Maxims Gorky’s story is about a male student whose poor, illiterate neighbor, Teresa, asks him to write a letter to her boyfriend back home. Soon after, she asks him to write a letter, as a young man, to his girlfriend, Teresa. The student then realizes that Teresa has created the boyfriend, and her relationship with him, out of loneliness and despair. In my revision, the communications technology is updated; that is, a laptop and Facebook replace pen and paper, and Gorky’s story begins to sound a lot like what Internet users know as sock puppetry, and/or catfishing.
Today’s guest blog post, from an acquaintance of mine:
When I was a student at Michigan, I happened to live near this townie girl.
She was a Mexican, named Teresa. She was a tallish, powerfully built brunette, with black, bushy eyebrows and a large coarse face as if carved out by a hatchet. The bestial gleam of her dark eyes, her thick bass voice, her stocky gait and her immense muscular vigor, worthy of a trucker, inspired me with horror. I lived on the top floor and her room was opposite mine. I never left my door open when I knew her to be at home. But this, after all, was a very rare occurrence. Sometimes I ran into her on the staircase or in the yard, and she would smile at me with a smile that seemed to me to be sly and cynical. Occasionally, I saw her drunk, with bleary eyes, tousled hair, and a particularly hideous grin—and on such occasions, she would speak to me.
“How ya doing, Mr. Student!” Her stupid laugh would still further intensify my loathing of her. I would like to have changed my room in order to avoid such encounters and greetings; but it was a nice one, and there was such a wide view from the window, and it was always so quiet in the street below—so I endured.
And one morning I was sprawling on my couch, trying to find some sort of excuse for not attending my class, when her door opened, and the bass voice of Teresa the loathsome resounded across the hall: “Morning, Mr. Student! Are you up?”
“What do you want?” I said. She opened my door and I saw that her face was confused and supplicatory. It was a very unusual sort of face for her.
“I want to ask a favor.”
I lay there silent, and thought to myself: “WTF?”
“I want to send a message on Facebook, but my computer is broke, is what it is,” she said; her voice was beseeching, soft, timid.
“Crap,” I thought, but up I jumped, sat down at my table, and fired up my laptop for her, and said, “Come here and sit down!”
She came, sat down very gingerly on the chair, and looked at me guiltily.
“Well, go ahead, sign on.”
She did, then went to the wall of Boleslav Kashput, who lived in the town of Svieptziana, according to his page.
“Well, fire away!” I said.
There she wrote, “My dear Boles, my darling, my faithful lover. Why haven’t I heard from you in so long? Your little dove.”
I very nearly burst out laughing. “Your little dove!” More than five feet high, with fists a stone and more in weight, and as black a face as if the little dove had lived all its life in a chimney, and had never once washed itself! Restraining myself somehow, I asked: “Who is this Boles?”
“Boles, Mr. Student,” she said, as if offended for my blundering over the name, “He is Boles—my boyfriend.”
“Why are you so surprised? Can’t I have a boyfriend?”
“Oh, why not?” I said. “All things are possible. And has he been your boyfriend long?”
“Oh!” I thought. Well, why is she writing on his wall…? Though I tell you plainly that I would willingly have changed places with this Boles if his fair correspondent had been not Teresa but something less than she, because no girls were writing on my wall.
“Thank you,” said Teresa. “Perhaps I can return the favor somehow?”
“Some quick little job?”
I felt that this mastodon in a skirt had made me grow quite red with shame, and I told her pretty sharply that I had no need whatever of her services.
A week or two passed. It was evening. I was sitting at my window whistling and thinking of some expedient for enabling me to get away from myself. I was bored; the weather was bad. I didn’t want to go out, and out of sheer ennui I began a course of self-analysis and reflection. This also was dull enough work, but I didn’t care about doing anything else. Then my door opened.
“Oh, Mr. Student. Are you busy?”
It was Teresa. Ugh.
“No. What is it?”
“I was going to ask you, if I can use your computer again.”
A few minutes later, I saw she was signed into Facebook, as Boles.
“Wha-at are you doing?” I asked, seeing the comment she was leaving.
“I know it’s stupid, but he asked me to do it, Mr. Student. He can’t get to a computer right now, and he wants to respond to my post.”
