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June 24th, 2013

a (true) story

Once upon a time there was a girl who was sad, and shy, and felt alone. Many difficult things happened in her life, and all of them hurt her. She was looking for the person to spend her life with, but nobody wanted to be that person. So she ran away from the people around her, and disappeared, and somewhere far away from her friends she died.

This isn't my story, but I'm a character in it. Somewhere right around the turn of the century I met a girl online. We chatted a lot, we role-played together. She was smart and shy and had a sharp wit that she only occasionally let flash. We were young; late high school, early college, somewhere in there.

We stayed in touch for a long time. She was studying computer science in New Orleans. She was part of a role-playing group there, an instigator and a storyteller. She told me stories about the games she got into; listened to the stories about the games I was in. We didn't play together as often as we talked about the gaming we were both doing.

If we both had mad crushes on each other (and we did), they were tempered by impossibility. We were a thousand miles apart, and besides, she was a boy.

I wasn't the first person she told about her gender - that her characters (female, sharp-witted, driven) were right where her body (male, slight, prone to disappearing) was wrong. It wasn't a surprise. It was obvious, really, though it took her a long time to say anything even after she knew.

It was less obvious to her parents. It was never obvious to her parents.

In August of 2005 a storm hit New Orleans. We sent messages back and forth as she ran, moving further and further inland. She sheltered with housemates, friends she role-played with. In the aftermath, the place she'd lived was gone. Given a choice between moving back with her parents and coming to live with me, she chose Seattle. She moved out here in September.

We didn't make good roommates. My apartment at the time was badly suited for someone else to live in. Sylvia was still in school, and had just gone home from a summer interning at Microsoft. We were strained by the distance in the relationship, and introducing someone else to the social dynamic went poorly. There was fighting. More than fighting, there were strained silences and half-ignoring each other in the same room. I was holding down the worst job of my life and I hadn't realized it yet; I was near to breaking most days and convinced I was a failure. I felt trapped at work by the need to support her. Things fell apart.

She moved into a small apartment. She never managed to get through an interview in tech, and after a little while she stopped trying - convinced she couldn't do it. She took a job as a security guard; she got promoted a few times. She was good at that, somehow, but the hours were always weird.

We talked a lot, though, once she moved out - once the relationship started to heal. I was the only person in Seattle she talked to regularly, though. Despite the weird hours, she kept up her roleplaying with her college friends on the east coast.

On August 14, 2008, I took her to the airport to move back in with them. That was the last time I saw her, the last time I heard her voice.

We sent IMs back and forth a lot in the beginning - trading updates on what was going on, talking about the games we were both playing, talking about life. As time went on, a lot of the time that I'd send a message, I'd get a reply back at a weird hour, a while later. "I was asleep, sorry, left the computer on," or "Sorry, was at work, missed your message."

The actual conversations got further and further apart. I said hello less often when I saw her online; I didn't expect I'd actually reach her. And even if I did, I never knew what to say. "Hi, good to talk to you, I hope you're healthy and happy and that things are going well for you." Things were never going well.

Our last conversation was on June 9th of last year. We talked about life and roleplaying and shared updates on what we'd been up to. I sent her an IM last month, but she never responded.

On June 7th, she packed some things, left a note, and took a cab away from home. This isn't my part of the story now, everything in it's third-hand. I learned about it last Thursday, when her best friend posted something where Sylvia saw. She's been missing for more than two weeks now. I don't know what the note said, but everyone's talking about it as a suicide note. Apparently, she'd bought poison and brought it with her, along with a knife.

When I met her she had a character-name, and as we gamed together over years I learned a lot of names for her. There's the one her parents gave her, that never fit. There's the one she chose for herself: Kaylee Willis. And there's the one that everyone always called her; the one that fit best. Cat.

Always cat.

And at the end of the story, when a cat decides she's done, she goes crawling off into the woods. You don't see her again.

And you call and you wish she'd come home and you leave everything the way it was for the day it happens, but it doesn't.

I've known the ending to this story for a long time, but I still can't accept it.

Come home, Cat?
We all miss you.

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