Warning: This is not a fun story. In fact, it could be considered scary and may trigger unpleasant feelings, memories, or emotions. If you feel stalking is a sensitive subject, please skip reading the rest of this and go do something light-hearted that will bring you joy, like watching kittens eat ice cream.
I refer to myself as a stalker all the time. Part of that is me being tongue-in-cheek about my job which often involves finding information about authors and artists. The other part, though, is to make stalkers a little less scary to me. I know it’s not a funny topic, I know how serious it is. I’ve been stalked twice. Each time I was lucky enough to walk away physically unscathed but both were terrifying encounters.
Every once in awhile, someone is upset by the way I loosely throw the term about. She (yes, always she) tells me that it’s not a joking matter, that women, children, and men are stalked and sometimes even hurt, that it’s a terrible situation and I should not make light of it. I know all that and I agree but I want to take away some of its power to create unreasonable fear, I don’t want the idea of being stalked to become a monster under my bed and devaluing the term is how I do that.
I read a blog post awhile back in which the topic was employees not wanting their last names on nametags or their pictures on the company’s intranet because they feared it would encourage stalking. The author is a male manager and was making a case for names and pictures but got some pushback because his readers felt he didn’t understand the risk of being stalked and worried he was endangering his personnel. Per usual, I rode the fence in my reply but I pointed out that nametags and stalking aren’t related. Stalkers don’t see your name and decide to stalk you. If you’ve got a stalker, then there’s a good chance your name is already in the database, along with your eye color, your shoe size, your pets’ names, and pictures of you taken from behind the shrubbery across the street.
Similarly, while there is a chance someone could be browsing the intranet at work to find potential victims, the likelihood of that happening is probably fairly low. I don’t work law enforcement and I’m not part of the “Criminal Minds” team so I have no stats to back me up. All I have is two stalkers in my past and neither of them followed me home because they saw my name on a badge or because they found my picture online (to be fair, that would have been impossible at the time as “online” was very rudimentary)
The first stalker was a guy who was at college with me. I encountered him in a math class one summer and I didn’t like him. He and his friend sat in front of me and they were both jerks, loud and disruptive, disrespectful; they talked throughout most of the lectures and no one stood up to them, not even the teacher.
I’ve mentioned my Longest-Running-Friend, April. She and I both attended the same college for our undergraduate studies. She had another friend there who became involved with a MUD (think text-based World of Warcraft) and got her involved so she, in turn, got me involved. I deny geekdom but I will say that I loved that game. I found a tight-knit community there and I still keep in touch with a couple of the other former players but it was also a dangerous place:
I was sitting in a computer lab one day (do those even still exist?), happily running around this imaginary world when I got a private message from one of the players saying something about how nice I looked. I did the /lookself command to see what I was wearing, made some cutesy remark that was relevant, and went on my way. But then I got a scary message in return, one that said, “No, not in game. In real life,” and he proceeded to describe what I was wearing. I looked around the room, alarmed, but also intrigued. I did not yet have a sense of internet-self-preservation, I don’t think I quite believed anyone was out to do me harm. Also, because I’d never been popular with boys, I was sort of flattered that one had noticed me, despite the fact I was married.
Then I saw him – the disruptive student from the summer math class. He was staring intently at his monitor but I could see what was on the screen. It was the MUD. The ass from class was the player who’d just told me I looked nice. He knew who I was. He also knew where I worked, when and where I had class, and which computer labs I frequented. He’d waited until he had all that information before he even introduced himself to me. I suddenly had my own fanboy.
As it happened, we saw each other often because we hung out with the same crowd though once we’d established that “I know you” connection, he began to take liberties. For instance, one 4th of July, The Gang all got together in a park to hang out and watch fireworks. My friend and I got there late and were walking toward the group when the Fanboy saw me, came running over and picked me up in a fireman’s carry. This was the first overt physical move he’d made toward me and I was not comfortable; maybe he was being too possessive, too rough, but probably it was because I don’t want people I don’t like carrying me around. I shrieked like a girl, pretended it was all a lark, then asked to be let down. He didn’t listen. I stood up in his arms, went rigid, and demanded to be let down. No dice. Some of the guys in the group finally had to tell him to knock it off. He put me back on the ground, overly gently, then was angry and hostile toward me for the rest of the evening. After that, I tried to stay as far away from him as I could, but you know what? He wasn’t doing anything wrong and I was probably just being an overly-sensitive girl…is how I rationalized it all. None of us really took it seriously.
