Surviving through life for eight years came with a lot of stress and sorrow. I’ve lost touch with my tender side, my feelings and emotions and ultimately, my heart. Each day was a challenge and my impulsive reactions pushed me to commit the unthinkable. At first, I was filled with regret every time I did something I wasn’t supposed to do; I hated myself for it. I simply couldn’t accept not being a decent human being. The adrenaline coursing through my veins and my untroubled conscious paralyzed me. Sometimes I’d avoid getting out of my apartment, afraid of what I might do. Every morning, I’d pause, take a deep breath, slow down and remove myself from my immediate surroundings for a few minutes to regain clarity and composure.
Convincing myself I was a good person didn’t last long. One day I just had to accept my destructive folly and particularly wild and impulsive nature. I came to terms with my malignance and unprepossessing manners. I knew proceeding without accepting the true nature of who I was would be tormenting, so I embraced my pervasive pattern of disregard and violation of the rights of others which forcibly and automatically pushed me to act when my life was somehow threatened. To me, it was always about survival and getting ahead; I did whatever seemed convenient and right for me to move forward; there was no room for moralizing my actions as long as I knew they had a positive and beneficial outcome.
I’ve developed a sense of living outside the rules. It wasn’t necessarily an act of insurgence but more of a constitutional and fundamental disregard for laws and social mores. I lacked a strong ability to withhold impulse control and at first, I was hard on myself for repeating the same mistakes and purposely putting myself in bad situations, but eventually became wholly untroubled by my bad behavior unless I was about to get caught.
My unalloyed solipsism pushed me to take the risk of introducing myself under different aliases but only to strangers and people I was doubtless I’d never see again. At first, it was a way for me to assess my importance and self-worth; one day I’d claim I was a psychology major, backing that up with enough knowledge about the science of human behavior and mind, the next I’d turn into a fashion stylist or an art director. I think it was the absence of stability and the fact my life was uncertain that made me fabricate a persona to prove I had things going for me; I wanted to be respected and taken seriously. I wanted to gain myself notoriety. Soon after, lying became an addiction; almost a natural thing I did once I became pathologically rigid. I didn’t need to think twice or worry about covering up my tracks because I became so convincing I didn’t need to worry about being caught in a lie as I realized people were instantly taken by my charm and apparent modesty that they rarely stopped to question the things I’d tell them.
I suddenly became more sociable and accustomed to spending endless nights at clubs and bars ever since I developed a knack to taking on challenges against myself which constituted me attracting strangers with very minimal effort; I’d test how close I could get them all worked up only to leave them hanging dry by the end of the night, knowing that they’d be mindful as to why by the time they got home. I’ve also earned myself a reputation as a home wrecker, targeting fun, loving gay couples and causing havoc between them. However, it’s only fair to say it’s not entirely my fault; if two men were partnered and were devoted to each other, nothing could faze or harm their relationship. It just proves how much men are unreliable horny creatures who’d jump at the opportunity to have sex with a random, hot guy whenever given the chance. I’d approach and shamelessly flirt with men, knowing their boyfriends were standing right next to them. Sometimes, I’d express interest in a threesome only to wiggle my way into one of their hearts, making the other one feel left out to make him jealous. I’ve also managed to develop secret affairs while tactfully planning to break relationships built to last. I can’t count how many texts I’ve received from men claiming that sex with their partners had become boring and unbearable, and that the only time they were able to get off is when they fantasized of being with me. Once the dust is settled, I’d move on to my next set of prey. At one of the clubs, I became the topic of conversation; men would look at me with contempt and whisper unpleasant things to each other as soon as they saw me. Clearly, I eventually avoided going to that one.
After graduating from college, I was offered a year-long internship as a photojournalistic photographer at the Iowa City Tribune. However, the position was offered to the other candidate and I was let go. During that period of time, I had given up on photography after being rejected from various companies. Existential crises came one after the other as I struggled to survive, so I submitted for work outside my field to make ends meet; those months were the worst. My financial situation became scarce and I found myself stalling on rent more often than I thought I would. After a few failed attempts to get into retail, I somehow managed to land myself a job at a bookstore.
