People Who Disappeared To Start A New Life Tell Us Where They Are Now.
Have you ever dreamed of leaving it all and getting a fresh start? You don't tell anyone where you're going you just go. It sounds like the tagline of a good movie. But for some people, it's reality. These people all embarked on the adventure of shirking their identity and starting anew. Thank you to everyone who contributed their story.
1. Everyone who I knew before 9/11 thinks I am dead. I changed my whole identity because I couldn't stand my life. Little back story first. My parents are very rich, my dad is a surgeon and mom owns a very expensive clothing store. I got married at 24, right after I finished my senior year at Brown, we lived pretty happily for a while, then I went to Law school and the whole thing started to crumble.
I was studying a lot, extremely busy and never had time to go home, so I guess it was partially my fault. As the years passed, my wife and I started to drift apart, we had sex maybe once a month, wife stopped talking to me about her personal stuff we still made small talk about the news, neighbors, and stuff but when I asked about her issues I was always met with, "Everything is fine, honey."
Then, suddenly we had a baby and I thought everything would get better but it only made it worse. My wife started accusing me of cheating on her. Our relationship went downhill very fast. Meanwhile, my parents stopped talking to me. My dad said I wasn't living up to his expectations and my mom took his side. Basically, my life was crap.
In the last 5-6 months before 9/11 my life became a routine that I just needed to do. Every day became harder to wake up. Then, a few weeks before 9-11 I discovered my wife had been cheating on me for the last 7 years and our 6 year old daughter wasn't mine. I didn't know what to do I was seriously lost.
Then 9/11 happened.
My firm was located in the North building. I was at a client's house looking over some files when I heard the news. At first I freaked out, naturally. My coworkers and friends were in that building. Then it dawned on me everyone probably thinks I'm dead. I was standing there and thinking the same thing over and over again and every time I thought it I felt such a weight off my shoulders, such a relief.
I took a cab to Garden City and just went into a bar, sipped beer while watching the news, stayed there until it closed. I was about to go home when I had a thought: "Why should I go home? I'm dead!"
I took a bus to a small town near Niagara Falls. My parents had a small house there that they never stayed at. I spent the night there, then went to a bank and took out all my savings from my personal account (about 80k).
I went to Canada.
I now live in a small RV park in Ontario. I changed my name and my appearance. I live a very modest life and I couldn't be happier. Every year on 9/10, I go to NYC and visit all the places that I went to on the day I set myself free. I go the bar, tip the bartender $100, visit ground zero, and take a quick peek at the place where my ex-wife lives with her new husband. I always imagine going up to the door and knocking, telling her it's me, and seeing the look of shock on her face, but I never do.
2. I moved from the United States to Taiwan. And, while I will likely only be here for a couple of years, it's amazing how much it helped. It cured the depression I never even realized I had.
I never realized I was "depressed" in the United States. I mean, I wasn't sad all the time. I had friends. I did well at a top tier university. None of that characterizes a depressed person, right?! But, I never felt very excited about anything. I just felt as if though I was going from box to box, looking for happiness. Wake up, get in my car. Drive to class. Leave class, go to a restaurant. Go home. Want to have some fun? Meet friends in a bar. It was all driving in a box to another box and convincing myself it all mattered. I just thought that's what life was, and the fact that I was always sorta "meh" was what being human was.
Then, I got a grant to move to Taiwan, and I did it. (Continued)
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I don't really know how to explain it, but I suddenly feel like a person for the first time. There is a large, large, LARGE sense of community here. I feel like things matter. I don't just drive from place to place, eating at identical restaurants. I realize I am perhaps being a bit cryptic here, but it just feels like things "matter" more here. Go out to eat? It's not always going to be a chain restaurant that looks like all the other chain restaurants, due to all the building codes and ADA regulations. I might find myself in a bit of a shack, run by a family for decades, where people pour their heart and soul into the food. I know I am being general here, and I KNOW that "real" restaurants exist in the US, too. But, in general, I feel like Americans have traded variety for security. We like the security of knowing we can travel to another state and find the same 10 restaurants. We like the security of strict building codes, knowing that all the door handles are the same design in case of an emergency. And, of course, there are merits to all of this.
For example, in Taiwan, people will park all over the sidewalks, and you often find yourself dodging around parked cars when walking, into the street. As an American, I sometimes freak out and think, "WHY ARE THEY MAKING PEDESTRIANS WALK IN THE ROAD?! JERKS. THIS IS A SIDEWALK! AAARGH!" And, this isn't about sidewalks.
But this draws to a larger metaphor. In America, you'll get a ticket in a second for parking on a sidewalk, and pedestrians never have to worry about walking around cars on a sidewalk. To me, that is trading variety for security - we want to make sure every road is safe and "up to code," and as a result, all you ever see are empty sidewalks. In Taiwan, just walking down a block can be a fascinating experience, as you never quite know what you'll see. I worked in an un-air-conditioned building in Taiwan's 100 degree summer, and I was sweating all the time. As an American, it bothered me so much, and I took several showers a day. Then you realize, "I'm human, it's hot, I'm sweating... so what?" It's that overall mindset and general ideology that "freed" me in Taiwan, and made me feel like a person again. I'd rather just live, rather than attempting to set up a utopia of safety and comfort.