I looked at her—her face was troubled, her fingers were trembling. I was a bit confused, then I guessed how it was.
“Look,” I said, “there isn’t any Boles at all, is there? You’ve been lying. Don’t come over here anymore to use my computer. Do you understand?”
She stood up. And suddenly she grew strangely terrified and distraught; she began to shift from foot to foot without moving from the place, and spluttered comically, as if she wanted to say something and couldn’t. I waited to see what would come of all this, and I saw and felt that, apparently, I had made a great mistake in suspecting that she was trying to draw me into some game. It was evidently something very different.
“Mr. Student!” she began, and suddenly, waving her hand, she turned abruptly towards the door and went out. I remained with a very unpleasant feeling in my mind. I listened. Her door was flung violently closed—plainly the poor girl was very angry. I thought it over, and decided to go to her, and, invited her to come in here, and use my computer if she wanted.
I entered her room. I looked round. She was sitting at the table, leaning on her elbows, with her head in her hands.
“Listen,” I said. (Whenever I come to this point in my story, I always feel horribly awkward and idiotic.) “Listen to me,” I said.
She leaped from her seat, came towards me with flashing eyes, and laying her hands on my shoulders, began to whisper, or rather to hum in her peculiar bass voice: “Look! It’s like this. There’s no Boles, he is not my boyfriend. But what’s that to you? Is it a hard thing for you to let me use your computer to post now and then? Eh? So there’s no Boles, only me. There you have it, and much good may it do you!”
“I’m sorry,” said I, altogether flabbergasted by such a reception, “What is this about? There’s no Boles, right?”
“But according to FB, he has a girlfriend, Teresa, right?”
“Yes. I’m Teresa.”
I didn’t understand it at all. I looked at her, and tried to make out which of us was taking leave of his or her senses.
I went back to my table, and looked at the profile on the screen.
She followed, and said in an offended tone: “Look, it’s no problem, I’ll find another computer to use.”
“Listen, Teresa! What is the meaning of all this? Who is this guy?”
“Why, this—Boles,” I pointed to the pic on the screen.
“I don’t know. I got that pic on the web.”
I absolutely did not understand it. There was nothing for me but to tell her to go.
Then she explained, still offended. “There’s no Boles,” and said, and pointed to the comment streams between them, on his page. “But I wanted him to be. Aren’t I a human creature like the rest? Yes, yes, I know, it’s wrong. Yet no harm was done to any one by my creating him that I can see…”
“But he doesn’t exist,” I said.
“So what?! He doesn’t exist, but he might! I post to him, and it looks as if he did exist. And Teresa—that’s me, and he replies to me, and then I post as him again…”
I understood at last. And I felt so sick, so miserable, so ashamed, somehow. Alongside of me, not three yards away, lived a human creature who had nobody in the world to treat her kindly, affectionately, and this human being had invented a friend for herself!
“Look, I post as Boles, and then as myself. I pretend that Boles is there. And I feel quite sure that Boles is there. And life grows easier for me in consequence.”
“You jerk!” said I to myself when I heard this.
And from thenceforth, regularly, twice a week, Teresa posted on my computer as Boles, and then as Teresa. I helped her with things to say. She, of course, read the pages, and even wept, and roared with laughter, I should say, with her bass voice. And in return, she began to do my laundry.
Subsequently, about three months after this history began, they put her in prison for something or other. No doubt by this time she is dead.
And I thus concluded: The more a human creature has tasted of bitter things the more it hungers after the sweet things of life. And we, wrapped in the rags of our virtues, and regarding others through the mist of our self-sufficiency, and persuaded of our universal impeccability, do not understand this.
And the whole thing turns out pretty stupidly, and very cruelly. The loser class, we say. And who are the loser class, I should like to know? They are, first of all, people with the same bones, flesh, and blood and nerves as ourselves. We have been told this day after day for ages. And we actually listen; how hideous the whole thing is. In reality, we also are fallen folks, and, so far as I can see, very deeply fallen into the conviction of our own superiority. But enough of this. It is all as old as the hills—so old that it is a shame to speak of it. Very old indeed—yes, that’s what it is!