My manager started making cuts and being the newest addition to the group, I was worried I might be the first to be disposed of. It had taken me a while to get another decent job that paid the bills and the idea of desperately putting myself out there and chasing another shitty job was absolutely out of the question.
I had learned that two of the employees, Lisa and Brett were hired a couple of months before I was, so I decided to make it easier for the manager to make a decision by jeopardizing either one’s job. Lisa was smart and ruthless though, and I kind of liked her, so I went with Brett who although had a decent reputation at the company, his behavior was easily susceptible for questioning in case criminal activity occurred since he hasn’t been working there for a long time. I knew I’d be investigated as well but studied my options very carefully and executed a plan to get him fired. I started bringing a bag of weed to work and leaving it in my locker to spread its smell into the workplace. Once the manager started noticing the smell, he asked whoever was smoking it to come forward but of course, no one did. I immediately knew our lockers would be searched so I planted the bag in Brett’s locker right after to guarantee him getting screwed out of his job. I felt really bad for him, but I couldn’t allow being laid off. The way I see it, it’s the manager’s fault for wanting to cut people off, and I acted solely in self-defense.
Although I had a boring full-time job that kept me away from the artistic world, I made sure to attend networking events whenever I could to hand out business cards and make connections. I succeeded in making contacts with other local photographers, but those weren’t helpful in any way since they were themselves desperately trying to break into the world of photography just like I was; they were too busy self-promoting themselves and looking for their own opportunities. One day, I decided to go on a hunt for art-loving coffee shops and restaurants in my area. I would walk around on weekends, my thick portfolio in hand, and enter shops and ask for the owner or manager and pitch my work to them. I’ve managed to get myself some admirers; one coffee shop and a small art store accepted to feature a few of my photographs. I felt so proud the day I walked in and hung them on the walls for all the patrons to see. Among the photographs chosen were two black and white images with a subtle hint of blue; a portrait of Hilda and a landscape shot of downtown Freiburg. Both owners liked the way those two photos were taken. They were also intrigued by my hometown; they thought the architecture of southern Germany was interesting and appreciated the fact the town held on to its culture and strongly maintained its background through the preservation of old buildings; they could feel the harmony and unique identity of the whole country.
The woman who’d instantly become a fan was no one other than Anita Peterson, the rich and super talented female photographer renowned for her dramatic, quirky and iconic portraits of a variety of celebrities and important public figures. Her weighty portfolio of work consisted mostly of inspirational women who held a significant role in society; politicians, activists, CEOs. The first time I came across her was at an art show. There was a huge commotion happening around one of the exhibits, and it was really hard to get close. I felt the clock ticking as soon as I was told she was there, and started pacing around anxiously, knowing it was my chance to take my life to the next stage. The only people who get discovered are the lucky ones; the ones who know how to take advantage of potential situations and are skilled at being persuasive. It was my ultimate challenge. I was so willing to take drastic, extreme measures to stalk her and meet her. In my mind, a countdown played as I fought so hard to keep focus and prepare what I would say to her, but being able to approach her and strike up a conversation seemed impossible.
Conveniently, I’ve always carried a USB inside my backpack. I retreated to the lounge area, took out my laptop, wiped off its whole content and replaced it with samples from my portfolio. I then ripped out a small piece of paper from my notebook and started thinking about what to write; it had to be formal but authentic. The process wasn’t easy; I didn’t have a lot of time either. I decided to forget about being smart and sophisticated and genuinely wrote her a small note of admiration; something a regular fan would write. I put the folded piece of paper and the USB in an envelope and walked back into the exhibit. It was almost impossible to get close to her due to security, so I stood in the corner and waited for the right opportunity to strike. At some point, I retreated to the bar area to grab myself a drink, and I saw her security guard do the same. He seemed friendly, so I initiated conversation. I asked him if he was her own bodyguard, and he said he was only hired for the night. He was nice, so I immediately took advantage of the situation and asked him if he’d be willing to give her my note and USB, and he agreed. I stayed at the exhibition until I made sure he gave it to her. As soon as he handed them to her, I ran out of the room and returned home.
