I fell so deeply in love with the character she pretended to be that I lost myself.
Once upon a time there was a lonely woman named Teresa Carter who lived in a small town in Southeastern Kentucky. She was an imaginative person and not without a brain; however, she was burdened to no end by her own insufferable laziness.
While she dreamt of a life beyond the confines of her immediate territory, she loathed performing tasks others did in order to keep up: work, having a job, maintaining an income.
Knowing that the government held a buffet of funds that one could simply partake of if they could claim enough failures, faults, diseases and mental problems, she claimed checks for every miserable condition she could create for herself, her children, and grandchildren (until, of course, they were 18 and held no monetary value to her anymore).
Still, milking the government wasn't enough to support her desires and she began to train herself in the field of confidence; she became a con artist and a complete expert in how to shake down unknowing individuals.
As an excessively obese older woman, she had the good sense to know that the fools of the world would not readily open to her physically. In fact, if her cons were to work, she'd need to come across as someone slick, young, mysterious and sexy.
She needed to become someone she could never be — and that is when she took to the internet, where she could hide behind a name, a photo of someone else, and an entire story that, over the years, developed into a grand tale sad enough to make a stone weep blood.
That is how Teresa Carter found her new living — by pretending to be the leukemia-ridden, terminally ill, mildly autistic personality called Draven/Alex/Dimitri/Valyn.
Her target: lonely women like me.
She noticed people online were all searching for friends, sometimes even for love. She studied their needs and honed her craft, and when she finally put her skills to use, she had created a character so unbearably attractive — that if one was susceptible enough to the idea that dreams come true, and fantasies can be made real — her new male persona would be irresistible.
She played on the sick, allowing them to think her poor character was in worse shape than they. She was able to suck money from the dying by pretending she was dying quicker than they were.
She played on the desperate women who wanted to love someone, and she sucked funds from them by saying that she — in her male persona — needed money to eat and be happy for the tiny amount of time "he" had left on this earth.
And she played on those who wanted to dream that there was such a thing as true love for if she posed as the prince of those dreams, she could surely manipulate them into giving her almost anything she'd want, for as long as she'd want it.
I was that person and she had been watching me for a long time.
There I was, a new cancer survivor, stuck in a lonely marriage and utterly confused about what life had in store for me. I was talented and popular, and many people loved me for my ability to share the stories of my life.
I was respected for my writings and my theatrical past. I had not a cent to my name, so being the focal point of a con that would last for five years straight was not something I could foresee as anything a con artist would want to be involved in.
But she had been watching me and she saw that through me, she could gain validity. Her character could be made real if she was able to get me to fall deeply enough in love with her.
And I fell so deeply in love with the character of "Alex" she pretended to be that I lost myself.
I truly believed she was this dying autistic man and saw nothing but love and doubted none of it. In my heart, I had finally found love.
She stole thousands and thousands of dollars from my friends who willingly gave her money to help her out, thinking she was a dying man. Because she had a very low, husky voice, she would readily get on the phone with anyone to explain the trials and tribulations of her imminent death.
Once she had you believing in her, there wouldn't be a dry eye in the house. Still unseen by anyone, she had convinced everyone that the reason why she, as Alex, wouldn't show her face was due to vanity — she simply couldn't accept the rejection she believed would come if anyone saw her "dark brown cancer circles."
As if anyone in the world would reject a person over something like that.
I spent everyday for five years sharing the most incredible love of my entire life with this complete fraud. To this day, I still wonder if she even had a shred of love for me in all of that illusion.
She certainly appeared to love me, and my god, the things we shared together, the places we'd go in our minds ... Her imagination was as glorious as my own and we spent those five years on the phone living in love, in fantasy.
It was miraculous and I know I will never know love as I knew with Alex. He was my family, my life ... but I was a victim and no more.
Why I write this now, after so many years, is because after it was discovered that Draven/Alex/Dimitri/Valyn was really a con artist named Teresa Carter, I had to instantaneously assume the role of "brave fighter who learned well and lived to tell."
There wasn't even one split-second where I could stand back and reel with pain. After all, feeling pain and loss would only make me look like an even bigger fool than I'd been for five years.
But when I lost the man I loved most to the idea that it was all a lie — and that not only was he not the man I loved, but a female con artist who was simultaneously doing this to many other women — I wanted to go out of my mind. But I couldn't, because I had a thousand eyes on me, all waiting for me to be the warrior.
I had to be the brave one, so I worked with the FBI, I went on talk shows, I did radio shows, pleading to the public for the awareness of online fraud. I did it; I ranted and raved.
I was the warrior.
But I never got to mourn. I never got to have my moment of loss.
I was so instantly thrust into the spotlight that all my needs were crushed, repressed. All I wanted to do was cry and have my one little private moment where, though I knew I was a fool — a horrible, horrible fool for love — I knew love.
Even in the stupid, ridiculous place, I knew what it was like to really love someone. I never got to say that; I only ever got to say that I was angry, vigilant, remade, a phoenix.
I only got to express the fire and the need for redemption. I never got to say that this heinous state of affairs was the love of my life — and always will be.
I feel nothing for Teresa. I don't hate her as I once did, and I'm sure she's been scared by my involvement with the FBI. She's probably perfected some new way to shake people down.
I think she still haunts online sites for those in chronic pain but I don't keep up with her mania anymore. She's simply a monster without conscience and she will live her days out as a monster. It's no longer my concern.
A few years ago, I wondered if any of it had any worth.
Was there anything about being made into such a fool that I could take away and make into gold? Was there enough alchemy in the world to take my broken heart and at least give me the fuel to find lessons in the damage?
I shared this thought and someone said to me the only healing words I'd heard on the topic. They said, "You didn't do anything wrong, Dori. You showed the world that you are capable of unconditional love. You showed the world that you are a champion of love. You weren't a fool. You just wanted what everyone else wants — true love. And you fought for it like a hero."
I've learned so much since then. And like all vicious circles, eventually, they spin out. In the end, my story is just another story of love and heartbreak, not much different than anyone else's, save for the details.
People worried for me afterwards, and many thought I might never be open to love again. But they were wrong. I'm always open to love, and I will always be a warrior for love.
There is someone very, very special to me right now, someone I love more than anyone else. I'm looking at her right now, in the mirror.
She will never let me down.