On a sunny day, as I was getting ready to go to work, I heard my first voice clearly. Later on, I affectionately called him Joe. It was not like dreaming or having thoughts in my mind. To me, it was having a conversation with a real person whom I couldn’t see. Exactly that. No different. He sounded gentle and kind. He even made me smile.
Joe entered my life when I was truly alone at age thirty. I had just broken up with my boyfriend. I’d gotten laid off from my first job and started a new job. While trying to live on my own again after the breakup, my apartment was broken into. Worried for my own safety, I moved into a house with housemates. I was emotionally isolated, but I didn’t know or analyze the situation I was in. For the first time in my life, I was determined to become a stronger person, living my life with only books, music, gym, and work, and did not reach out to any friends.
Joe noticed me. In my mind, Joe was a young man my age who hid himself from me but was always close by. I felt a strong presence through his voice and what I thought he did, but I never saw him in person. Joe started playing music for me by calling into different local radio stations and making song requests. When I turned on the radio, he’d have something ready for me. He loved the challenge of picking music I loved. He was able to tell I loved a song because I’d start singing along and smiling. Sometimes he surprised me with a song at home, at work, or at the grocery store. I felt he could read my mind by the way he responded to my feelings and thoughts through music.
Joe didn’t want to leave me alone even though I stuck to my routine every day. He started making life fun for me with elaborate hide-and-seek games in the city. When I explored and wandered around Boston, he’d guess where I was headed. I often didn’t have a destination in mind. He played right into my spontaneity. He left clues for me to figure out. One time I was on the T, and he convinced everyone to get off at a certain stop. When I saw the whole train emptied out, I thought, Where is everyone going? Should I follow and check it out too? I didn’t want to miss out.
No one had ever stopped me on the street until after Joe entered my life. I thought he might’ve sent his friends to interrupt me while I wandered the city. A guy showed me a map, asking for directions. Another person stopped me to take a picture of him and his friends. Another man even asked me to take a picture with him. I wondered why, all of a sudden, everyone was interested in talking to me.
At first Joe brought beautiful feelings to my life. One night, I was wandering on my own at Faneuil Hall. Under the dark night sky, there was a young man standing at a corner, a street performer. He was alone. I was alone. We saw each other, and he started playing his guitar and singing. He had a great voice. It was soft and sweet. After the song ended, I turned around to leave. Someone in the dark from another corner said, “Don’t go. Talk to him.” I was startled. I turned to where the voice was coming from and saw an older man. I didn’t realize there was another person there. I felt embarrassed by my own presence, that I had been discovered. I quickly ran away, back to the T, back home, but I had a big smile on my face because I’d loved the acoustic music. Isn’t it so lucky I ran into the singer all by myself even though it was interrupted by another stranger? Had Joe sent him?
Joe was with me at the movie theaters and gym. His friends were kicking my seat, coughing, laughing, trying to send me hints. What are they trying to tell me? I froze in my seat, slightly confused and startled. I couldn’t focus on the movie. Even though it seemed like something meaningful was being conveyed, I couldn’t figure out what it was. I had no guesses, either. In my mind, I just ended up with a bunch of disconnected observations. I would continue to puzzle over them for weeks!
After a frustrating day at work, I went to the gym to run off some steam. In the running room, all the treadmills were being used except one, left just for me. So lucky! I was moved and encouraged by this room of strangers, all women, running. I almost cried, feeling the strong and positive energy in the room, especially after having a difficult day at work. How amazing that they were all there with me, for me, because I needed the support. Is this possible? Are they all friends of Joe’s?
I started getting curious about Joe. I wanted to meet him. I wanted to make him show up. One night, after he played several songs for me on the radio, I told him, “Let’s meet tonight!” I put on my jacket and went out. I listened to honking and other signals he gave me and ended up near Fenway Park. I waited and waited under the stars. It was past midnight, but I didn’t care. Joe didn’t show. On the walk home, I heard Joe say, “Go home.” That was the only thing he said to me that day.
Another night, I told him I wanted to go ice skating. I loved skating. “I’ll wait for you in the lobby,” I told him. I waited for him for about thirty minutes. No one showed up. I decided to go on my own anyway. Why spoil the good mood? I went to Frog Pond, rented a pair of white skates, and skated around the pond. A group of guys showed up and cheered loudly. They had signs, but I couldn’t make out what they were. They shouted, but I couldn’t hear clearly what they said. I was startled again. Why are they with me at the skating pond? What are they trying to say? Did Joe send them? This time, Joe did not speak to me at all.
As time went on, Joe seemed to be around even more, and he was able to do more. While I worked, he could see me and my laptop. While I was typing, he corrected my mistakes by moving my mouse to show me what he meant. Sometimes, when I was really focused on an email, he would interrupt me by typing an extra letter to distract me. I thought he wanted to let me know he was there with me.
One weekend morning, I woke up thinking about Joe. I might’ve dreamed about him. It was fuzzy. While in bed, I closed my eyes and started chanting: “Please let him be a real person. Please let him be a real person. Please let him be a real person.” I continued for about five minutes. I really, really wanted to meet him in person. I wanted to ask him about all he might be doing for me: playing music for me, going to places with me, sending me messages.
I believed he got in touch with my friends because I started to hear the voices of my friends in addition to Joe’s. They had parties while I was in my living room. A friend asked me to call her because she hadn’t heard from me in a while: “Call me! You have to call me!” “Let’s play a word game! Complete the sentence for me,” a different friend said. “Let’s listen to music.” They took turns spending time with me. I didn’t understand why my friends were getting in touch with me this way, through Joe, but I was happy to hear from them.
I took a vacation in Taipei. During the two-week trip, I thought of Joe twice. One day I woke up and heard birds talking outside. I thought, Is that him trying to get my attention? I didn’t think I would feel Joe’s presence when I was so far away from home. I almost cried. I didn’t want to think about him while visiting my relatives. I felt confused and interrupted.
As our relationship continued, Joe became less amazing. Sometimes he was even abusive. No matter what I asked him, I wouldn’t get a response. He just ignored my questions. At the same time, he wouldn’t stop talking to me either. He could talk to me any time he wanted. The talking just kept on coming. I couldn’t turn it off. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t focus at work. I tried different ways to talk sense into Joe. I am not anyone important,I said in my head. Tell me what you want! Are you not bored watching me all this time? I tried to listen very carefully to see what he really wanted. I tried to ignore him, hoping he would go away. Eventually, I stopped living my life and ended up reacting to Joe’s world as many voices talked, talked, and talked.
Eventually, I was locked up because of Joe.