his room several minutes later, still smiling, but a bit shaken. "How did she get our home number?" he asked me.
"You didn't give it to her?"
"And they don't have it at work."
"Maybe she called " Darren was already on the phone searching directory assistance for our listing.
Darren's conversation with the operator lead us to a string of conclusions: 1) We're both listed, but we live in Brooklyn. Darren swore he didn't let that drop during any of their conversations. 2) So, for Gwen to find our number using information, she would need to search New York City proper, all five boroughs. 3) Darren's last name is very common and there are dozens of New Yorkers who share his first and last name. 4) To locate the right Darren, she must have made dozens of phone calls terrifying Darren's citywide before finally hitting pay dirt.
We also wondered why Gwen, with her highly developed powers of deduction, needed Darren to track down Corr's lyrics in the first place? Couldn't she have found them easily enough on the web as Darren did? Or why not dig up the Corr's home numbers and harangue them directly as I'm sure any amateur snoop with her skill and perseverance could have done?
"Sorry buddy, it looks like you've got a real psycho on your hands. Goodnight." I left Darren staring fearfully out the window. It wasn't long before he was banging on my bedroom door and accusing me of pulling an elaborate prank. I assured him that I wasn't clever enough to think up something this good. That night I fell asleep to the sound of Darren's footsteps padding up and down the hallway.
The next day I was working from home when the phone rang around one. Thinking the call was from my editor in Boston phoning to discuss an upcoming project, I answered in full-stride, "Ann, you guys still owe me a check." The line crackled. "Hello?"
"Daroonnne," the voice whispered back at me. Gwen. Darren was still at work, I told her, but I would be happy to give him the message when he arrived home.
"You are Daaannnn?" she asked. Yes, Dan, that's me, I told her. "You are writerrrr? Do you work on what?"
"What?" I asked.
"No, what are you asking?"
"What are you - merde! - I do not understand."
"Repeat the question."
Several frustrating minutes passed as we attempted to make sense of each other's responses. Finally, I understood that she was asking what I was working on. For some reason I felt compelled to explain that I was researching Peruvian aphrodisiacs for a freelance piece. All was lost in the translation. She continued to drill me with questions, among them, my age, my eye color, my height, my income. I cut her off mid-sentence as she started to ask whether I'd send her a picture and gave her the ol' au revoir. No way was I playing second fiddle to someone else's French stalker.
I got Darren on the line at work to let him know that his stalker was on the prowl and berate him for telling Gwen about me, since she was at best lonely and mildly disturbed, and at worst a known, murderous psychotic. He interrupted me before I could recount my conversation with Gwen to tell me that she was already on the other line. Let me take this, he said, I'll get back to you.
It turns out that Gwen had phoned Darren's extension three times that day in as many hours. Finding Darren away from his desk during lunch, she tried to get him at home, but reached me instead. During two of their three phone conversations she ended the calls abruptly, quietly hanging up without warning. Both times Darren said he heard a gruff male voice in the background speaking angrily in rapid fire French. Her dad, we figured, and if he was pissed now, wait until he received that month's phone bill. Between the second and third calls, Darren received a disturbing e-mail from Gwen.
Since there's no way to truly convey the nature of this message, I'm including it in its full, troubling, and grammatically disastrous form:
"i hope you weren't angry against me because i hanged up to you
twice but i enjoyed to meet you !(a little bit what!!!) i wait your message
and your picture quickly......i hope for you you're a very beautiful guy
or else you're dead !!!! don't "afraid" it's a joke and although
maybe not ! please describe too the "girl of yours dreams" for
Her excessive use of exclamation points alone was damning, to say nothing of the jesting death threat.
Gwen called for the third time that day to make sure he'd gotten her e-mail, ask why he hadn't written back, and beg him to send a picture, repeating that he had better be a handsome devil, or else. She also made it known that she knew exactly where we lived, down to our apartment number.
Only just starting to grasp the seriousness of the situation, nice-guy Darren asked me if he should still send her a picture, given the circumstances. Yes, I told him, send one if your worst fear isn't waking up with an ice pick in your skull.
The next day, a Friday, began with an early morning phone call from Gwen. Darren ended their conversation quickly telling her that he was heading out the door to go to work. As he sat down behind his desk at Atlantic, the phone rang. You guessed it, Gwen.
She continued to call his work extension sporadically throughout the day. If Darren happened to be away from his desk, she immediately dialed our home number, explaining that she couldn't reach him at work and demanding his whereabouts. During our conversations, which grew increasingly tense on both ends, I reiterated that as far as I knew Darren was at work, and since he was a busy man, he might appreciate if she limited her correspondence to e-mail. Her voice grew harsh as she told me that her e-mails had gone unanswered - "I write 'im. I write! Why will he not write me? Why?" Ever heard of playing hard to get, Gwen?
Over the next few days her calls to our apartment and to Darren's work
extension became more frequent, sometimes six or seven a day. Her e-mails
took on a growing air of familiarity, of entitlement, of desperation.
On one occasion, after he hadn't responded to her e-mails in a little
over a day she wrote, "i think that it would be nice from you if
you'd given me an explanation! it's not because i am only (nearly) 18
that i am stupid! i'm waiting your message TODAY ! GWEN."
One day passed without a response from Gwen. Then, another. Even though this was the desired effect, the silence became unsettling. It seemed like the calm before the storm. The lull in every horror movie before someone gets bludgeoned. So, it came as a bit of a relief when I answered the phone to a husky French accent the next day. But it wasn't Gwen. She insisted that she was Gwen's sister, "Mary". When I explained that Darren was out, "Mary" asked why he couldn't be reached at work. Communicating that Darren's temp assignment at Atlantic had ended proved futile. She told me that it was urgent, no, an emergency, and he needed to get back to her as quickly as possible. When asked what kind of emergency we were talking about, "Mary" told me that Darren had stopped speaking to Gwen, and they both wanted to know why.
Darren opted not to get back to Gwen or her sister/alter-ego "Mary". A brief e-mail from Gwen arrived that evening written entirely in French except for the subject line which read: My Dearest Darren. Using our combined five years of French instruction, a pocket size French-English dictionary, and a bilingual friend to check our work, we translated Gwen's message. After briefly lamenting the breakdown in their relationship and again asking for an explanation she wrote, "I would like to come to New York just once to see you, just once, and I hope your mother's not there." I hope your mother's not there? At first Darren and I assumed this was some bizarre French expression. Our French-speaking friend insisted that it was not a colloquialism, at least not one that he'd ever heard.
As I write this, several days have passed since Gwen's last, and we hope,
final message. These days, Darren recoils when the phone rings. He regards
his mail warily and handles packages like armed grenades. He glances over
his shoulder while walking down the street. As I type these final words,
the door buzzer's buzzing. Momentarily, I will get up, take a few steps
down the hallway, and peek out onto our front stoop. Maybe it's UPS, or
someone from the gas company here to read the meter, or maybe not
Free Williamsburg© | 93 Berry Street | Brooklyn, NY 11211
[email protected] | February 2002 | Issue 23
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