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1000 Miles, by John Lieske, page one

What's Your
Biggest Regret?

My biggest regret felt like hell as I went through it.
Later I learned it's way more common than I realized.
My story: Jumps between continents; includes marriages, divorces, kids & child support; Involves losing 20+ year friendships; Also includes financial swindles & court-appointed payents
The core story: a romance sparked over the internet crashes & burns in meatspace... that's what I call out there where you're reading.
This isn't a rant against online relationships. I'm lucky to have people close to me that I met or know from online.
The lesson in this story is much simpler: Be Honest. With yourself and with others.
I'll tell the story from my perspective, but I'll try to include things I learned later & separately along the way.
page 2
Sabina & I met in 1996, waiting in line at the Rocky Horror Picture Show in Runnemede NJ. (every Friday at the Harwan theater... RIP)
She was a young, mouthy punk who threatened to cut people. Including me.
We got along famously.
Soon, I got to meet her mom Ember. We also quickly became friends.
A lot of weekends in the late 1990's
A lot of weekends in the late 1990's were spent hanging out with Sabina
A lot of weekends in the late 1990's were spent hanging out with Sabina & sometimes Ember
When I had a near-fatal car accident in 2001 (another story), both Sabina & Ember came to visit me. I recall Ember saying she worried for me like a son.
When I say that we were close friends in a way that felt like family, I'm not exaggerating.
page 3
Much like family we'd connect when I was in the area. We'd catch up on each others' lives.
We'd keep in touch some afterward, slowing contact as life drudged on. Rinse, repeat.
In February of 2016 I took a trip to NJ for a couple weeks. This wouldn't be a story if Sabina & I hadn't hooked up.
When we first met, I didn't think about physical attraction because six years age difference seemed larger when we were young. Less so once I was in my 40's.
We aready knew we got along great.
We hooked up, so the physical attraction was there. The way I figured, the years of friendship & trust...
Could grow into a romating relationship of the same stuff.
page 4
I stopped working in Dallas shortly after that vacation. At the same time, talk between Sabina & myself had become more serious. I had decisions to make.
Sabina was into having a relationship, and told me to come back to NJ to start one.
I had career experience in Dallas to build from. I could bring that where I grew up and make a life of it.
A good friend, Todd, offered me a room to crash in while I got myself settled.
I cashed in my 401k, which along with my savings would have kept me where I was for at least a year. Half of that would be my moving fund.
I packed up or gave away the stuff from my apartment.
2 months after hooking up with Sabina, I turned my life upside-down to be with her.
page 5
The first trip was exhaustng, but I arrived in May with most of my stuff. I was tired & optimistic...
Until Sabina surprised me & told me she wasn't ready for a relationship... yet.
Confused, I didn't know what to think. I tried being supportive.
Sabina tried explaining things: There was stuff she was dealing with. She wanted to find better work. And she was drowning in debt. She asked me to give her time.
By the time I was headed back to Dallas for the rest of my stuff, I should've been worried. Hindsight is always 20/20
The second trip from Dallas to NJ was also tough, but that was it. I was in New Jersey to live.
page 6
As soon as I was back I was helping Sabina with a new job she'd gotten.
The new job would be the most she'd ever made. The issue: it was an hour drive away.
Her car was... not reliable.
Mine had just finished moving me 1200 miles without a probem.
Could I give her a ride for a week? Maybe 2 until she can save & get something that runs better?
Of course, 2 weeks turned out being more like 4-5 weeks.
What should have rung alarm bells was that she wanted me to: Meet her at a shopping center near her home.
Drive her to/from work and there.
After which she'd return home (to her mother's) in her car.
page 7
When I asked Sabina why the meeting spot, she said she didn't want to say anything because I knew Ember.
She described abusive behavior from Ember & asked me to avoid reaching out to her. THAT was something I should've been more concerned about.
I later learned that Sabina had been telling Ember to avoid ME.
Sabina described me to Ember as having had a breakdown. And worse: 'He doesn't want to talk to you'.
She had me avoiding her mother, who was also my good friend.
She still had me driving her an hour each way to & from work for weeks.
When it became obvious she needed help finding a car, I also helped with that.
I found her a used car, helped her title & register the car... Only to have Sabina disappear for months right after.
page 8
By then I'd asked Sabina whether we were going to try and date. Sabina's responses:
I'm not ready yet. I don't want to date anyone right now. I have things to take care of first.
I was hurt & confused. I'd known Sabina for 20 years. We used to tell each other everything. Suddenly she would barely talk with me. I had no idea what to think. I trusted her. I'd moved across the country at her request and now... what?
Trying to move on, I started dating someone. Her name is Merri. She's great, by the way.
Sabina had gone on to date as well.
If Sabina didn't want to be with me, that's her choice... I wish she could've explained why but... **shrug** (Wait! There's more!)
page 9
In the beginning of 2017 I didn't see Sabina much.
