- Author: Alex McElroy
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For what goes
into your mouth will not contaminate you; rather,
what comes out of your mouth will contaminate you.
—The Gospel of Thomas
THE MEN WERE outside my building: Four of them, ruddy, dressed in camouflage shorts. Hooded sweatshirts bulging over their bellies. They were hairy and amphibian-eyed, their skin Styrofoam white, banana-thick fingers waving homemade signs. On one was a pixelated printout of my face centered inside the crosshairs of a rifle. JUSTICE FOR LUCAS DEVRY and REGISTER HER in wet red paint—hopefully paint—were smeared across the others.
The death threats had begun two weeks ago—emails and phone calls and scissor-snipped letters. These men, though, were the first to show up in person. I blanched at the first sight of them. Instead of making myself available to them, I should have stayed inside. That was the right thing to do. The safe thing to do. But a night drinking vodka alone on my couch had buried a spike in my skull, and the next morning I needed a coffee. It was February in Hoboken; winter had sunk its fingers deep into the month. I left the building in my bulkiest clothes—black parka and jeans, no makeup, sunglasses, hair bullied inside a beanie—hoping the men wouldn’t recognize me.
Of course they swarmed me on the sidewalk, shouting Murderer, Nazi, Misandrist, Hag—and Fancy Lady, which hovered uncomfortably close to a compliment. I sprinted across the street without looking and was nearly flattened by a mail truck. The men trailed me into the nearest coffee shop. They huddled at the door, pointing me out to the entering customers: “See that woman? In black? Dark brown hair? She’s the woman who murdered Lucas Devry.”
The cashier said: “He was a pastor.”
The cashier said: “A father of three.”
The cashier said: “A man of goodness and God.”
I said: nothing.
The cashier wouldn’t serve me. The men chased me back to my building but paused at the entrance like dogs barking at the edge of a cliff. I collapsed onto my couch. My phone buzzed in my parka pocket. Another threat, I figured, but my boss’s name showed on the screen.
“We love you, Sasha,” she said. “You’re a model employee. You exceeded every expectation we had for you. But the restaurant cannot employ a killer.”
“You can’t fire someone for their personal choices. That’s discrimination.”
“Half the staff has threatened to quit. I had to unplug the phone—we’re getting thousands of false reservations. I’m getting death threats, ultimatums.”
“You think I’m not getting death threats?”
“They know the names of my children.”
On the sidewalk, the men chanted: Say it loud! Say it clear! Sasha is not welcome here!
“So you’re abandoning me? Tossing me overboard to the sharks?” I made grotesque sucking and biting sounds. “Do you hear that? That’s the sound of the sharks eating me whole.”
“You’ve been like a daughter to me,” she said.
“That’s terrifying.” I hung up.
I hosted at an elite midwestern fusion restaurant in Lower Manhattan called Gravee. Our customers were posh Wall Street executives looking to clog their arteries with elegant revisions of cheese curds and funnel cakes. Fair fare for the 1 percent. My job was more model than host: I presented an image of beauty and health to contrast the consequences of eating our food. The work was demoralizing, deflating, and yes, I should have quit months ago.
But the pay cushioned my actual job: an online skin-care and wellness regimen called ABANDON. Six years of work had gone into the program. Two weeks ago, at my peak, I had nearly 1 million followers; 25,217 paying subscribers. After overhead costs, this amounted to a dollar a subscriber, too little money to live on and no sponsorships to supplement my income. For, unlike my peers, I was anti-sponsorship. My program helped clients eliminate products that damaged not only their skin but their psyche. I taught refusal, relaxation, and patience: there was power in doing nothing; nothing required discipline, clarity, love. This resonated with people tired of being told what to buy, what they needed to do, how many times to apply something every morning and night. I appeared on a major morning show. Managers and publicists exhausted my inbox, desperate to work for me. My message was simple—and spreading.
That is until Lucas Devry clawed into my life. He tagged me in his live-streamed suicide. “Here is the world you wanted,” he said, tapping the gun on his chin. He sat at his kitchen table. Family portraits hung askew on the blue-wallpapered wall at his back. I had responded sharply to one of his comments; he took this to mean I wanted him dead. “You’re a murderer, Sasha,” he said. “You made me do this.”
And people believed him. First, right-wingers and Men’s Rights Activists and Republican politicians—men hunting for cases of misandrist violence—then other influencers, my friends, my boyfriend, my clients, paying subscribers: they fell from me like clumps of hair from a scalp.
Say it loud! Say it clear! Sasha is not welcome here!
“I didn’t do anything to you!” I shouted at my window. I flipped them off through the glass. They hooted and whooped, pleased by my displeasure.
I called Cassandra Hanson—my former business partner, my best friend in the industry—hoping she might answer out of pity. She declined midway through the third ring. I tried my ex, Blake Dayes, and made it all the way to his voicemail. Before I could leave a message, his publicist texted: Please respect Blake’s privacy during this difficult time.