Several years ago I broke up with a long-term boyfriend. We were living together at the time – in his house – and I was renting my house out to tenants. The breakup was innocuous with relatively little drama. I wasn’t happy, he wasn’t happy, we decided to part ways. He left for the weekend while I packed up my things – including all the items I had brought in when I moved in – furniture, art, accessories, utensils, crockery etc. I had two friends come stay with me over the weekend to help, and on the Sunday I left, the place was spotless – I even left a vase of flowers and a note reading something along the lines of “I didn’t know how to split the gym we both paid for, so I took the boxing bag. Please take care of the fish, and yourself. Goodbye”. I do remember, in the rush of that weekend – which tends to happen when you have 48 hours to pack up your entire life – that we had run out of toilet paper. I think my friends and I used serviettes and Carlton roll-a-towel for those 2 days. We were drunk on wine and emotions, and didn’t really care.
Fast forward a few days and I was living like a nomad, sleeping at friends, my brother and my parents. I was exhausted, sad to my core and had zero stability. Then my phone beeped, and my world seemed to crumble even more. “You little lying bitch” “Thief” “Fucking robber”. The messages poured in, relentless. Then they started appearing on my Facebook wall, on my email, and on my voice mail. I had no idea what was going on – perfectly nice people, albeit now considered my ‘exes friends’ had started attacking me in the most vicious of ways, attacking who I was, my character, my feelings and my heart. And I had no idea why.
I made contact with the ex – we hadn’t exchanged one word since the split – and asked if he could shed some light on what was going on. “My mom says you stole my pots and pans” he said.
Apparently this (grown) man’s mom had come to Joburg after the breakup and had inspected the now emptier (naturally) house, and deduced that I had stolen everything from under her son’s nose (I don’t think she realised, or cared to understand that I had simply taken with me what was mine, and left what was his). Spurred, obviously by her maternal concerns he then decided to jump on the bandwagon and mentioned that I had also maliciously stolen the toilet paper.
I realise how ridiculous this sounds, and even when I relay the lead up of events I can’t help but wonder how something as petty as a mom’s assumption and finishing the 2-ply could have resulted in what happened next.
Shit escalated. Badly. Friends of his jumped on the bandwagon. Friends of mine did too. Turns out that they weren’t very nice people, and my world is better off without them, but the several months of abuse, bullying, defamation and character assassination that followed was nothing short of illegal. I didn’t know what to do. Suddenly a toilet paper issue and supposed missing pot had turned into the theft of the century. Suddenly I had ‘robbed him blind’ ‘taken everything he owned’ and ‘left nothing behind’.
I kept my mouth shut for weeks, sobbing uncontrollably. I thought if I let things die down then it would simply blow over. I didn’t want to go out and shout my innocence from the rooftops. It was all simply too bizarre. What would I say? “Um, hey guys, sorry about the loo paper confusion. Also, that mirror was actually mine’? The thing is, after weeks it hadn’t stopped, in fact my new reputation preceded me and I had random people stopping me at social gatherings asking if ‘I was that girl who stole from X’. After weeks of silence I phoned my mom in tears – I told her I wanted to find a lawyer and sue. I wanted to fight back. I have many, many flaws, but honesty and integrity are my strengths. I’m the person who hunts down owners of lost wallets and who always defends the underdog. I hated what was happening to me, how people were attacking me, and how low and close to suicide I was feeling. My mom told me to hang back, to not say anything. She assured me it would all blow over. During this time the friends who had helped me pack up (my) things didn’t say much – I wanted to shout at them, ask them why they weren’t helping to defend me. I don’t think they ever realised just how bad it was. I wanted to die. I was broken, devastated and absolutely stunned at the ferociousness of human nature.
It’s been years, many years, and I never spoke up, never called a lawyer, and never caused a scene. I’ve never really even spoken about it, until now. And then yesterday Oscar Pistorius was sentenced to six-years in prison, and people reacted. I witnessed again the brutal force of mob justice. Of people forcing their opinions on to anyone who would lend them half an ear. I saw just how brutal a mass of bored, angry, internet police could be, and it shook me.
This story is not about Oscar, nor is it about the verdict. This story is about people who – without fact, evidence, reason or proof – believe that they have the right to character assassinate another human being.
I was there for many years – without trial, without defense and without a voice – I felt mob justice first hand. And for what? For finishing the loo paper. For something that – in other cases – would have made quite a funny story had I bumped into my ex several years later, when we were both in different stages of our lives.
“Hey Kate, remember when we broke up and you moved out, you know you finished the toilet paper?”
“Yes, how funny, the girls and I were wiping our bums with pink scented tissues”
“I know, I had a shit and had to wipe with a kitchen towel. Oh, by the way, I also found that frying pan I thought you had taken. LOL”
And we would laugh, wish each other well, and go our separate ways.
That’s what should have happened. Instead, people who I knew and loved decided to forge an opinion based on feelings, not fact, and ruined a solid chunk of my life.
I’m good now. I’m married to a guy who would never actively hurt someone he once cared for. I have the right friends in place and I’ve learnt a major lesson: Empathy can go a very long way in today’s society. So, until you are 100% affected by something, and until you have 100% of the facts in place, shut your mouth and don’t cause a scene. At the end of the day, the person on the receiving end of your opinion is a living, breathing human being.