By March I was moving into a new apartment. That's when I heard from Sabina again. This time asking for money.
The ask was $5000. Student loans if I recall correctly.
Sabina was panicked. 'They' were going to garnish her wages.
I eventually wired her $2000 after promises to pay it back.
What I learned later was Sabina asked the same from Ember.
Ember gave her $5000 cash.
We both trusted her. Ember because Sabina was her daughter. Me because 20 years as friends.
The loan wasn't the end for 2017, either...
page 10
In September of 2017 Sabina came to me with a problem... and a plan:
Sabina's latest car was dying. She needed something reliable.
Sabina wanted to buy a new car, but didn't have the credit.
She had a dead car she'd use as trade-in. Could I cosign the loan?
My good credit would put Sabina the rest of the way. I wouldn't have to pay anything.
She'd make the payments faithfully. This would help her build credit.
This would reflect well on my credit, too. Win-win, right? It sounded like a decent plan.
What would Sabina do? Disappear and stop making payments? 20 years! Best friends!
page 11
After cosigning the loan Sabina did keep in touch... kinda
Messages from Sabina followed a formula: crisis. [Jon can u help I have a favor to ask]
I was gullible enough to fall for it every time. There were some asks that always got me: Ember's prescription was ready & Ember was out at home.
Nobody else she called could help. Would I pick them up & deliver?
Don't worry, just leave them at the door.
Sabina: No, don't knock or anything. Message me after to let me know.
This repeated for nearly two years. Yeah.
page 12
In summer of 2018, Sabina told me about her latest boyfriend.
From Australia, Leo drove a train for work.
According to Sabina Leo made good money. He was also an Elite eBay seller. That's how they met!
Sabina told me they'd been talking, and she'd been thinking of moving overseas.
Sabina would marry Leo, then bring Ember to Australia to retire.
Sabina & Leo had been planning it all out. It was great! [... I literally have never done that ever. Even with years long relationships. I've never trusted someone enough. Know how much else I trust you. I've started getting all the stuff ready for you before even... ]
The only problem left was Leo's ex-wife, who I later learned was STILL his wife...
page 13
Before getting into the drama, I want to note that I was genuinely hurt by the way Sabina was treating me.
The constant 'favors' with almost no contact between felt manipulative.
I also began feeling like Sabina hadn't been honest with me even before moving to NJ. I asked Sabina if she's ever explain.
Sabina got defensive. 'I'm not manipulating!' she cried. She said she knew I'd be upset about her changing her mind.
Which... fair point. But that didn't excuse never talking about it and disappearing.
I asked Sabina: please don't stop paying for the car and leave the country.
She responded that of course she would never. 'To me you're still my best friend.
I wouldn't be telling this story if she kept her word.
page 14
In the beginning of 2019, Sabina told me she was going through stuff but would sit down with me to explain things... soon.
I checked back the next month. No answer.
Same the next month.
And the next. And the next.
In May Sabina reached out to Merri, panicked, asking if my bank accounts showed a car payment.
Sabina said something about her account being hacked. [They didn't - Me] [So... my account was hacked. - Sabina]
I asked, 'How about sitting down to talk?' But she was already a ghost. Again.
I wouldn't have to wait long to hear from her, though.
page 15
Most of the following was collected from multiple sources over time. No one source had all the information, which turned out was intentional.
As I said, Leo was still married
						in 2018 and most of 2019. Leo insisted to Sabina they were estranged.
Linda, Leo’s now-ex-wife, feels that’s a weird way to describe sleeping together.
This was a habit for Leo, according to Linda. He made up whole personas for women he wooed online.
She described an example: Leo told another woman he was flirting with that he was in a biker gang in California. Yeah, he told someone he was basically Sons of Anarchy. The TV show.
Linda said she tried to inform Sabina they were still married & even sleeping together. Linda says Sabina refused to believe her.
page 16
According to Ember, Sabina would be gone for weeks at a time when Leo visited.
Sabina stayed with Leo at a friend Bub's place.
Ember said Sabina would come & go, but only briefly. [Ember: what?][Sabina: Laundry!]
One evening in early June 2019, Sabina: Came home to Ember's;
Packed a bag while talking about a vacation;
Jumped in an Uber and disappeared. [Sabina to Ember: My Uber is here. I gotta go.]
In July I got a missed payment warning. Unaware of Ember's experience, I reached out to Sabina.
This time Sabina responded, & said something about the bank having messed her payments up. I found later her auto-pay was cancelled. [image of June payment maked cancelled on a page.]
The following day she paid it, messaged me, and I verified online. [John narrating: Sabina asked me if we could ever be friends again.]
I said she'd have to do a lot of work before I'd trust her.
