This is a story…

This is a story I haven’t really told in a lot of detail. I mean, people know it happened, but I’ve never taken the time to really describe it. Maybe I haven’t even taken the time to think about it fully. It is one of those things that lives inside of me, pushed down as far as it can go. Maybe it’s time to bring it to the surface to dissect it and discover what’s in the hole it leaves behind.

Once, when I was younger, I was hanging out with friends. One of our friends lived in a tiny apartment, so we all went to his place to chill. This was pretty cool to a group of high school sophomores. The guy who lived in the apartment had some friends over and kept telling me that one guy liked me. Let’s call him B. I looked over at B, but he wouldn’t make eye contact with me, so I didn’t think any more of it. At some point a bunch of us decided to go somewhere. I don’t even remember where we were going. I agreed to meet my best friend at her car, then went to the bathroom.

When I came out of the apartment building, I peeked in her car and saw that it was full. I felt embarrassed, which was typical of me at the time. I made eye contact with B, who was in the back seat. I had seen B a few times before, but I didn’t know him much at all. He told me that I could sit on his lap. I’m sure I turned red and balked at his statement, but my best friend said to do the same. I felt nervous and weird to be sitting on a random guy’s lap, especially one who was 5 years older than me, but I cautiously got in the car and did it anyway.

A few weeks later, we all decided to hang out at a 24-hour diner, which in hindsight was probably super annoying to the waitresses. I sat in a booth across from my best friend. B sat by me, but I didn’t really pay attention to him because we were all taking up a bunch of tables. I didn’t really even speak to the guy. We left after a while and went to a mutual friend’s house. We were hanging out inside when B asked to speak to me outside. I was surprised, but I went with him, and he told me that he thinks we were meant to be together, that we were soul mates. I was taken aback because I didn’t even know him. I had no idea what to say.

We started hanging out a bit after that. There was always something off about B, something that made me mildly uncomfortable. I often hung out with him anyway because what teenage woman is encouraged to listen to her intuition? He came over to my house sometimes, and we went for walks and talked about lots of stuff. Eventually, my mother stopped liking him. She said it was something about the way he looked at me, the way hugged me. Whenever he came over, she yelled at him to leave, so we started meeting other places.

One time, we hung out at a local park. We were talking about the stars and the possibility of life outside of our planet. This kind of intellectual conversation was something I didn’t know I liked, didn’t know I wanted. I appreciated that he liked this side of me and was attracted to my intelligence. I leaned over and kissed him. A little while later, my brother found us there, so we left in my car.

We drove to a beautiful overlook together and sat in the cool night air. We kissed some more, which led to making out. He did not pressure me into anything, which made me feel heard and valued. It was both beautiful and intense, and I felt – for a moment – that maybe he was right. We were supposed to be together like this.

We left and I took him home. In the following weeks, we spent more time together, but I still felt that twinge of discomfort. Eventually, I started to feel smothered. B was always showing up unannounced. Sometimes he’d be outside of my house and, when I went outside, he’d hug me for a long time, hanging on me, even as I tried to get out of his embrace. Sometimes he would be waiting at my car at lunch or after school, asking to hang out. On one occasion, I went to my car from school and he asked me to lunch. I declined, telling him I planned to go home and cram for a final. He wouldn’t let me get in my car, begging to take me out. I kept saying no, and he finally left… but he was angry and yelling. It made me scared.

Shortly after this, B showed up at my work and asked to talk. I told him no, because I was working, and he started to escalate. In order to placate him, I said I could talk to him in a 30 minutes, after my shift ended. He sat in the lobby, watching me, until my shift was over. After work ended, I went outside with him and sat in his car. He started in again about how we were meant to be together and he wanted me to agree to be a couple. I told him I didn’t want that, and he got angry, yelling at me inside his car. His face was red from the screaming. I felt trapped.

I started avoiding him after this because he was making me feel even more uncomfortable. Then, his behavior started getting worse and worse. He called me constantly. Once, he was waiting on a bench outside my work. I left and he followed me to my car, yelling, asking me why I wouldn’t hang out with him and who else I was hanging out with. Another time, my little brother went out front of our house and saw him crouching behind a bush, peeking in the living room window, where I was lying on the couch. We came outside and he took of running. Another time I drove up to a gas station and my older brother went in. B popped up out of nowhere and placed his arms on my open window, yelling and demanding I talk to him. I was so scared and didn’t know what to do. I told him to go away. He walked away screaming. Later that night, a mutual friend called me and told me B was trying to hang himself because I refused to talk to him. She was sobbing and begging me to come over to talk him down. I refused, and some of our shared friends got mad at me. I was super confused and, again, scared.

I started to avoid B, but he continued to show up. He got angrier and angrier. This went on for a couple years. A COUPLE OF YEARS. I kept telling him to stop and leave me alone, but he wouldn’t. He just would not stop. The fear and hypervigilance I felt – and still feel – is hard to fully capture with words.

