On Being Stalked

When I was 21, I moved into an apartment in a St. Louis suburb with an acquaintance.  Julie and I had left our our small, southeast Missouri town to try and make it in the big city, and a mutual friend had introduced us.  We were both poor, both looking for a roommate, both looking to hold hands to make the jump.  We hit it off enough to rent a place together in the safe suburbs of that big city.

We’d only been in the apartment a few months when the phone calls started.

______________________

GetImageI’m halfway through this book by James Lasdun, a teacher who has been stalked and cyber-stalked.  Landun’s story is so chilling I can hardly put it down.  His former student, Nasreen, seeming to look for support, a mentor to read her manuscript and be introduced to an agent, is not who she seems.  She starts small, but soon sends dozens of emails, sometimes threatening, per day.  Mr. Lasdun admits to points where he could have, should have, might have seen something, done something, but it’s no use.  He is no match for this woman who has set out to ruin him.  Early on, he writes, “My point here is to illustrate my continued feeling of affinity with Nasreen, my sense of being on her wavelength, sometimes uncannily so; but also to introduce the idea of a certain porousness in her sense of who she actually was.  Harmlessly manifested here, but foreshadowing a more troubling, and then threatening, amorphousness of identity that began emerging not long after.”

Mr. Lasdun’s book is a tedious read, as he combs over every fine detail, but as a reader you are forgiving in this because it’s the adding up of these small details that foreshadow the monster to come.  Of how Mr. Lasdun’s communication with Nasreen, even the most benign-seeming chatter, spiraled out of reality, and of how Mr. Lasdun and his family barely survived her.

_________________________

For Julie and me, the phone calls always came in the middle of the night, until they didn’t.  From the start he was looking for Julie and he seemed to recognize her voice because if I would answer, he’d say, “Where’s your friend?”  At first he didn’t say much to her, but over some weeks he got more talkative, more sexually graphic and cruel.  We assumed it was some guy she’d rebuffed in a bar.  No big deal.  He would go away eventually, right?  We didn’t panic until one evening he called the minute I walked in the door from work.  I was the first one home and the phone was ringing when I opened the door and for the first time he didn’t ask for my friend.  He said, “I like that blue dress on you.”

That’s how we learned he was watching us.

We called the police, and within the hour two uniformed men showed up.  They sat on our couch and looked bored as hell.  He wasn’t overtly threatening us, they said, but, well, depending, they might tap our phone, blah blah blah.  We got the message.  They thought we were just young girls looking for attention.  The caller’s attention.  The (male) policemen’s attention.  Attention.

The policemen took our statement and left.  From our 2nd floor window, we watched them get in their squad car, and we could imagine them laughing and rolling their eyes at us as they drove out of the parking lot.

Our stalker kept calling.  Julie started having the most horrific nightmares and would run into my room, screaming, in the wee hours of the mornings.  We were terrified.

We finally moved and changed our phone number.  The calls stopped.

Have you ever been stalked?

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24 thoughts on “On Being Stalked

  1. Jess

    Wow. I missed this one…thanks for the recommendation! Buying now….xoxoxo

    P.S. agent returning edits on proposal TODAY. Nervous.

  2. Averil Dean

    Holy shit, that is terrifying. I’ve had trouble with exes in the past, but nothing as frightening as what you’ve described. Did you ever have a feeling you knew who it was?

    1. Teri

      My little stalker was nothing compared to what this poor man has been through. A creative writing student, a woman he was open to mentoring, seemingly spent every waking moment trying to ruin his life. It’s incredible what can be done online now to destroy a person’s reputation, career, family, etc… And even scarier how little can be done about it.

      As for me, we never found out who this man was. We’re sure he lived in our apartment complex and was within sight of our apartment. But that’s it. Once we moved, it was over, but I’m guessing he found new targets.

  3. CJ Rice (@leapof)

    I was stalked by my mother who threatened to run me over with her car after I became a foster kid and she lost the Aid to Dependent Children money she got from the state to help ” raise” me.