So, me? Personally? Hopping on my scooter, driving through slightly-un-okay-level dangerous streets, not knowing if I can always find "that restaurant I like," and knowing that every street will bring something completely new (good or bad).... It changed my life, honestly.
I am pre-preemptively worried that someone will misunderstand this as a Taiwan vs. America argument, which it isn't. If you can be as happy as I am right now in America, then more power to you. I am legitimately happy for you. But me? I can't. I needed a change. And, it wasn't until I made the change that I realized how badly I needed it. If you feel like you need a change, maybe you should just do it. Something like moving to the other side of the planet may seem insane and almost impossible. Well, it is. And that is exactly why you should probably be doing it.
3. I have an uncle who attempted suicide four times and failed. For his fifth, people were pleading with him to try anything else. I went to a park with him and smoked a joint and he told me he was planning on killing himself again. We sat in silence and jokingly, I suggested he just start over. (Continued)
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If his life was bad enough to end, then he could end his life that he's living and just starting a new one, in maybe Arizona or somewhere far away.
Two months later I heard he left out of state and got a new phone and maybe a new name. I found an M&M container with a thank you note and three perfect joints a couple weeks after that.
I'm sure he's doing ok.
4. I didn't have to fake my death, but I was an active heroin addict in my old life so I guess it's possible that people think I'm dead or in jail. I got lucky not to be.
When I got clean I also moved a few hundred miles and cut ties with everyone except my family. It's much easier to stay clean living somewhere without a ton of history of drug use, no reminders. I also am in a new college.
Overall it's pretty good; I have a quiet and productive life, not much socially but I have people I can call if I feel the urge to not be alone. Loneliness is an issue but I try to remember that it's better than living like I used to and isolating myself with erratic behavior.
So overall I'm pretty content with the whole "fresh start" deal.
5. A bit more than seven years ago I got denied from every Ivy League law school I tried for, leading to an existential personal crisis. I did it all right and still failed. After two months working in a kitchen in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, I realized I was trying to go to Law School because I had never actually considered what I wanted to do. I took all my savings, a tiny loan from my parents and moved to South America.
After 6 months I got a corporate job (I spoke Spanish already). Then I started a business. The business exploded. I sold the business. I was in Argentina for 3 years, based there while traveling most of Latin America, and Brazil for nearly a year. I mastered Spanish and became fluent in Portuguese. Came back to the USA for a year, taught a little Spanish in a charter school and consulted for a few companies. A year ago I took a job in China, Im still here. What happened next was incredible. (Continued)
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Ive made a bunch of money and met a ton of people. Ive lived with a kind of autonomy and sovereignty over what I do every single day that I could never have imagined as a college student headed for law school. I see possibilities and value so many things that the old me didnt notice or value. I've had a few beautiful relationships. Ive been published and paid for writing almost a dozen times now. Im at complete peace with my career, my lifes trajectory, and money. I no longer see money as a goal but as a means to do what I want to do TODAY. Abandoning the path I was on and going off into the unknown was the best thing I ever did. It is still the primary experience that defines the path that Im on.
In March-September 2015, I'm filming a travel, surfing, rock climbing, and rural culture documentary with some old friends. My job on the team is 'scout,' I'll be riding a motorcycle ahead of the production crew to scout locations and conduct pre-interviews. When my contract in China ends, Im taking a year off to travel and write a book that already has a publisher while I wait for the documentary to start.
My parents miss me and I miss them. I've seen my sister 4 times in almost 10 years. I've lost nearly all of my American friendships, although I've managed to retain a handful of the most important ones. I'm 27.
6. My uncle disappeared (disembarked off cruise ship, didn't come back). Nobody heard from him.
He reappeared 30 years later and asked to borrow money. Got money, disappeared again.
7. Faked a big move and cut ties with family and friends. I live about 20miles from my old home and kept my job. It has been 2 years and my anonymity remains intact. Happy life without the drugs, drama and abuse. Still keep in contact with my little brother, but that's it. Everybody thinks I now live in Russia.
8. A few months ago, I threw my hands in the air, said "To hell with it," and moved several states away. (Continued)
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The fresh start is awesome, and I'm so much happier now. I have just about everything I've ever wanted here, and I love the fact that I don't have to relive ancient history every time I pass a landmark that reminds me of something.
Just cut ties with whoever is causing you grief, regardless of who they are or what their impact on your life is. Excise the tumor, and then pick up and go. Don't ever let them back in, either...because cancer spreads.
9. I didn't do anything drastic like change a name or fake a death; I merely chose to cut out the terrible people in my life. My father abused me growing up. While coming to terms with this as a young adult, I tried to kill myself. After leaving the mental hospital he mocked me. That was when I saw the light and decided to cut him out. A year or two after that my mom decided to a) uninvite me to christmas, and b) kicked me out the day before the holiday when she realized I didn't intend to go. I left, she changed the locks. I decided to leave totally, and merely left town, blocking everyone there on my fb (didn't want my whereabouts getting back to my family.) I live within an hour's distance, never had a run in since. No regrets.
