Listen, 2020 wasn’t my finest yr. I spent lots of time in my bathtub – truly, a big clear storage tub within the backside of my bathe – consuming bread I definitely didn’t make, and watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Clear plastic, I found to my horror, is a cloth that fares finest when it doesn’t have your flesh pressed proper up towards it. So I made a wholesome determination to purchase some exercise gear on-line and slowly wean myself off bathtime.
Wanting on Fb Market, I discovered a pilates reformer, a form of mattress on rails, a lie-down trampoline, with resistance straps in your legs and arms. They’re normally very costly – a minimum of A$2,000 (£1,560) – however this one was listed for A$500. Absolute cut price! The vendor was a person named Jacob (not his actual title) in Adelaide, 1000’s of kilometres away from me in Melbourne, and definitely past the 5km radius the lockdown allowed us to journey. Regardless of – he would courier it. Legend!
Jacob appeared just like the type of man you’d warn your buddy to not date. His profile revealed a lot of footage of him partying along with his mates, journeys to Bali, nights out on the on line casino with the lads, lads, lads! He offered me the pilates reformer and he used his personal profile along with his actual title. This was a public profile that was 10 years outdated – 10 years’ price of information – so I felt assured in transferring him the money regardless of solely having seen the merchandise on-line. Earlier than I clicked “go” on the acquisition, I already had his mates’ and fogeys’ names, his soccer membership, fitness center and office. I knew that he summered on the Gold Coast, went to a personal college and loved the film Step Brothers.
I transferred Jacob A$500. It isn’t tens of millions, however I work within the arts so it’s fairly a giant chunk of money for me. In reality, I’ve by no means had a spare A$500 earlier than and this story will most likely function proof as to why I most likely gained’t once more.
The day after I despatched Jacob the cash, I despatched him a message: “Hey Jake, simply questioning if I can seize the delivery data.”
“Hello Michelle, the man’s been delayed, however I’ll ship it by way of on Monday!”
Guess what occurred on Monday? Nada.
On Tuesday, I gently nudged him.
“Hey Jake, simply searching for an replace on the reformer – sorry to trouble you.”
Sorry to trouble you? Why are ladies?
“So sorry, Michelle, he’s been delayed once more, he’ll decide it up on Thursday together with another gear I’m sending by way of to Melbourne.”
Thursday got here and went. As the times crept by, Jacob made excuse after excuse as to why the reformer hadn’t arrived but, and it began to daybreak on me that possibly this was too good to be true. Perhaps I used to be being scammed.
I knew I ought to most likely go to the police. And I threatened to do it, too.
“Pay attention, mate, I don’t know what’s going on in your life, nevertheless it’s turning into clear to me that you simply’re making an attempt to rip-off me out of my cash. You’ve used your actual profile to rip-off me – you will need to understand how straightforward it’s for me to report you. So what I’m actually considering is how you bought to such a tough place in your life that you simply had been keen to be so reckless? You don’t have to inform me what’s happening, however you do have to offer me my a refund inside the subsequent three days or I’m going to the cops. And for those who do wish to inform me what’s happening, we’re in lockdown over right here in Melbourne – I’ve received nothing however time.”
He instructed me the previous few months had been a scary time, psychological well being clever, and I felt a pang of guilt, which is ridiculous, however I nonetheless felt it. He hinted that he was feeling like he would possibly wish to choose out of this life, and I felt fearful for him. I felt accountable.
Jacob FaceTimed me after I messaged him. I used to be shocked to see such a susceptible and unhappy man on the opposite finish of the decision, and he was very shocked to see “the woman one” from his favorite Australian sketch comedy group, Aunty Donna. Not solely was I being scammed by a really unhappy man, this was the type of one that watches the TV reveals I’m in. This was my viewers. Nice.
Jacob begged me for extra time, mentioned he wanted simply two extra weeks, however after that he would ship me a refund. He refused to confess out loud that he had scammed me, nevertheless it was this form of unstated factor between us. He made excuses like, “The courier is simply actually busy” – excuses he knew I didn’t imagine. I simply wished my refund, and in return I wouldn’t go to the police. He despatched me an image of his ID to carry on to as collateral and requested me to make a video saying howdy to his mate who loves my comedy. I didn’t make the video.
Two weeks got here and went, and guess what? No money. However one thing else occurred in these two weeks – we had began form of joking with one another through Fb Messenger, checking in to see how lockdown was treating me (not properly, Jake – it’s week 11 of lockdown two) and the way life was treating him. And now that it was clear that he had certainly tried to rip-off me utilizing his precise Fb profile, like an novice, I wished to ask him questions. Why did he suppose he might get away with this when he was really easy to search out?
However that’s the factor: it wasn’t that he thought he might get away with it, he simply didn’t suppose in any respect. It wasn’t concerning the long-term for him, it was desperation. It was about survival. He slowly instructed me his historical past of playing, consuming and drug abuse. He was by no means particular about what occurred, he would simply say sweeping issues like: “My missus left me once I went out and blew 40 grand in a single night time.” However once I requested him how one can lose that a lot cash so rapidly, he would simply shrug it off. I suppose he didn’t understand how. Perhaps if he did, he wouldn’t be on this place. He struck me as extra of a toddler than a grown man.
