The first one that arrived was for Kevin, a teenage boy from Port Arthur, Texas:
Looks like you're embarking on getting your Texas drivers license with our state-approved Adult Driver Education course. Let's get rolling!
Kevin is a serious gamer—League of Legends, Origin. He owns a BlackBerry. He likes music enough to have registered for Pandora. He has registered many times for the gaming site MovieStarPlanet, because he never gets their confirmation emails. I do.
You're receiving this email because you requested a password reset for your Origin Account. If you did not request this change, you can safely ignore this email.
I started receiving other people's mail a few years ago. They were both automated and personal emails, meant for Kevin, Kalondria, Kayla, and others. It didn't quite make sense: How could someone not know their own email address? Or, how had someone registered my email address as theirs? Whatever the explanation was, I didn't seek it out, but watched, every few months, as I'd get another message not meant for me.
After several months of "being" Kevin, I started to get messages intended for "Kay Breezy," a South African man. The first was subject-free, from someone named Teboho, and simply read: "My sexy love." Soon, Kay Breezy had registered for Facebook with my email address, sans the dot, a distinction Facebook recognized that Gmail did not. My email inbox flooded with wall post notifications, event invites, and private messages:
The irony is that for all the Kay Breezy mail I received, I still didn't know that much about him. I think Kay Breezy is the person who posted the clip of three South African women laughing and talking under a tent, in a language I don't recognize. I think Kay Breezy signed up for Twitter with our email address—@kaybreezy9, though he never tweeted. Through all of the messages and media, I have pieced together his life: where he lives, who his friends are, what they look like. But Kay is a silhouette; Kay is negative space.
Later, Teboho invited Kay to connect on LinkedIn, and I couldn't resist—I clicked the link. I had done the same thing after Kay registered for Facebook, partly to detach my email from his account, and partly to sate my curiosity about who he was. Eventually, I severed the tie between my email and Kay's Facebook—but when I clicked that golden button from LinkedIn, suddenly our accounts combined into one. I'd been behind a two-way mirror for so long, but now I was through the looking glass, for the other Kay Breezy to see.
Receiving so much of other people's mail makes you wonder if the wrong person is getting your messages, too. I am tech-savvy enough to believe I haven't mistyped or misremembered my email address, but there probably is some equal and opposite reaction to all of the lives I have intruded upon, electronically or otherwise.
Like the time I read my mother's teenage diaries. I found them in my grandparents' attic when I was a little girl. She told me not to, but I read them anyway. For all the thoughts she recorded, never thinking anyone else would be privy, how many times has someone rifled through my journal, purse, closet, or email account, looking just because they could, completing the karmic equation: For every act of betrayal you commit, an equal and opposite betrayal will be committed against you.
I've kept a journal all my life—in fact, my mother gave me my first one, when I was 6. She encouraged me to write down my goings-on over summer vacation at my grandparents' house, so that she could read them when I returned. The things I wrote then were predictably cute, small-time. But by the time I'd reached age 10, my entries were about boys, hating my changing body, and filled with angst. Did she secretly read those entries, to check up on me? Did she rifle through my teenage diaries as I had done with hers?
Sometimes, it's not private thoughts, but private spaces that we intrude upon. Last year, fresh off a breakup, I wound up having a fling with someone who'd previously been off-limits. He invited me to his parents' house in the suburbs to "relieve the tension" that had been building up between us. They were out of town, and so their son brought me to their house to eat their food, watch their cable, use their sauna, and have sex in their bed. Being away, they were totally unaware—but then again, wasn't I away, too? My roommate was a deeply respectful woman who would never do something so cavalier—or, so I assumed. Just like I assumed his parents wouldn't find out I'd been there. Couched within all my assumptions about the things people did or didn't do, were all the things I didn't know, and wasn't supposed to.
From "Account creation confirmations" on the Gmail support site:
If a new user lists a recovery email address when creating a Gmail address, we automatically send a confirmation message to that address. Unfortunately, users often misspell their recovery addresses, so the confirmation message is sent to the misspelled address instead of the user's intended address.
The irony of being email twins with someone is that you have their contact information, yet you can't contact them. I know who almost all of my twins are, or at least the senders. What I can never tell, though, is the relationship between the sender and whomever was supposed to receive the email. Like the agonizing, pleading chat conversation between Amanda and Italiano010. Amanda wants some guy named Josh to be her boyfriend, but the Italian wants her. "I just don't know who I'm better off with," she says. "Me, obviously," he responds. "I won't break up with you." Why did she forward this chat transcript? Did she send it to someone who'd help her decide?
Kevin has been my only steady through the years, but he's also the only one I can't find elsewhere online—he's just Kevin. He's created so many different user names on these sites, after not getting the confirmation email, then checking his spam folder, but it wasn't there either, so he registered again—but none of those handles lead to him.
I wonder if he's gotten his license, or found a job—there were so many job emails. Thanks to Kevin, I now know whenever there's a League of Legends tournament, and that they have live broadcasters. I clicked the link out of curiosity, but don't worry, K, I didn't touch anything. But then again, how would you know?
Kyla Marshell is a writer and artist based in New York. Her work has appeared in Sarah Lawrence magazine, on Wondaland.com, Okayplayer's REVIVE Channel, Blackbird, and elsewhere. Read more at kylamarshell.com.
[Image by Tara Jacoby]