10. This has been pretty much my way of living for the past 10 years.
Every few years I pack up, move countries and start new. Burner phones, changing emails, and no social network accounts.
I don't really have a reason for it, I just enjoy being a vagabond and seeing places.
I grew up moving country to country as a child, and when I turned 16-17 it just seemed a natural way of living. I've hit around 150 countries so far, and lived in over 20.
I'm still young, and I work in all these places. (surf instructor, running hostels, bartender, teacher, etc.)
11. I dropped everything and left without telling anyone where I was going. I hardly packed anything, just grabbed what I needed and left the state. I go by a different name now and I have no regrets. I was in a terrible place and now I'm so much happier.
I think the only difficult thing is how to figure out who I am now. I spent so much time living for the people around me that I didn't even know who I was. Do I even really like to bowl? Is this really how I want to dress? But I get to re-learn and re-explore myself slowly and it's a wonderful journey.
12. I was always the one that my 'friends' would pick on. Got high grades, so got called the nerd. Had a boyfriend, was labelled as the slut. Travelled a bit, suddenly I'm a snob. Wanted to go study something other than education or nursing (the standard fields they all chose), they accuse me of thinking I'm better than I really am. This went on for 9 years. Didn't matter if whatever they picked on me about was something one of them also did, I was the punching bag. Obviously as a young girl stuff like this has an influence on how you see yourself, so by the time we were in our final year in school, I practised my hobbies in secret, didn't really engage in social activities, kept to myself, always scared of what they will think. I internalized everything, it got to a point where I cut myself in secret (that's a story for another day).
Finally while on holiday in the middle of my matric year, I met a group of people (eclectic and weird bunch of hippies, they were awesome) who I hung out with for the three weeks I was away. They were all so different but they fit in so well with each other because they respected the fact that everyone needs to be their own person. That's when I decided eff this, I'm done with all the crap, and I'm done with the people. What I did next I never thought I'd do in a million years. (Continued)
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So I spoke to my parents, told them my plans, and they agreed to let me do it. After school I moved 1500km away from where I grew up. Lived in residence at varsity, studied what I wanted to without the constant negativity. I met my now best friends there, they're wonderful. I know more about who I am now (still learning a lot) and I'm not afraid to be myself anymore. It's so freeing.
I never told anyone there where I went or that I was leaving. It's been 6 years without them and with no contact with anyone from my home town. It's the best thing I've ever done for myself. My parents moved from there the same year that I left as well. I've never been happier.
My only regret is that it took me so long to realized how poisonous those people were to my health.
13. When I was 17 I up and moved a few states away. Didn't tell a single soul.
I was sick of being picked on and harassed. I had a drug problem, my friends were all dying, my mom died when I was young, and my dad left me after she died, so I was taken into foster care. After I was taken into foster care I was homeschooled, and never got the social integration that I so badly needed. I was isolated to the foster family. They refused to let me hang out with anyone, have friends, girlfriends, etc. I started acting out at like 14/15 years old, doing drugs and dumb stuff to feel like a person. My lack of social skills got me beat up and stepped over every day. I just wanted a friend though. Anyone I would hang out with would steal my money, or talk behind my back...this, that....I guess the teenage experience.
So one day, I decided to just leave.
I had a lot of people that knew me, I had family, not a real mom or dad, but I do have blood relatives. And...yeah....
The story is pretty messed up.
I had a realization that anyone I cared about was dead, and I would be too, because if I didn't destroy myself, I'd kill myself. So, I decided to grab a bag of clothes and hop on the next train out. No money, not even a wallet. Just a small duffell with a blanket and about two days worth of clothes. I snuck on the train, went 4 hours, and got off when I felt like it. I begged for bus money, and slept on the street and random strangers couches for about a year.
The rest of the story is kind of boring, just a lot of struggling. But I will say, it was the best choice I ever made.
I have my own place, a new car, I got my GED, got to college, work as an EMT, and also work at MIT. None of that would have been possible without leaving. It was refreshing. Nobody knew me. I wasn't a failure to people up here. I wasn't that weird kid. I wasn't being bullied to the point of thinking about suicide. Nobody really knew my situation, well, anyone I was talking to as friends anyways. But that doesn't matter now. People don't matter to me. I concentrate on my own life, my own well being.
I'm content with reaching my goals, and being the person I aim to be, on a daily basis. Someone who is there for whoever needs it, as a shoulder to cry on, a door to be opened, a person to vent to, a couch to crash on.
14. I closed my Facebook account in March and it really put my "friendships" in a different perspective. It felt like, for a lot of people, I was gone. I now have about 5 close friends who still keep in touch after I deleted it, everyone else seemed to trickle out of my life.
Racism is an insidious, and unfortunately prevalent, force in all of our daily lives. Maybe we're on the receiving end of it, being treated differently and losing opportunities because of others' preconceived notions.
Or maybe we're on the other side of things. Even those who aren't actively racist or discriminatory still have to process the world through the filters of the things they've been told about people who are different.