Come fall semester, I had a late class and one night, he waited for me, intending to follow me to my car. I didn’t want to be alone with him in the parking lot. Luckily, the library was still open so I ran in there, waited until Fanboy left, asked one of the male librarians to walk me to my car then arranged for a security guard to do so for the rest of the semester. Even so, Fanboy found out which car I drove and he eventually followed me home which was scary and irritating but I have to remind you that this all happened before there were laws against stalking. This is also the time to mention that while I don’t buy that a woman “asks for it” by her actions, I do have to take responsibility for my part in this play. I should have drawn a line that night when I realized I was afraid to be alone with this guy yet the more he showed up unexpectedly and the more worried I became, I was still pleasant to his face while being a bitch behind his back. I was too scared of him to stand up for myself, to tell him off, to fight back against his passive aggressive bullying. Do I deserve what I got because of this? No, but I didn’t do anything to rectify the situation before it got out of hand, either. It’s not like I filed a complaint against him at school or let the security guards continue walking me from classes after that one semester. Could I have stopped his behavior? Who knows but the point is, I unnecessarily allowed myself to be in uncomfortable situations with this person. While his behavior was certainly not my fault, I am accountable for not taking better care of myself.
Time passed and I got divorced. Fanboy got wind of this. He said he’d help me move. I said I didn’t need help. Moving day came and he showed up at my house. I wasn’t there; I was on a run to my new apartment. However, my parents were there and they loaded up his truck and gave him directions to my place. And why wouldn’t they? He said he was a friend from school. He knew my friends’ names, he knew I was moving, why wouldn’t they believe him? I’d never told them I was being harassed and he seemed to them like such a nice, young gentleman.
He showed up as my team was unpacking at the apartment. I freaked out but what could I do? Aside from sternly tell him I didn’t need help and then get all my friends to unload his truck, not much. No law against this type of behavior, remember.
Not too long after I’d settled into my new life, he started sleeping in his truck in front of my building so he could watch my place all night. I asked him to stop. He made excuses. I got mad. He started leaving gifts on my doorstep. Roses. Movies I liked. Trinkets. I was weirded out by this but I knew plenty of girls – not my friends, don’t worry – who thought his behavior was highly romantic, they didn’t understand why I wouldn’t date someone so obviously devoted to me but, then, part of their misunderstanding stemmed from me; every time I told someone about this situation, I made it sound like a harmless story. Anyone who raised objections quickly heard about how it was all under control, not really a problem. I did not realize I was talking myself into a dangerous place by being wilfully ignorant.
After nearly a year of this behavior, everything came to a conclusion one winter’s night. I’d met up with The Gang to see a movie and Fanboy happened to be along. By this time, most of The Gang knew I was having problems with him and they tried to keep us apart but on this particular night, their planning didn’t work out. The movie ended late and it was cold and icy out. Most everyone hurried home. A few stayed to make sure I’d be ok but we wound up talking until the movie people kicked us out of the lobby. Fanboy was long gone, so my friends went home, too. I walked to my car and, oddly, there was Fanboy’s empty truck. I got in my car, went to start it, and it wouldn’t turn over. It had frozen because it had sat too long in the cold. This had happened to me before so I wasn’t worried, I knew what to do. I got out of my car and set off to walk about a mile across the parking lot to a restaurant where I would call another of my friends to come get me. I didn’t get 10 feet before Fanboy appeared. I don’t know where he’d come from. One minute, I was fighting my way across the snowy parking lot, alone in the frozen tundra, and the next, he was suddenly beside me. He asked what was wrong. I told him my car was frozen and wouldn’t start. He offered to help. I told him I was fine. He asked if he could at least give it a jump. I said there was help up ahead. Then he leaned over, picked me up, marched over to his truck, opened the passenger side door, and threw me into the cab.
Here was my immediate problem: the passenger side door didn’t open from the inside. The manual window roller-downer handle was missing. I couldn’t get out on my side and by the time I realized that, he was getting in the truck from the driver’s side.
I still have no doubt he thought he was being chivalrous, doing the right thing for me even though I was being so femalishly obstinate, yet after he drove out of the parking lot, he did not head toward my apartment and that’s when I got scared. You’d think I’d have found a sneaky way to dial 911 on my cell phone only…there were no cell phones back then, not the kind you carried around in your pocket, at any rate.
