Book excerpt: Jedediah Bila’s ‘#DoNotDisturb’

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<pHe was often making plans for us at this bar or that club or this house party. I appreciated his initiative and resourceful energy, and I got used to him being on the phone a lot, making plans. That was us: hand in hand, his hand in mine—until the little red BlackBerry light went off.

<pOne day, one of our mutual acquaintances asked me if I ever checked his phone.

<pChecked his phone? “No.”

<pI thought that was odd.

<pShe decided she’d overstepped and didn’t ask again.

<pI forgot about it.

<pSort of…

<pOne night, Kyle passed out at my place after drinking. I was up watching an old movie, hoping it would lull me to sleep. His phone was on vibrate and kept buzzing. Over and over and over. I hated myself for even considering looking at it. But then, in my head, the acquaintance: “Have you ever checked his phone?”

<pThe little red light blinked. My gut whirled.

<pI picked up the phone.

<pThere were hundreds of texts, countless chains of messages.

<pKyle snored.

<pI opened one of the chains. His best friend was asking him if Kate was still around. Who in the heck was Kate? Someone asked him if he could get some stuff. What stuff? He set a plan to meet in the usual time and place. Where? Who was this? What was going on?

<pThen another text from someone I didn’t recognize, telling him he had left “the goods” in his mailbox. I read on and on. People I had never heard of, talking about a gram, a half gram, a bump, a line . . . Kyle was getting drugs delivered like crazy.

<pI read the next run, and the next. He was on drugs. He was selling drugs.

<pThen some earlier incidents that hadn’t made any sense started to fall into place. During the workweek, I’d usually go back to my place at night because Kyle smoked a lot of cigarettes and the lingering odor in the apartment made it impossible for me to sleep. He’d text me good night when I’d get home, telling me he was going to bed. As I began to piece together several texts, I realized that Kyle hadn’t gone to bed when he told me he had. Instead, he was hosting all-night houseguests, names I did and didn’t recognize, girls and guys, in and out, doing drugs, supplying drugs, getting drunk, staying over, you name it.

<pThere were also several flirtatious texts with women I had never heard of, heading to his apartment in the middle of the night, drunk. I had once found a bracelet in his apartment. He had told me it was his best friend’s girlfriend’s, and that she had left it there when they had visited last. The night I read his phone, I found a text from a girl he had clearly hooked up with, asking about her bracelet, among other graphic texts about the night they had spent together.

<pDuring our relationship, there was a woman who would consistently write passive-aggressivethings about me on social media. A colleague brought it to my attention, so I discussed it with Kyle. He said he had no idea who she was but that I should have someone keep an eye on it for safety reasons. The night I read his phone, I discovered that he not only knew her but she had been to his apartment multiple times, drinking and doing drugs, and had visited him at work—which, you may recall, was also my place of work—and had slept with him more than once.

<pMy heart racing, my hands sweating, I kept reading the texts. There were so many. I couldn’t stop. So many plots to keep information from me, so many interactions about getting drugs to or from him, so many sexual exchanges with strange women. The hours went by. Kyle, or whoever he was, snored loudly. I put his phone down. Then he rolled over, deeper into his drunken stupor, and, I’m embarrassed to say, I cried like a baby.

<pI’m not sure I had ever felt dumber in my life.

<pMy eyes blurry, I took a deep breath. This was madness. I had known Kyle for a couple of years and dated him for months. I knew his family. I had been to his hometown and cooked breakfast in the house he grew up in. I knew he’d messed up a little when he was young, but nothing to signal . . . whatever this was.

<pWorst of all—and it’s still hard to admit this—Kyle had mattered to me. I couldn’t, and still sometimes can’t, imagine him capable of some of the things I read. Of course he denied it all, even the very words he had written that were sitting right there on a phone that rested on the table between us, words he had typed in black-and- white. He was defiant. Full of excuses. I never got an apology. But once I saw what was going on, I stopped expecting one.

<pWhich was okay. Because this was not a man I knew. His phone was not a phone anymore. It was some disturbing portal to a whole separate existence.

<pI broke up with him.

<pIt was over.

<pExcept that it wasn’t.

<pFor months afterward, when I would see a little red light flicker on someone’s BlackBerry, I would feel sick and have to look away. I can’t blame the device, in the same way that I don’t blame weapons for crimes. I blame people. Things have the power you give them. Maybe Kyle was going to do those terrible things no matter what. But I also believe that technology aided his downward spiral. It made his lies easier to tell, his deceit easier to hide, his dark desires more easily fulfilled through unlimited outlets.

<pIt’s not technology that decides if we are heroes or villains; it’s us. But there’s no doubt that Kyle’s worst instincts were being activated, enhanced, and facilitated by his little device.