She promised to pay me back someday, then disappeared. I know, surprising!
page 17
In August I got a notice that the July payment was missed. I followed the same drill, asking for an update. The August payment went unpaid.
This time the bank sent notice that they'd ding my credit score.
I paid for both months to put out that fire.
I was upset at this level of irresponsibility. I tried to reach Sabina to pay me back for the 2 months and ask her to stop whatever was going on. No response.
September went unpaid. I almost missed it until I got a notice in the mail... in October.
At the start of November, fed up, I finally went to Sabina's home to confront her... No car.
Hoping someone was home, I knocked for five minutes. Ember eventually answered and was overwhelmed. 'JOHN?'
page 18
Sabina had left the country. Ember had no idea where her daughter or the car was.
I came to the realization that I'd been scammed out of a bunch of money.
Ember told me that this scheming wasn't new. [Ember: A couple times...] Sabina had done this before, both times stealing & lying on her way out...
The difference: she was tied to a cosigned loan with me, and she may have fled the country. Leaving me with the loan but no car.
I was panicked. [John: shitshitshit] What if she 'hid' the car and it was stolen while she was away?
What if she sold the car for money to run away?
In a last ditch, I messaged Sabina saying I knew she'd fled the country and that I'd report the car stolen.
Suddenly, she responded. [Sabina via txt: Jon PLEASE don't call the police.]
page 19
After months of silence while not paying for the car, Sabina finally came clean that she was in Australia. [Woah][I know dude]
Sabina argued, but she agreed to turn the car over to me. [But] [But I] [*sigh* Ok]
Sabina said she loaned the car to a friend.
In exchange the friend was supposed to pay the car note & insurance. [Cool?] [*hic* cooool]
This friend paid for nothing. They also trashed the car.
At Bub's house I was given the key & the car but no paperwork to go with it. [Whatever] I thought. [This can be sorted ater.]
I hoped that when Sabina returned we'd either negotiate returning the car or she'd finish signing it over. Preferably while paying me back for the months I fronted.
Since you're reading this, by now it's obvious none of that happened.
page 20
While waiting for Sabina's return, Ember and I tried catching up. The shame of it all was how Sabina had the two of us afraid to talk to each other.
Sabina never mentioned any romance to Ember. No boyfrends? None. Except Leo, a month before disappearing. [Ember: He looked like a Troll Doll ha ha ha]
The number of lies were mind-blowing. So much manipulation. And weird stories.
One stood out: When Sabina argued with me last, she claimed Linda accused Sabina of casting some kind of spell at Linda. (Sabina & Ember are Wicca)
Ember tells it differently: Sabina came to Ember asking for such a spell, with Ember calling the ask silly & refusing. [Ember: Nope. I don't even know her!]
Sabina was busy accusing everyone else of lying, while everyone was independently exposing Sabina's lies.
It's a dumb, childish thing to lie about. The reason it stood out is Linda never even brought it up to me. Sabina did. Yep. Weird.
Then there was the Australian guy, Leo.
page 21
It turned out Leo had three kids. Amy, Chelsea, and Thomas. Part of why he was still married was he refused to pay child support. Thus the divorce was contested.
According to Linda, as Leo got more active on eBay he began chatting with multiple women. Sabina wasn't the first, but Leo got luckier with her. I heard it was viking cosplay this time.
Also according to Linda, Leo was eager to get US citizenship. He aspired to be a celebrity... something.
Visit The Store Linda said Leo wanted to be a YouTube personality, like some guy he was friends with named Jason T Smith. [Jason: The 'T' is for Thrify!][John: I don't care!]
Their subject: buying various items for really low prices.
Then selling the items for more.
There's likely a bunch more stuff like supply chains & distribution models. I'm sure it's super-complex. I'm sure. Still don't care.
Whatever he felt his destiny had in store, Leo still doesn't feel that paying child support played a role.
He fled to the US owing thousands in child support for his three kids. [John: the Father of the Year Award goes to... not THIS GUY.]
page 22
I built a timeline based on accounts from multiple people. Leo's months spent in the US were because he was kicked out at home in Australia.
Linda confirmed she called the cops on Leo for trying to force his way in.
Leo wouldn't pay child support because he was spending that cash on his new girlfriend, Sabina. Leo made more than one trip to the US, including meeting Sabina in Ls Vegas & Los Angeles to take her to Disneyland.
In June 2019 Leo & Sabina flew to Australia. They opened a joint bank account & rented a cabin in NSW, Australia.
Between August & November of 2019 Leo & Sabina were at their cabin as the divorce finalized. Leo leased a car through his work.
There was an awkward 'Mrs. Gramm' moment at a furniture store as Leo & Sabina were mistaken for Leo & Linda as they shopped for a living room set.
Around the time I reached out about the car, the wildfires hit Australia. Between those 2 crises Sabina decided to come back to the US with her new Hubby.
