In the middle of reporting my book on death fraud, I got caught cheating on my boyfriend.
I'd been pursuing the question for years: can you disappear in the 21st century? I had interviewed dozens of devious characters — privacy consultants, fixers who forged death certificates, life-insurance fraudsters — and I thought they had taught me the most important thing about faking your death: how to cover your tracks. I just didn't know I would end up applying this lesson to my own illicit affair.
In my reporting, I had investigated all forms of digital footprints — IP addresses, pinging cell phones, surveillance cameras capturing your image at every turn. In accordance with what I had learned, I erased all the incriminating emails from my drafts, sent, and inbox folders. All but one, which blatantly outlined a plan for a rendezvous. I had deleted all call logs and texts. Except for those few phone calls I forgot about.
Worst of all, I hadn't considered that you can still get busted in the most analog ways. So when my live-in boyfriend stumbled upon my most deranged lovelorn musings in a journal I had left out, it was evidence so anachronistic, so juvenile in its sloppiness, it hadn't occurred to me to better obscure it. Ink on paper was what tipped him off, spurring him to comb my phone and computer for traces of what else I'd left behind.
At this point in the story, armchair analysts will speculate that I wanted to get caught. Maybe in the grand cosmic scheme of things, some part of me did. My boyfriend and I had been together for six years and lived together for three. We shared a rating system based on New York City mayors ("Is this shirt Giuliani or Fooliani? Dinkins or Stinkins?") and had adopted a Jack Russell–Chihuahua mix. We'd both recently turned 30 and had vague plans for what our wedding might look like — a taco truck and lots of dancing — but no hard plans for when that might take place or what we envisioned for the future. We'd grown comfortably into something between friends, roommates, and canine co-parents, so deeply ensconced in each other's lives that imagining an alternative seemed impossible.
But hurting the person I lived with for the happiest years of my life? Being thrown out of our home after he made his discovery? I had envisioned a slightly more graceful exit. The morning I left, the sun was just beginning to tinge the sky violet, and I walked away with our dog and a haphazardly packed suitcase of gym shorts and high heels.
For years, I had been interviewing men who had made great messes of their lives (pseudocide seems to be an almost universally male phenomenon — or maybe women do it just as much but don't get caught). Typically, when these guys get the idea to fake their deaths and then actually execute the plan, they are backed into a corner. They've cheated, they've lost millions of dollars of investor money, or they're attempting to shirk their debts to creditors by taking an easy way out. These are guys who make fools out of the family members who mourn them, who attempt to outsmart law-enforcement agents who are paid thousands of dollars of taxpayer money to search for bodies that never appear. And these guys often have a tidy excuse for why they've done it. I just couldn't get over the hubris it requires: to think that you can get what you want and get away with it at the same time.