2 years after we met, B came over in the middle of the night and smashed in my car windows with a baseball bat. I’ll never forget how it felt to see the damage to my car. I knew it was him, but I couldn’t prove it “beyond a reasonable doubt,” so police were unable to help. I felt helpless and didn’t know what to do.

Shortly after this incident, I stopped seeing him around. I felt relieved because of how hypervigilant I had become. It’s hard to explain what that level of hyper-awareness and paranoia does to a person, so this felt like I was freed from something. Eventually I got comfortable, feeling like all this was in the past.

But it wasn’t over. About a year after the car incident, I went to a house party with a friend of mine. We went in and got comfortable, hanging out with friends. I didn’t know B lived there. He walked in and sat across the table from me. The hairs on my neck instantly stood on end, but I didn’t want to make a scene. I looked at him and tentatively smiled while simultaneously thinking of exit points and how to leave gracefully. It’s so frustrating how women are trained to always be so fucking nice.

B was drinking from a bottle of rum and handed it to me. I drank and heard him say to the other people, “that’s MY girl!” Something about the way he said it helped me understand this was never over for him. After a while, B asked to talk to me in his room. Again, not wanting to make a scene, I agreed. We went into the room and sat on his bed. He gave me a 4-page letter he had written for me. In hindsight, maybe he knew I was coming to this party, and maybe my friend had helped him arrange this meeting. B was very charming, after all.

B pointed to a poster that was hanging on his wall. It was an image of 2 scantily-clad women, one blonde and one brunette, with their backs to the camera but faces turned toward it. B told me he looked at the poster every night and thought about “us” because one of the women looked like me. It’s weird that I can still see that woman’s face in my mind.

B asked me to read the letter he wrote, and I did. It said a lot of things, but what sticks out to me the most is it said he loves seeing me everyday. It had been a year since I saw him, but this letter said HE SEES ME EVERYDAY. I was horrified because my comfort felt like a total lie. Where was he seeing me? Was he peeking in my windows again? Was I safe anywhere?

I left his room and went outside. I said I was going to the gas station and asked if anyone wanted to come with me. B followed me out and jumped in my car. I was hesitant to make him angry, and again didn’t want to make a scene, so I let him come with me. On the drive, he turned up my music. I remember the song that was playing, and each time I hear it, it brings me back to that night.

After we got some stuff at the gas station, he asked me to drive around for a little bit so we could talk. He always wanted to “just talk.” I obliged and drove around.

B started telling me how much he loves me, and how we were meant to be together. I told him nothing had changed and I didn’t want to be with him. He escalated and started yelling at me. He said, “If I can’t have you, nobody can.” That sentence scared me a lot. I pulled over and made him get out of the car. I started to take off, and he ran after me screaming. I stopped because, again, I felt obligated to be nice and not leave him there in the middle of the night. I got out of the car. B came up to me and grabbed me, hugging me tightly. I squirmed and shouted at him to let me go, but he kept hanging on to me. I finally got away.

A car drove by and stopped, then reversed. I remember a younger guy, around my age or so, asked if I was okay. I looked over at B, and he started yelling at the guy to “get the fuck out of here!” That guy made direct eye contact with me and said, “Are you okay?” I hesitated and again looked at B, who was red-faced with anger and yelling at this man. I was afraid for both of our safety, so I said, “Yes.” The guy hesitated a moment, then drove off. I remember feeling like I should have said no. B grabbed me again and I broke free, then jumped in my car. He did, as well. I was… hysterical, screaming that I wanted to go home.

Again, women’s obligation made me feel like I needed to go back to the party and get my friend. I drove up to the house and jumped out of the car. I ran up looking for my friend and couldn’t find her. Finally, I went back to my car and B ran in front of me, then jumped in my passenger seat. I stood by my driver’s door and begged him to get out of my car. He refused. I said it again and again, screamed it again and again. I looked at some people standing outside the house party and asked them if they would help me. They all said no. I felt so helpless and so very scared.

B pulled a retractable utility knife out of his pocket. He began cutting his own neck with it, saying I was doing this to him. I remember blood dripping down his neck onto the white shirt he wore. I was horrified and screaming. He said, “You’re making me do this because you won’t be with me!” and “This is your fault!” It was awful. B drug that knife across his neck 3 or 4 times, then got out of the car and fell on the ground. I got in my car and took off as fast as I could.

The next day, I told my parents what had happened. I thought about cutting my hair and drastically changing my appearance so this wouldn’t happen again. We called the police and they took my statement, and I gave them the letter B wrote to me. I filed for a restraining order, and received a temporary one. I was so scared to go to the permanent court hearing, because they told me B had the right to be there. I was petrified that I would have to see him again.

He didn’t show up to the hearing, and I got the restraining order made permanent. B did not contact me again. This experience, 3 long years of being followed, harassed, and stalked, stays with me even now. I was super paranoid for a long time, and maybe even still, because maybe he’s still out there, watching, waiting.

Stalking is real, and it comes with trauma that can last a very long time.

-Liz (she/her/hers)