Leo quit his job. They used all their money (that Leo took from his family) to move, & pulled the rest out of the Australian bank. Poof. Ghosts again.
page 23
Tracing their activities like one would a scammer was exhausting, but it helped me realize the scale at which I (& others) got scammed.
In January of 2020 I learned Sabna was back in the US. What wasn't clear was where she would stay. [Ember saying 'not here!']
I tried calling Sabina. More than once. No answer. Texts. No response.
I checked our old chat for the addess where I picked up the car. [John saying 'There we go.'] Bub's place. I drove over.
Some guy answered the door. I assume it was Bub. I asked for Sabina. Bub said, [Bub: 'Shes working.']
I thanked Bub for letting me know where to send the court documents. [John 'Thanks!']
He asked my name, so I let Bub know. I asked him to let Sabina know I'll see her in court. [Bub 'Uh, ok.']
The next day I was cleaning up the car.
Two police cruisers pulled up and asked my name.
Sabina and Leo filed for a temporary restraining order.
page 24
Family Court short version: Dismised. The judge told us to reach an agreement about the money. [Judge: Figure it out between you. I don't want to see you again.]
The agreement was straight forward: No further contact. * (future contact would come from my lawyer)
In return Sabina would sign over the title and repay all missed car payments.
I her tags when I recovered the car, but they needed to be returned to the DMV. [John: Easy peasy.]
I did so the next day.
Sabina asked to begin payments the following month, and signed the title change form. [John: Okay...]
All I had to do was wait for the title change & subsequent payments. [John: At least that's what I thought.]
The title arrived still needing signaures.
The DMV told me to have us both sign it to be done.
This meant asking Sabina to do something, & asking through a lawyer.
Sabina didn't respond. Leo did. Childishly. [Leo: We do not trust your client to be civil. We do not have time to wait around the DMV for an hour. We don't wanna. U R not our boss.]
Leo was behind calling/lying to the cops, too. Racking up the 'Objectively Trashy' points. As usual.
Oh, the date of Sabina's first payment came and went with nothing... six months ago.
page 25
You're now caught up on the Crocodile Deadbeat Duo.
What does the future look like? For me: lawyer calls & hopefully court once or twice for a judgment. Hopefully.
For them: rinse/repeat as they burn through family & friends, I imagine.
I try to keep in perspective that Sabina didn't MEAN to cause as much damage as she has. Probably. Maybe. I dunno, she won't say anything. I've agreed to not ask.
I recently drove by the old Harwan Theater, where we used to meet up for Rocky Horror. It's not there any more.
The theater was torn down in 207. There's a store in its place that's as faceless as any other.
How's that for symbolism? Our friendship has been torn down like the Harwan. Time & progress erasing things. [Merri: And replacing with new!]
[John: Shouldn't writers have monologuesfor this type of stuff?][Merri: Who's a writer?]
page 26
If you were curious: yeah, there were LOTS more details I didn't share. Part is for privacy. Part is to not interfere with ongoing legal action.
Also, there are other people who don't deserve more abuse from the CD Duo. Best of luck to them.
It's all true, though. It's what happened.
Sure, Sabina would say my version is wrong. That nobody is taking her POV into account.
Sabina would insist she didn't mean to hurt anyone. She still manipulated. She still lied. Still does.
Example: Sabina lied to get the temp order in the first place-- She claimed we'd dated (we didn't, see pages 1-8). That triggered domestic violence protocols.
This not only led to me being blocked from asking for payment, it stopped me from being able to talk with Sabina's mom, Ember.
Why do you think I was asked to agree to no contct? Ember, you were right. She's worse than I thought. I'm sorry.
page 27
I'm at the age where some friends and family members are passing away.
Losing people is jaring, even more with the covid-19 pandemic.
Losing two more friends because people can be shitty doesn't help.
I've been asked if I'd ever be Sabina's friend again, & after all I've learned I doubt that was ever a possibility. [John: Did not see that coming.]
Sabina has been consistently avoiding reconciliation. All that's really left is closure.
[John: And a confession- this entire story has been about closure.] [Merri: We know. It's okay.]
page 28
[John: Life could be worse given the circumstances. I've been lucky][Merri: Yeah you have.]
I suspect the CrocodileDeadbeat Duo haven't been as lucky. They came back to the US with hopes of running their online store & a divorce payout that will never happen.
Oh, and Las Vegas. [Mr Smith: The T is for Thrifty!] Still don't care.
It's going to be a long time before I trust someone like I trusted Sabina, but I'm working on it.
The only way to get there is honesty.
I worried at first: Will this closure be enough?
Maybe. Maybe not. But it'll be mine.
It's what I can control.
I renamed the online car loan account 'Harsh Lesson'. That's all it is now.
Crocodile Deadbeat Story & Art by John Lieske
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