From what I can piece together, Jacob would scam someone and then sort it out when it caught up with him by gambling or begging from his family. He would start new fires in an attempt to put out others. I was interested in how a person ends up like this – more interested than I was in going to the police and getting my money back. I asked him how his family were: did they still speak to him? Had he had a relapse? What was he looking forward to? Anything to keep him talking and, if I’m honest, to keep him alive.
As Jacob stalled on giving me my money back, he answered my questions more and more freely – offering vulnerability in place of payment. He owed all his friends, family and co-workers money. He had talked his way out of plenty of “failed investments” and “forgotten” repayments. We spoke regularly, and suddenly we were becoming something else, something like friends. Just two people who every now and then would message each other normal things like, “I hope you’re getting the help you need”, “I’m running out of second chances, I have to go to the police soon” and “Yeah, my friend Luke bought a jetski so we’ve been getting around on that, which is pretty sick, distracting me from my menty-b”.
I didn’t trust him, I didn’t even like him, but I was curious about him. I like to dress it up as altruism, but it’s possible that I was just slowing down to drive past a car crash and have a sticky-beak. A peak behind the curtain. This poor little rich boy from a fancy school who got it all so wrong. It felt like empathy, but also like perversion. His friends and family ran out of patience. I soon became the only person left in Jacob’s life still talking to him. And when he wound up in the hospital due to his declining mental health, he asked me to be his emergency contact. His next of kin. My partner at this point was furious. He begged me to just call the police, but I couldn’t. I was deep in a story and I didn’t have a good ending yet. Also, I wanted to know if he really was in the hospital, or if this was a tactic to stall me.
Agreeing to be Jacob’s emergency contact seemed absurd at the time and more absurd now; a dare I accepted out of shock at such a bold and vulnerable request. And he was vulnerable – more than I’d realised. When Jacob first made an attempt on his own life, he had been cut off by his family and friends. His parents had remortgaged their home trying to keep up with paying back his many victims, his gambling debts, court fines and credit card bills. They carried the most shame. He had done them so much damage, in the way we only do to those we love the most.
They were right to take a step back from him, and that’s maybe what made me feel that I, a complete stranger with nothing but A$500 to lose, was right to step in where they couldn’t, to relieve them of their duties for a bit. Strangers can afford each other a kindness that is lighter and easier to accept than the kindness of those who love us unconditionally. There is no shame attached to the kindness of a stranger.
Or strangers. Almost a year later, I’d started telling the story – using a fake name for him – on podcasts and the radio. People started getting in touch with me from all over Australia. Some of his friends contacted me – they recognised the scenario and told me about his many other victims. And then a girl named Emily sent me a message. Emily had also tried to buy one of the pilates reformers. She had been patient and kind to him. She was someone who had shared my experience. I wonder how many of us there were.
Emily and I connected up all the dates he had told us he was in hospital. We worked out that he was telling us the same story, regardless of whether or not it was true – and we’ll never really know. I don’t really care; I’m grateful for the shared experience. We wore him down, putting in the hard work until he eventually paid Emily back all but A$25 and me all but A$60. I don’t know how he got that money. Emily and I decided it was better not to ask. We were both glad we had helped him, even if only some or none of the things he told us were true. Because assuming an arsehole has had a bad day or a hard life makes you feel better than letting yourself feel taken for a fool. I don’t want to know what lies he told me. I’m more interested in what I learned about myself.
I should probably say: don’t do what I did. It wasn’t smart and it wasn’t necessarily safe. But it was a wild ride, and now I’ve made a show about what happened as a cautionary tale, or as an argument for radical empathy. Jacob very nearly played himself, too – until I decided it might be better to keep a physical distance between us. You can only go so far with people you don’t really know before you’re taking silly risks.
Jacob is now studying for a qualification to work in drug and alcohol addiction. He attends Alcoholics Anonymous and Gamblers Anonymous. He is reaching out to all those he has wronged and slowly paying back his parents. He thanks me for showing him kindness, for showing him there are people in the world who will offer you a safe place to land, even when you don’t deserve it. He is, for absolutely no want of a better word, reformed. When I did the show telling this story in Australia, I sold out, moved to a larger venue and made enough money to buy myself a brand new pilates reformer. So really, in the end, I sometimes wonder: who scammed who?
I still talk to Jacob sometimes. I think he’s about to go to prison, but I don’t know what for. He is always telling me half stories, and I pick up bits and pieces from his friends, but there are lots of answers I’ll never get. Whatever happens to him, I hope he gets help and not just punishment. I am in equal parts proud and ashamed of how I acted. I am happy with the wrap-up, where Jacob and I landed, and I am glad that I was there for him. I talked this arguably terrible man down off a ledge many times. I don’t know if the world is better with him in it. But my world is better for at least having tried.
Michelle Brasier: Reform is at the Edinburgh festival fringe in the Gilded Balloon Teviot Dining Room until 27 August at 7pm.
In the UK and Ireland, Samaritans can be contacted on freephone 116 123, or email email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. In the US, you can call or text the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on 988, chat on 988lifeline.org, or text HOME to 741741 to connect with a crisis counselor. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international helplines can be found at befrienders.org