I started babbling inanely. I don’t know what I said, what I talked about. It was late, nearly midnight and there was no one on the roads, no one to ask for help. We were driving through the icy night out of town.
I sat with my back to the passenger door, facing him, knees bent to my chest and feet ready to kick the hell out of him the minute he stopped the damn car.
But there were no red lights.
He drove up to the mountains, up to a specific area known for collecting dumped bodies and I figured I was about to die. I wasn’t ready.
It was beautiful out, the moon was up and the pine trees were frosted and sparkling. It was bright and cold, so cold that the stars shone exceptionally loudly. He parked the truck and I figured it was time to fight. He looked at me. I looked at him. And then he got out of the truck. He shut the door and walked away.
I could have escaped, I could have jumped out his side and run, but I didn’t. There was no reason to. If he wanted to rape me, to hurt me, to kill me, he’d be able to catch me. He was bigger, faster, and I couldn’t hide with all that moonlight reflecting off the snow. And even if I could, it was sub-zero up there on that mountain and I was just wearing a little jacket I’d thrown on because I’d expected to not be caught out in the weather; I would freeze to death pretty quickly. I figured my best chances would be to stay in the cab and fight. I looked for something I could use as a weapon. I had a pen. It would have to do. I should have worn boots; why do young women do that, not wear the appropriate attire for the weather? I had on Keds. Keds and my little jacket. I was not prepared.
He stood outside, many yards off, looking at the night sky. I wonder if it was as beautiful to him as it was to me. I wonder if he even saw it. After about half an hour – and I admit I was hoping he’d get hypothermia and die so I could take his keys and drive back down to a police station – he returned to the truck. He got in, started it up, turned the heat up, and drove us back out of the mountains, down to the city, and over to my apartment. We didn’t say a thing between us. I just laid down on the seat, feet still pointing at him so I could kick if needed, and…did nothing. Well, I probably shook a lot. I don’t remember getting out of the truck, or walking up the stairs. I don’t know how I got the key in the door or found the light switches. He didn’t stay outside my apartment that night. I sat on the couch and listened to him drive away. I called my friend, the one who would have come to save me had I just made it over to the restaurant, and told him what happened. He asked if I was ok and I said that I was, though I wasn’t but I may have been in shock. I didn’t sleep until the sun came up and I’d just dozed off when there was a knock at my door. That scared the hell out of me. But it was my friend with food and a warm vehicle. We went to the mall and got my car and he stayed with me all day and then took me to his place for the night. I think I stayed there a few days, actually, until I felt confident in being alone again.
I did tell some of of the people in my gang a watered-down version of what happened to me and they were furious. The good thing about being one of three girls in a group of geeky guys is that the ones who aren’t creeps are fiercely protective of their own, at least that was the case with my friends. I don’t know what they did or said, I never found out, but I also never saw or heard from the Fanboy again. I know he hated me after that, I heard the gossip from the group’s outer fringe, but at least I was safe.
Even if I never felt safe in that apartment again.
The second stalker found me in Korea. He lived a block over from me-n-April and had been watching us walk around the neighborhood for weeks, maybe months. Of course, we stood out as we are both very not-Korean but most of the people in the neighborhood ignored us or got used to us. We had no idea we were being watched. I don’t remember ever seeing the guy before the day we met.
One Sunday, while April was at Church, I was in the corner store getting some emergency supplies. Milk? I dont remember, only I wasn’t happy at being there because I didn’t like the guy who ran the place. But our store was closed and I needed my items right away. In retrospect, it was something trivial and piddling, not worth the hassle it brought about.
A customer walked up to the counter and handed over money. I thought he was buying something during my transaction because sometimes people are rude like that. Turns out, he was buying my purchase for me. The cashier handed me my bag and wouldn’t take my money. He wouldn’t look at me, either. He just gave me my stuff and shut me down. Someone else had to tell me that the guy next to me had just paid for my items.
I looked at my “benefactor”- he was a bit taller than I, scruffy, wearing long boxers and a tank top. He had socks and blue plastic slides on his feet, the kind everyone in Korea kept by their doors so they could just slip them on and run outside. They became popular Stateside several years later. I still hate them.
