I don’t know much about Kelly Nell or how she found me. I don’t even know whether the girl in the pictures is the same person as “Kelly Nell.” The name sounds suspicious. The internal rhyme suggests a stage name, and it has that oily and unmistakable smell of falsehood. Girls like her sometimes add you on Facebook: They’re called Amber Rose or Emma Kaye. They’ve put up half a dozen or so pictures, all taken in dim lighting with disposable cameras.
Kelly Nell is blonde, maybe dirty blonde, though it’s hard to tell from the black-and-white photographs. She has a slim physique and ample breasts. She demurely covers them with her hands in one photo. She doesn’t wear much clothing in general — just lingerie. In one photo, she alluringly thumbs the string of her thong, looking away. There is a mirror behind her. It shows her buttocks and the rest of the room — unfurnished, unadorned, the size of a closet.
I’ve culled a few more personal details about Kelly. Here, she says a little about herself: “Is this week over yet for me. stupid thursday I didnt get the gig This girl is in desperate need of a cocktail and a job.. maybe any combination of the two lol . If you got anythign to keep my mind busy plz Txt me lol (415) 429—- #selfshot #selfie #notop #drunk[.]” Kelly wants to be in entertainment, though what kind is unclear. She says she likes to drink, but she doesn’t even look tipsy in any of her photos. Her face lacks the relaxed vacuity of drunkenness.
Kelly’s is a skeletal identity. She lives in black and white, without clothes. She never leaves the house. You could only find her equivalent in Abercrombie and Fitch catalogues — cinematic shots of languorous, soulless bodies. She has only a few facial expressions — flirtatious, abashed, tempting. She’s every woman and no woman, living in the corners of windowless rooms, caught between mirrors and camera lenses.
Her life lasts as long as the photo shoot someone took of her. She’s been purged of all qualities, save your desire for her. Before and after do not exist for Kelly — instead, she’s suspended in those fleeting moments between camera flashes. She’s “in desperate need” and asks for “anythign [sic] to keep [her] mind busy.” Kelly hovers on the border of personhood, waxed, undressed, made-up, pushed up against a corner, waiting for you. She can hardly move; you’re very close. You could almost touch her, pin her against the wall and thumb the strings of her thong. She slips away every time.
Kelly Nell’s profile could just as easily be mine. It doesn’t seem so as first, since my online identity is more fully fleshed out, less blatantly pornographic. But the person known online as “Andrew Joseph Koenig” does not exist, as surely as Kelly Nell and Emma Kaye and Amber Rose don’t exist. Andrew Joseph Koenig puts up intriguing, self-deprecating statuses and quotations from Chekhov. Sometimes he posts articles he’s written and makes bad jokes about self-promotion. If you visit his profile, you will gather the following information about him: He’s religious; he loves books (!); he stole his autobiography — “I am a strange and extraordinary person” — from Liza Minnelli in “Cabaret.” The person known online as “Andrew Joseph Koenig” is an ugly amalgam of clichés, a perfectly packaged caricature of myself.
When I crafted Andrew Joseph Koenig, I did what the unseen director of Kelly Nell’s photo shoot did. I turned “I” into a hunk of photographed flesh — smiling at a party, thanking friends for their birthday wishes, summing myself up, backing into the corner of a black-and-white room. Parts of me had to be pruned away — my enthusiasm for middlebrow movies, the moments I spend making grotesque faces in the bathroom mirror. I watered down my personality and believed I was distilling it, finally making it consumable, tangible, appealing. I thought documenting my every stray thought and musical taste would make me appear ripe for friendship outside of the confines of cyberspace.
Yet for every picture I put up, there are the thousands of unseen, less flattering negatives. Each smile is earned with an unseen grimace. Between every bit of text, there is a lacuna of myself, a blank space that my every Facebook friend will color in with his own perceptions. Kelly Nell and I both play the ventriloquist — composing narratives for one another that may correspond to reality but almost certainly do not, stories strewn with red herrings, false impressions and second guesses. Ultimately, Kelly Nell is the perfect fraud in her careful façade of intrigue and plasticity. But then again, so am I.