The popular subreddit, “Am I the Asshole?” is, as its moderators say, “a catharsis for the frustrated moral philosopher in all of us, and a place to finally find out if you were wrong in an argument that’s been bothering you.” Unfortunately, the mods strictly ban any posts about trouble with friends. (It makes one wonder what they do allow.) So, without a better place to post it, this user invites its readers (if any) to consider it here.
When I was a small boy, I used to play with two girls in the neighborhood: two sisters, one older than me (let’s call her Nike, with the E sounded) and one slightly younger (let’s call her Cat). All through childhood, they and I would still play music and make up stories together, or go swimming (our three favorite sports). Nike and I always took the lead together, while Cat tagged along. It is only now I see I was taking Cat for granted, and making no effort to do more; indeed, I would have been horrified at the thought, for I considered them both among my better friends.
A few years later, they moved away to a town of the same name as the street they used to live on near me, where I only visited them once, and they once came to visit me. For the first time, I noticed Cat was feeling a little left out when her sister and I put our heads together, and I wrote later to Nike to say so and ask, “Please would she assure Cat there was nothing to worry about?”, so that (I thought) was the end of that.
Having lately discovered both the Postal Service and E-mail, Nike and I went on making up stories together. One day we finally finished one, but when I wrote and asked her about it, she wrote back, “She was very sorry, but she couldn’t write to me anymore”. No reason, no explanation, no foreshadow, no dark clouds on the horizon, no anything.
Years went by. Ambitious as Nike was, I wasn’t surprised when her name came up in the papers, in her chosen profession of marine opthamologist. I wrote her Congratulations for her success. She told the police I was trying to bully her into joining a cult. I told the police the truth, and Officer D — promised to pass the word along. After that, silence again.
More years passed; then one day I saw Cat’s name on LinkedIn, saying she had just been promoted at work. What work, and why promoted, I neither knew nor cared. So I wrote her Congratulations too. The very next day, Cat’s new husband wrote back threatening to break my knees. He had no reason to be jealous, but he certainly seems to have been. I took it to the Police, but this time they refused to do anything about it. So too did the LinkedIn administrators. So aghast was I that my knees actually began to ache (and at the time of this writing, have not ceased to do so), and it required a doctor’s examination, X-rays, and an MRI to prove the pain was psychosomatic.
So I wrote Nike again, asking, in my exact words, ‘What the Hell is going on?!’. There was no real answer, but before long, I was called up before court on Nike’s behalf, for “Stalking” her, whatever that meant. She also brought up the cult nonsense again.
Naturally, I explained I had never done such a thing, I did not even know how to do it, and I hardly knew what “Stalking” was; I had never felt or expressed anything but friendship for either lady, never even met the unsavory specimen who threatened my knees, and all I wanted was to say Sorry to Nike for I knew not what and do something to make up for it. The Judge patted us both on the head and told us to stand in opposite corners; — for the next five years. ‘Be nice if you meet by accident’, His Honor said, in essence, ‘but don’t go looking for each other, on line or off’.
A year after the first threatening note, its author left me a threatening message on the answering machine. Again, the police insisted on a policy of No Action. The question of Why Nike wanted me out of sight and out of mind remains unanswered. She refused, in court, to explain. So it has been ever since. The only explanation I have yet managed to hypothesize, after years of effort, is simply this: when respected authors like Chimimanda Ngozi Adiche and L.L. Jacobs write essays justifying such a course of action as Nike’s, when reactionaries in party-politics swear by “rights”, and progressives by “privacy”, when firms, businesses, and agencies meant to protect these things boast of making no distinction between a birthday-card and a death-threat, and popular magazines like The Cut, The New Yorker, and Stylist (int. al.) publish articles extolling the supposed mental-health-benefits of “personal boundaries”, Nike could not feel otherwise than justified.