The guy was being all nonchalant. He bought himself a few giant beers and some cigarettes and was talking to the cashier. I put the bag back on the counter and left the store. A few moments later, I heard behind me, “America! America!” The guy from the store came flapping up in his stupid shoes, handing me the bag. I didn’t take it and I didn’t look at him. He blathered at me, speaking crazy Konglish. He explained he lived the next block down, that he saw us all the time. How did I like Korea? I kept walking. I walked past my doorway, past my building. He talked some more. He’d been in the war, he was a veteran. He just wanted to talk. He kept pushing the bag at me. He said if I took it, he’d leave me alone.
Funny how they say shit like that.
I believed him, though. After I’d had enough harassment, I took the bag. I bowed and thanked him. I watched him walk away. I turned and slowly walked back to my building. I looked back to see if he was still there. He wasn’t. I dashed in and hurried up the stairs.
I wasn’t in the war and I am not a vet and I am very poorly trained. I was on the third flight when I heard the door downstairs open and heard flapping shoes quickly slapping up the stairs.
I knew who it was.
I tried to get up to the apartment as quickly but as quietly as I could.
Our apartment was on the top floor. It used to be a chicken coop. I’m not kidding. I got up there, the door hinges screamed my presence and the flapping footsteps sped up. I got in, threw the bag across the room and locked myself in.
There was a rooftop garden surrounding our little place and a door that led to it from the landing, a door next to our front door, for the other tenants in the building, so they could get to the terrace to grow things or hang laundry. Only our landlady ever did this and she was usually very good about locking up when she was done.
The guy made it to our apartment and banged on the door. It was sturdy metal and the surrounding walls were concrete. I knew he couldn’t get in. I didn’t know the door to the garden was unlocked, though. After a few minutes of yelling and pounding, he quieted down. I thought he went away until I heard him push the rooftop door open. My heart fell out of my ribcage and down into my stomach: Terror. I ran to the kitchen window in time to seem him walk onto the terrace. It was the middle of summer and we kept all our windows open. They didn’t have screens. He could crawl right in. I hurried to shut and lock the kitchen window but I didn’t make it to the next window fast enough. I raced into April’s room and the guy was climbing in, hoisting himself over the sill.
He was fast. By the time I turned the corner and made it back to the kitchen, he was right behind me. I was cornered. There was a knife on the table next to him but I’d have to reach past him to get it. He sat at the kitchen table and started talking to me. He kept pointing at our rooms, asking about the beds, who slept in them. I don’t know if he was asking how many people lived there or whether or not I was a prostitute and could we get down to business. I just stared at him and told him I didn’t understand and I wanted him to leave. I watched my knife over his shoulder. It had killed cockroaches before and I thought it might be willing to take this guy’s eye if I could only get to it.
He wanted me to pour him a beer. He mimed how I should do it. I said no. He reached down to his feet, grabbed the bag I’d dropped, and took out a giant beer which he put on the table (he’d obviously expected to come over since he’d put his groceries in with mine before handing me the bag) He was firm in his request. I would pour him a beer. I shook my head. He pointed at a clean glass and I handed it to him. I am a sucker. He grabbed my wrist and hauled me to him. He put the beer in my hand, wrapped my other hand around it and with his hands covering mine, made me pour him beer in the proper underling fashion. Then he made me sit.
I sat and watched. I watched him drink, I watched the giant beer, I looked at the knife just out of reach. When the glass was empty, I poured some more beer. He asked about the bedrooms again and I shook my head. I told him I had a boyfriend which was technically true, just not one in the country and certainly not one in the building. He talked some more. He poured his own beer next, finishing it off. He asked if he could come see me again. I told him he could not. He stood up, I jumped up, and he left, just like that, right out the front door like a guest.
I got on the phone, called my boss, yelled at him, the boss called the landlady and the landlady was at my door in no time. She apologized profusely, she asked what he looked like. I told her. I’m afraid I described every scruffy Korean man older than 30. That didn’t give her much to go on. She promised to keep that door locked, to keep an eye on us, to not let it happen again.
Only, it did but that’s not my story to tell.
So, yeah. I was lucky and walked away terrified but unharmed from a stalking situation twice; I understand that stalking is not funny, it’s not something to be taken lightly. I also know that if I don’t laugh about it, I will live in fear for the rest of my life and I am not ready to do that. So I joke, I call myself a stalker, I call my work “stalking” and I pray that more and more tools are put into the arsenal for people to use when protecting themselves against real stalkers because no one should ever have to go through something like that.