    1. Teri

      Holy shit, CJ. I wouldn’t know how to respond to that kind of threat as an adult, so I certainly don’t know how you process that as a kid, as a daughter, as an abandoned daughter. As a girl just trying to survive. I’m so sorry.

      Did you ever read Mira Bartok’s The Memory Palace? She and her sister hid from their mother for years, fearing for their lives.

      1. CJ Rice (@leapof)

        I left her. Asked the state to help me find a place to live so I could finish school. Became a traitor in my mother’s eyes. To my mind its the best thing I ever did—saying no to being a victim in that very primal relationship. That experience of deciding to leave and withstanding the consequences has informed my life and my writing. I can truly say now I am grateful for it.

      2. Teri Post author

        This reminds me of Cheryl Strayed’s “Tiny Beautiful Things” where she mentions leaving because you want to. That you don’t need to give a reason. That your wanting to leave is enough.

        I’m proud of you, CJ.

  4. Deb

    Oh my gosh, that’s scary. My most disturbing stalker was the husband of a childhood friend. People told me how he’d rage what a whore I was, when the man wasn’t even part of my life. He followed me and showed up everywhere. One day I came home to find him on my back porch. Another time he showed up in my work building after hours and cornered me in a hallway when I was working late. It finally stopped when I got mad and went on an aggressive campaign to get him out of my life. What a creep.

    My funniest stalker was a harmless guy who fancied himself in love with me. He’d call and tell me how he and his brother were going to land this sewer cleaning job and make loads of money (I still have no idea what that was about) and how he was going to ask me to marry him. One evening as I was walking out of work with my boss he came chugging up in his rust bucket truck with the broken muffler and jumped out to say hi. A bunch of Gennessee beer cans came clattering out on the pavement with him. To say my office mates made sure I never lived that one down, is an understatement.

    1. Teri

      Your scary guy is really freaking scary. A man who just shows up like that? Dear lord.

      I never thought there could be a funny stalker story, so thanks for proving me wrong! And making me laugh! I can see his rust-bucket truck and the beer cans falling out behind him. Seriously, who needs fiction when we have this!

  5. Lyra

    I was mildly stalked for awhile, but nothing major. A date that in my eyes went very, very wrong seemed to be the dream this person was looking for. It was so bizarre even for my bizarre experiences. I received many a call professing love, each more intent than the last (uhm, can we say two dates??) and then I imagine my “friend” moved on. Although I will say you haven’t lived until someone insists you sit at the bar and pretend you don’t know them, waits until someone hits on you so they can start a fight, and then proceeds to sing a karaoke song WITH a dedication to you. I only wished I had a more common name.
    I just read about this book and the author was saying that it is still going on. That’s the crazy part. It hasn’t ended and he doesn’t know if it ever will. Poor guy.

    1. Teri

      Freaky freaky people. Dating is not for the weak. I can’t imagine dating in today’s world, with everything online. I have a few friends my age who are on Match.com, etc… and almost all of their stories are painful, if not stalkerish. The most common theme seems to be showing up for the first date (coffee, wine, early dinner) only to hear, “You’re not exactly what I expected.” In other words, “You’re not the swimsuit cover model I was hoping for.” I want to smack those fuckers.

      1. independentclause

        I am a poster child for [free online dating site that sometimes has serial killers, but DP has not revealed himself to be a serial killer even after eight years and a few moments of provocation].

  6. suzy vitello

    God. Chills, Teri. Just chills. The unknown motive has always intrigued and frightened me.

    Like Lyra, I’ve had mild stalkers. And then there was the crazy ex-boyfriend to climbed up two stories at 2 am and set off my burglar alarm when he slipped in a patio door (he lived a bunch of states away, and I was not expecting him). Oddly though, there’s this part of me that feels sorry for and is intrigued by this sort of obsession. This last little noir thing I wrote was very stalkery. I tried to make the guy somewhat sympathetic, but I think I failed.

    1. Teri

      I’m with you, Suzy. As scary as they might be, I’m fascinated by the stalker’s obsession and secrecy and wonder what they’re doing in their lives other than the actual stalking. Who are they?

