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Write a story inspired by this quote from Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy: “In the middle of the journey of our life I came to myself within a dark wood where the straight way was lost.”

Susan knew that the time had come when she had to make a decision. Ever since her husband passed away after only one year of marriage she had been making one bad decision after another. Her sister told her she was “stupid and senseless”. Before Ron had died Susan would have come back to her sister with something quick to say but this time she had nothing. 

It had started out the night she was checking her Instagram account. She thought it was senseless social media, not a match-making sight. James had sent her a request to connect and although she hadn’t known who he was at the time, she thought it was nice to add a friend to her list of “social accomplishments”. It seemed innocent enough until it wasn’t. 

At first, it was the simple question of where are you from, what do you do for a living, are you single and looking? I told him where I was born and raised for most of my life. I then told James where I had gone to college, actually four different colleges for four different degrees, and where I was planning on moving once I “got my shit together”. I didn’t necessarily want to give too many specifics because I didn’t know this guy from a hole in my head and I heard that some of these sites attracted some real nut-jobs. 

In response to my background story, James gave me some information about his. As it turns out we were both born in hospitals named St. Raphael’s Hospital, except I was born in a city in the south while he was born in the Northwest. James had also gone to college and had a degree. He continued by telling me what his future plans were and where he ultimately saw himself living.

We started talking every night which turned into a few times a night, then a few times a day until we pretty much talked every moment of every day. It was strangely satisfying having a relationship with this man even though he lived over 2000 miles away. I guess part of it was that we could talk and say whatever we wanted either through text or over the phone and it seemed like none of it would really matter until we decided to actually meet each other. That is when things started falling apart. 

It was about 3 months since we had started chatting when James told me he wanted me to come to see him. I told him that I would love to but that I had to wait until my finals were over and I had asked for leave from my job. We figured out that five weeks from this point would be a good time to plan things so that we both had plenty of time to take off work, make travel plans, and continue learning about each other. It sounded fun and exciting until I told my sister. 

I went to my sister’s house that weekend for our movie night and began telling her about James. I said what he was like, where he went to school, what he did for a living, and that I would be going to meet him in person in five weeks. This was when she lost it. According to my sister, I had never told her that “this guy” lived 2000 miles away or that “this guy” was probably lying to me about everything. She insisted on teaching me what a Catfish was and why they chose weak people like me to stalk. I told her I was not weak and that this was not a Catfish situation. She didn’t believe me. I didn’t tell James what my sister had said. I didn’t want to taint that relationship that could possibly happen between them when they finally met. I could always tell her she was wrong but I couldn’t untell him that she said he was a lying, manipulative, money monger. 

The five weeks were flying by and my trip to meet James in person for the first time was coming fast. I hadn’t told anyone else about meeting James after the way my sister had reacted. I didn’t want to have negativity like this encompassing my excitement when I didn’t feel like there was anything suspicious to be worried about. I just wanted to stay excited and look forward to this new adventure. 

Three days before my flight James texted me at 8:00 am that he wasn’t feeling well. I asked him what was wrong and he said that he was feeling nauseous. I asked him if he had eaten something bad the night before, grilling him about every ingredient, where they came from, how they were prepared, and if he had ever eaten them before. He seemed to become annoyed with me. I felt bad because I know he didn’t feel well and the last thing he needed was for me to hound him about his food choices when all he wanted to do was climb into bed and sleep. I told him to call me later that day. 

I didn’t hear from James until the following morning. I had called a number of times but the calls went straight to voicemail. I woke the next morning to my phone ringing and his photo on my home screen. James sounded worse than he had the day before. He said he had been throwing up all night and didn’t have the energy to call me. I told him not to apologize, and that I completely understood. I also wanted to make sure he still wanted me to come in two days. He said he was about to throw up and hung up before giving me an answer. 

He didn’t call me back until that night while I was out walking and missed his call. He didn’t leave a message and I was feeling nervous about my trip the following afternoon. I tried calling him back but there was no answer. I wanted to call my sister and talk to her about my dilemma but I knew what she would say and I didn’t need the added stress. I was confused and didn’t know what I was going to do. 

I contacted my airline to find out if I would be able to change my flight. The service representative I spoke to asked me why I would need to change the flight and I was too embarrassed to tell her about my fears. I was at this crossroads where I wasn’t sure if James really was a scammer or not. Had my sister been right about him? I had less than 24 hours to figure out what to do. 

All evening in my contemplative state, I really had a look at my life, where I have come from, and where I was going. I was on my way to a career, I was financially stable, and I had a good outlook on the next 50 years of my life, just not the next 24 hours. I had a choice to make and I had to weigh my options. But, what were my options? I figured I could fly up north and hope that James was the man I had thought I had been talking to for the last three months or I  could cancel the trip completely. What if he really was just sick and acting like this because he felt so awful? What if I got there and he wasn’t at the airport to pick me up? Where would I go? What would I do?  I felt like I was playing with my future, playing with fate is what they say. If I didn’t go how would James react? If he was lying would the truth come out? Would he beg me to come anyways? Would he beg me to reschedule? 

By the time I realized I needed to make the final decision, I was only 12 hours away from my flight to meet James. I needed help finding the truth before making a giant mistake. Suddenly, my phone rang and I saw James’s photo pop up on my phone…

March 13, 2023 22:03

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Jack Kimball
18:09 Mar 16, 2023

Hi Christine. Yes, '...where the direct way was lost. It is a hard thing to speak of, how wild, harsh and impenetrable that wood was...' Maybe the impenetrable wood is the forest of the unknown... like a story that leaves us with an unknown result. Great read! I was really pulling for Susan, but I suppose Dante' wanted us to not know.


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