The plan seemed OK to Kiki. But she was stuck at home and at a loss as to how to meet new friends. She wanted to reach out to the world beyond Coral Springs and find misfits like herself. So, with her parents' permission, she joined MySpace.
Calling herself "Kiki Kannibal," she began posting pictures of herself, highlighting her hairdo of the moment: a mullet that she'd layered, bleached and fluffed — think Ziggy Stardust — and then dyed with dark horizontal stripes. Between her hair's artificiality and her androgynous slimness, she projected a confident kind of cool. Her friend count on MySpace quickly boomed. She was excited by her new popularity. Each time she logged on, more friend requests were waiting: first a handful, then dozens, then 25,000 within three months. Flattered, Kiki accepted everyone. "It was kinda like a video game," Kiki says. "I didn't see it as real people, more like as a number."
She soon discovered that not all of her new "friends" were all that friendly. She found a MySpace page where other kids were discussing her awful hair, her anorexic thinness, her vanity. "Let's start a I hate Kiki club 'cause she's ugly!" proposed one girl. "I obsess over hating her it's hella fun," exhorted another. Each time Kiki logged on, she found her page spammed with messages from teens. "You're a skank!" "Kiki go die you ugly fucker!"
Kiki was horrified. From the safety of her computer, she lashed out, calling her attackers "nasty low-lifes" and "sub-humans." A 17-year-old, who claimed she lived near Kiki's hometown, responded with a chilling post: "I will fuckin' beat the living shit out of you. Go ahead and call the cops, see what they do. My father was a cop in this city and I can get away with murder if I wanted to." Another teenage girl threatened to "curb stomp her American History X style." A girl from Pittsburgh posted Kiki's real name, and another in Miami posted her phone number. One day Kiki logged on to discover this message: "I'll fucking murder you little girl."
Terrified, the Ostrengas held a kitchen-table meeting. They had complained to MySpace, which deleted harassers' profiles, but the kids simply created new ones and resumed their torment. The police told the Ostrengas they could do nothing given the harassers' anonymity. Cathy and Scott suggested to Kiki that it was time to leave MySpace, but Kiki protested: "If you take me off the Internet, the bullies will win." Pushed out of school, she was determined not to back down again. Her parents thought a teachable moment might be presenting itself: Maybe if they stood their ground, justice would prevail. So they let Kiki stay online, telling themselves it would blow over, like all teenage dramas do.
Kiki didn't tell them the other reason she didn't want to leave MySpace. She had finally made a connection that she hoped would last, but one that had set off a new, even more unsettling strain of hate mail: "No one compliments you except your rapist 18-year-old boyfriend." "Rape-enjoying pathetic bitch." "Your fucking 13 years old, and mr pedifile, I mean mr myspace, should go to jail for dating you. SLUTTTT!"
Because amid all the spite, there was a boy in Kiki's life. Well, not exactly a boy.
His name was Danny Cespedes. Online he was "Mr. MySpace," with the slogan "Come play with me and Hello Kitty." He told Kiki he was 17, but he was really 18. Danny had jet-black hair, snakebite piercings through his lower lip and a bat tattoo below his navel, just like Fall Out Boy's Pete Wentz. He and Kiki began chatting online. He made her feel like someone out there liked her, and when Danny asked to meet — he lived near Miami — she agreed to a rendezvous at a Coral Springs mall. They met on Kiki's 14th birthday, in September 2006, with Kiki's mom in tow, even though Danny had assured Cathy by phone, "I just want to be friends with your daughter." He presented Kiki with a crystal Hello Kitty necklace.
Cathy was wary but found herself impressed by how polite Danny was, how he never failed to call her "Mrs. Ostrenga" and made lots of eye contact. When he visited the Ostrenga home soon afterward, he engaged each family member — even Kiki's autistic big brother, warming Cathy's heart. He brought over his collection of Power Rangers action figures for Kiki to keep. "He made himself out to be an open, honest kind of guy. Harmless," says Cathy. So she allowed the pair to go on unchaperoned outings, which turned into makeout sessions in Danny's car.
Kiki was delighted to have acquired her first boyfriend. Their romance blossomed under the scrutiny of a vast online audience, which kept a sharp eye out for whenever the pair posted notes on each other's pages. But it was a different story in real life, where Danny was moving too fast, and Kiki nervously told him she didn't want to have sex.
"Shake on it?" Kiki demanded, and they solemnly shook hands.
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