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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Casey Anthony and the Illusion/Delusion Distinction

I haven't written anything in a while because I've been spending my spare time scouring hundreds of pages of court evidence documents related to the Casey Anthony trial.  I know this is very old news and I don't know why I was prompted to even look any of this up, but once I find something I want to know more about I will not stop until I know absolutely everything about it.  It's a curse more than a gift, because even when it's something for school or work, I still obsess far beyond the amount necessary to gain a competent understanding of the material at hand and way too far into the minor details.

We all know the basics of the story:

  1. Girl has baby very young and lives at home with baby and parents.
  2. Baby isn't seen for a long time, grandparents start to worry and keep asking to see the baby but mom refuses.
  3. Mom's car is towed; when retrieved from impound lot, smells like "a dead body".
  4. Mom breaks down and claims her babysitter kidnapped her daughter 31 days ago and she has been looking for her.
  5. Parents accept this story because the alternative (that their daughter did something awful to their granddaughter) is much worse.
  6. Turns out babysitter never existed, daughter's remains are found months later, very decomposed and with no clear cause of death.
The lies here are purposeful.  The police were asking this woman where her daughter was and so she lied to keep from telling them the truth that would get her in trouble.  Her parents cared about finding the girl and would have been devastated by the news, so they needed to be lied to as well to keep police away from discovering the truth.

Upon reading much of this woman's internet correspondence, thoroughly logged into evidence, it becomes clear that these lies were the only ones that made sense.  Casey had been telling her friends for years that she worked as an event planner at Universal; she held no such job and never did.  She asked her mom to watch her daughter while she was at work and her mom dutifully agreed, and Casey never even had a job this whole time.  She made up email addresses and names for coworkers and sent fake emails around, changing her email address in the forwarded message portion to "C.Anthony@events.universal.com" to reflect her position, and for what?  To print out and show her mom?  As an aside, universal.com isn't even related to Universal Studios.

This whole time she was lying to her friends equally, telling them and boyfriends she had work to do or was going to work, telling another friend she was buying a house soon and this friend could move in, planning trips she would put off until there was no time left and she finally had to admit she wasn't going, telling people her dad "almost had a stroke" (not sure how one almost has a stroke) to get out of commitments.  Her lies were vast and far reaching, but they were also strange.

She told stories to friends and boyfriends about a coworker named Juliette who never existed.  She would flesh out these characters, adding children and siblings, and giving direct quotes from them and telling tales of their adventures together.  Where did these lies get her though?  What was the purpose for telling someone a story about a woman who doesn't exist, and what could she possibly get out of that?

I had a neighbor for a long time who lied to his parents about being in school.  He bragged about defrauding their insurance company with a fake record of attendance and having recreated the school seal to get highly accurate faux transcripts to be passable.  One summer, while claiming to be working at an engineering firm for an internship, he even got a second number that he gave his mother as his work number to make it seem all the more real.  My mother and I wondered how people could fall for his lies - they seemed so obvious to us, but certainly many parents are blind to their children's faults.  When we ultimately had a falling out after my mom refused to lie for this guy anymore, he made up even more elaborate and out there lies about the two of us - saying we put an ad on Craigslist giving his wife's phone number saying she wanted some casual encounters to come by...I mean come on - and his mother believed him again, leading us to lose some of the only family we had at that time.  It was devastating to us how his lies affected our lives, but to his parents, the people who he used his lies to steal money from under false pretenses, their lives went on fine so long as they never came to terms of what he really did, and what they fell for.

It makes me think about how with the internet and cell phones, we are so easily able to pretend to be someone we're not, offering up all of the illusions for the world to see.  Here we are at our job, here is our nanny's Facebook, here's the number for my office.  

Casey and my neighbor both built houses of cards that had to come down at some point.  Once her daughter had been killed (accidentally, in my opinion), she kept making her lies more and more elaborate, but she must have known that she would have to stop at some point.  How would she never allow anyone to see her daughter again?  Even if she ran away, she had a pretty big internet presence that would have helped anyone track her down.  The illusions she offered her parents crossed the line into delusions, deluding herself that somehow this would be believable or somehow she could get away with this.  She went out and immersed herself into life with her boyfriend, using him to help her forget about the stress of the lies she was keeping up.  I've found myself doing that before - clinging to someone to help me keep my mind off of things in my life that were falling apart - and so I can understand how it helped her to keep from needing to face reality.  

But had there been no ability to fake emails from her work, had there been no way of finding real people online whose names could lend credence to your stories, how long would these lies have gone on for?  How long could she have kept these illusions up before someone could finally confront her and force her back into reality, force her to stop deluding herself and accept what is really going on right here and right now?  I wonder, if she didn't have a cell phone allowing her to constantly call her parents and tell them "later, I'll bring her later!" how much sooner they would have gone out looking for her, and how much pain they might have saved themselves.  

The thing that strikes me the most about both of these people is that they seemed to really see themselves totally differently than they were.  By constantly talking about what they were going to do (i.e. "I'm moving out next month", "I'm going back to school next semester", "I'm entering a partnership at this restaurant and they want to make me co-owner", "my wife's dad is going to buy us a penthouse on the UES", etc) it seems like both lost sight of what they were actually doing, which was nothing.

It's hard to believe that spending a day sitting in bed talking about being at work could provide the same fulfillment as actually spending a day at work, but it seems like these people really believe that.  Perhaps the stress of making and keeping up the lie is akin to the stresses of moving out and having high powered jobs, all the things they said they were doing, but I wonder how people can get narcissistic enough that they think they can just lie about everything to everyone, and everyone will believe it.  

I can't say I am not guilty of trying to delude myself as well, to be sure.  For a year I lied to everyone in my life about not being in school because I was humiliated and embarrassed that I had a difficult time.  My mother knew but none of my friends did, and the stress of having to come clean was unbearable to me, even though I knew that this was something I was only hurting myself with.  As I came clean, as I started turning my life around, I gained an empathy that I had never felt before - I could relate to people on new levels and really feel for them, and I could face my own realities every single day.  So, which ended first?  The delusion, or the narcissism.

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