      I once lived in a 3rd floor (top floor) apartment, thinking I was safer there. One day I came home from work and found my Marine brother (who lived in another state) in my kitchen. How in the hell did he get in? He said it was nothing, he just climbed up and over the roof, jumped onto my tiny patio, and jimmied the patio door open. It took him about 5 minutes.

    1. Teri

      Both. It started as cyberstalking. She even went online and wrote horrific things about him in book review sections (like reviews on Amazon.com), she terrorized his agent and the editor she worked with, his wife and children, etc…. It’s so easy now to find out where people live and work, etc…

  7. LauraMaylene

    That book sounds fascinating and your story sounds scary as hell. How often do we hear the police just can’t (won’t?) do anything when women are being stalked like this? How would that officer like to get home and immediately have an anonymous caller ring him up and comment on what he was wearing at that very moment?

    I’ve never been stalked, thank god. The occasional random pervert phone calls, but nothing ongoing. One time a (non-pervert) called out of the blue and asked me on a date. It was pretty crazy but if I hadn’t been involved with someone I might have at least stayed on the phone for a minute or two to determine his crazy level and proceed from there. After all, it seemed like the beginning of a book. Hopefully not Lasdun’s book.

    1. Teri

      Since I was so young when it happened, I just assumed this was how things worked. It was just like everything else up to that point, young girls and women not being taken seriously because surely it wasn’t that big of a deal, or we must have invited it, etc…. It was only as I got older that I became outraged at those policemen’s lack of interest.

  8. Les Brady

    I have never been stalked; however, working as a Silicon Valley high-tech company’s security manager in an earlier incarnation of my current career I came face-to-face with the victims of stalking. The first person I helped was a Vietnamese woman named Mai. She was on very friendly terms with one of our building receptionists, and the two spoke to one another almost daily. Then, Mai seemed to disappear for several weeks on end. When she finally reappeared, the receptionist approached her, saying something like, “Oh, Mai, I’ve missed you! Were you on vacation? I hope you weren’t sick or anything…” Mai immediately burst into tears, then related the details of what had been happening in her life that she’d bottled up for many months.

    Her ex-boyfriend had been calling her almost daily since she’d broken up with him, essentially telling her that he intended to kill her just as soon as he learned her new address, workplace, etc. We did a detailed background check of the ex-bf, and he was, indeed, a very bad man: military-trained, firearm owner, and had had a previous charge of attempted murder plead down to assault with a deadly weapon; fortunately, when he shot his step-daughter point-blank in the chest when she refused to go out to buy him more alcohol on the eve of the Lunar New Year (it was 3:30 AM) he did so with a very small-caliber weapon, and the girl was only wounded and survived.

    Mai had very good instincts, varying her driving route to work every day, not frequenting any of her usual places for shopping, eating, etc., and avoiding friends and acquaintances where he’d know she’d be. I’m sure with today’s technology it would be quite easy for someone to discover the location of a person’s workplace, but this was just pre-internet enough so that the perpetrator wasn’t able to track Mai down when she changed jobs to work for our company. We made sure she had availability of a private, escorted entry into the building, moved her to an office deep within the building interior, and gave her more tips on how to remain safe.

    Fortunately, the situation finally de-escalated to the point where Mai felt safe enough to return to her routine and feel that her life was normal, and she was always so appreciative of the small help I was able to give her. How terrifying, knowing where the stalker might be, if he’s bluffing or not, and having to literally look over one’s shoulder all the time. I’m glad a phone number change took care of yours; it’s scary to think how much easier it would be to inflict that kind of terror on someone today.

    1. Teri Post author

      I know the world can be a scary place in general, but it is so much worse for women. And children.

      I had a friend in Phoenix with a similar ex-boyfriend experience. For months, she moved from this place to that, hiding out.

  9. girl in the hat

    Yes, I have. Twice. In both instances, by men, and both with severe mental/emotional problems. One still sends mail to my childhood address. My mom still lives in that house. She throws it away and doesn’t tell me about it. Long ago, I gave a pile of 100+ letters to the police and filed a complaint, but like you said, I came away with the feeling that it was all some kind of joke to them. Scary, scary stories. There are predators out there, aren’t there?

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