At night, I stayed wide awake and imagined her going through my photographs and liking them. The following week, I received an e-mail from her expressing her admiration and desire to meet me. I remember jumping up and down all over my furniture as I read her message; I was thrilled and filled with excitement for the opportunity. We planned to meet at her book signing in New York the upcoming month.
I arrived to the event, grabbed my copy of her book and surprised her in the crowd. She smiled but kept things strict and formal between us until after the event when she invited me to dinner at a French bistro in the midtown area close, to the Hudson River. Hearing about her for years, I thought she’d be stuck up and unapproachable, but it was the opposite.
She wasn’t better than me. We were the same in a lot of ways; talented, bright, meticulous and passionate about our work. We both had such a distinctive artistic eye. What made us different was the fact she was lucky and become one of the most influential and compelling figures while I remained a simple nobody slowly drifting away into a dark path, and although I don’t regret the road I’ve chosen, I stung with both envy and jealousy as I sat in front of someone way more worthy than I was. But that was me being hard on myself because the attention Anita had given me wasn’t to be ignored. After all, why would someone like her give me the time of day if they haven’t seen something in me that had potential? As the night went on, she became more and more infatuated with me. I let go of my inhibitions and became more at ease knowing I was beloved and appreciated. I didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity to be close to her and maybe start something conducive to myself.
I’ve always considered myself an artist who just did instead of questioning the motive behind every artistic act. I can’t justify nor explain why I take the pictures that I take or what the message behind them really is. Unlike many other artists who worry trying to inject as much of their humanity and deep psychological emotions as they could to their art, I just grab my camera and shoot. Anita appreciated the deep contrast and darkness in my style of photography and also clearly stated that although unbeknown to me, my photographs conveyed a lot of emotion.
Our relationship turned into a mix between business and pleasure. After all, I had nothing to offer other than sex in exchange for money and knowledge. She was successful and established and I was a young and insecure man trying to get his career going. I became her own apprentice. She taught me new photography skills, bought me a new camera and advanced photography gear and lenses and flew me around the world with her to expand my artistic horizons by visiting museums and going with her to conventions and private events. Being with her allowed me to be dignified; wearing designer clothes I never thought I’d ever live to wear, living the lavish lifestyle of the rich and famous which was also something I never thought I’d ever get to experience. She loved showing me off, and I sure looked great every time she did so.
At some point, though, I had to be realistic; me and her weren’t going to last. I knew the age difference would become a problem, not necessarily for me, but for the people surrounding her; mainly her close friends and family members. One day, I returned to our Manhattan apartment and overheard her assistant telling her that our relationship was perceived as a masquerade by everyone who knew her. She specifically used the term “entering cougar territory” which offended Anita who was adamant that what we had was meaningful, and to some degree it was, but I also knew that once I was settled and capable of climbing the corporate ladder on my own, I wouldn’t stick around.
Anita would often give me her credit cards and allow me to spend as much of her money as I desired. She was also paying for my rent and expenses back in Iowa.
Leaving her meant leaving the sumptuous lifestyle behind, and I absolutely dreaded the idea of losing everything and returning to nothingness; I simply wouldn’t be able to adapt. I hated the idea of being decimated after being so close to the top. I was petrified of becoming the shell of the man I had been prior to that. Going back to working a shitty job would’ve been my ultimate admission of failure. What I needed was enough money to get me through at least a decade: $250,000. Withdrawing the amount all at once was impossible, so I made sure to stay on my best behavior to keep our relationship going for another year before breaking things off with her. She was devastated, and months later, I received a call from her asking about the money, and I had to act as if I had her consent in taking it for financial security after “she” had broken things off with me. I felt like a total jerk pulling something as deplorable, but I had no other choice. A week later, I heard from her lawyer, and I was taken to court.
My search for a defense attorney immediately started online; I didn’t waste any time and relentlessly chased after several candidates and scheduled to meet two.
I needed someone who knew the quirks to winning complicated cases; someone who knew the law, the procedure and the local prosecutors and judges. I needed someone who’d take my case extremely seriously and fight to get me the best possible results as if he was the one being convicted.
I called William knowing he had a lot of connections, and he recommended an old friend by the name of Matthew Eldon. After some brief research, Matthew quickly proved he was the one. As I looked up his info online, I accidentally ran across a news interview on TV where he was questioned about Paige Cruze after the judge had sentenced her to life without parole.
Paige Cruze’s case became a tabloid and cable TV sensation ever since she committed the horrendous crime of killing her lover, Troy Altman, back in 2022 when he was found stabbed more than twenty times in his home in San Diego. The lengthy trial was followed by thousands of people across the states due to its tawdry revelations about their toxic relationship. Matthew defended her throughout the whole trial and hoped for a second degree murder charge instead of a first, but that didn’t happen. I stalked Matthew and was able to track down his contact information. I called him and we met in his office in Seattle. After the meeting, I’ve succeeded in landing him as my lawyer, and we immediately jumped up my defense.
Matthew wasn’t exactly someone who would be passed unnoticed on the street. He had that thing; that rare, transcendental “Devil-may-care” kind of attitude that came across as highly intoxicating. When he walked into a room, everyone seemed to stop and take notice. He had an assertive, commanding energy to the way he carried and presented himself. I was charmed by his formality and was mesmerized by his inflated ego and exaggerated regard for his exceptional abilities. I knew I had made the right choice hiring him as my criminal defense attorney since he was determined to win the case and did his job ruthlessly and with such apparent glee. There was a seamless courage to him that I admired.
At the beginning of our first session, both of us and the opposite party held up our hands and took oaths; this symbolic and contextual gesture always seemed meaningless to me as it was almost guaranteed a lie would be told at one point from either sides. Body language and verbal tones were also easily watched in courtrooms, so I decided to remain poker-faced. I left the tricks of persuasion and manipulation to Matt who was eager to win the case; his demeanor was filled with excitement and enthusiasm it almost felt like he was mostly thriving for victory to show off and try to impress me. Anita walked into the courtroom and condemned me with her eyes throughout the entire session while her lawyer kept shooting cold looks in Matt’s direction every time the judge gave him permission to speak. They didn’t know that nothing moved Matt, and that in his mind, he had a solution to everything; he had the ability to foresee things and possessed strong, sharp interpersonal and analytical skills. He was ready for the worst, but promised I’d evade being prosecuted for my crime. I had armed him with enough information to strengthen my defense, so I wasn’t really worried. I’ve given enough thought to everything the moment I decided to embezzle her money.
Due to our close relationship and the fact she actually gave me access to her bank account, the judge couldn’t easily grasp the idea that the money was stolen and not given because Anita was over-generous in her spendings and her recklessness in giving me access to her money easily made it hard for her defense to be convincing. After the first trial, Matt picked a smart approach that involved a settlement which I wasn’t too excited about but knew was necessary in order to uphold my reputation. He said that compromising would be beneficial to come out strong. We agreed to give back 40% of the money back to her to prove that I had no bad intentions and show appreciation by ending things on good terms. That way, I’d be showing some decency without coming off as weak or subdued by the tumultuous nature of the events. A complete settlement would’ve made me look like a liar, so I stuck to my truth; that the money was rightfully given to me. Matt felt infallible about this approach; he guaranteed the case would be dismissed once the settlement was reached, and he was confident that it would.
He was right.
Walking out of the courtroom for the last time, I felt victorious and relieved. I shook Matt’s hand and thanked him for his hard work. I was finally able to inhale and hold on to my freedom. It was the first week of Spring and the weather seemed to be celebrating some sort of rebirth, one that felt exceptionally refreshing it managed to push me out of my gloomy hull and back into the world. After I’ve embraced the moment, I turned to thank him again, but he was gone.