I’ve been stalked.
Not to the level of extremity that would warrant police involvement, and for that I’m thankful. I’m lucky that neither of my stalkers have turned violent. I suppose the threat is always there, but at the moment I’m optimistic that the worst has passed. What I’m about to recount will strike a nerve in every woman who has ever rejected a man that refused to accept rejection. In today’s social climate, “creeping” is an accepted practice and usually only draws attention to itself after it has gotten out of control. Women are so accustomed to men bombarding them with unwanted advances from every conceivable angle — on the streets, at work, online, in virtually every public space imaginable — that we’ve become desensitized to these intrusions and consider them normal. It’s not out of the ordinary for men to tirelessly message you on social media, approach you out of the blue when it’s clear you don’t want to be approached, or to have no understanding of the word ‘no.’
We have learned to shut it out. This can be dangerous, and my two brushes with stalking are examples of what can happen when you ignore the warning signs. Of course, there have been many other men in my life who came on too strong too early or overstepped boundaries in ways that seemed much more sinister, but fortunately I was able to evade them before something bad happened. The two men I’m about to discuss were friends of mine at one time. Our preexisting friendship is what prevented me from severing ties before things reached critical mass. To me, an insider threat is more frightening than unexpectedly crossing paths with a deranged stranger, so while these experiences have yet to lead to a harrowing end, I am shaken nonetheless.
My first stalker entered my life in 2008, when we met through mutual friends. He was gay, and I had a boyfriend, so our affection was purely platonic. We stayed up late into the night discussing obscure records from the 1970s and drinking box wine until our eyes were too tired to stay open. We made vegan sandwiches and borrowed a canoe from one of those mutual friends so we could float down local rivers and comment on the decay of modern society. We were insufferable college hipsters bonding over insufferable hipster bullshit. The potential for a close friendship existed, but never materialized.
A few months later, things started getting weird. I heard from this person way too often (let’s call him Yosef so he’ll have a name that is nothing like his real one). He called me several times a day and wanted to talk for hours. That should have been a red flag, but at the time I didn’t think much of it. We were talkative people. After a few conversations, it became clear that Yosef merely needed a receptacle for his narcissistic ramblings. He was obsessed with personality assessments like Myers-Briggs and EPI. He spent countless hours taking such tests and pondering the results. It was all he wanted to talk about. After a week of his self-involved soliloquies, I grew tired of the calls and we had an argument. Soon after that, Yosef met a guy, fell in love, and fell off the planet. I didn’t see him for about a year.
When Yosef resurfaced, he suddenly began to demand a lot of my time. He had recently broken up with his partner (though this behavior technically began about two months prior to the break-up), and had decided for reasons unknown that I was his very best friend in the entire world. This development blindsided me, as my life had changed quite a lot since we’d last spoken, and I rarely thought of him. Why did he think so highly of me?
He blew up my phone seven days a week, smothered every corner of my Facebook in comments, including tagging himself in photos that he wasn’t even in; repeatedly overstayed his welcome when he came to my apartment, showed up at my workplace uninvited and followed me throughout my entire shift (even when my supervisor repeatedly asked him not to), and eventually began to say and do things that were far too intimate for the casual nature of our relationship. On a typical day with Yosef, he clung to me like a booger on the end of a finger for upwards of twelve hours. Even if I had other things to do, or invented things to do to get away, he would simply not take leave.
No amount of “Well, it’s getting late…” or “I sure do have to wake up early in the morning” or “I have a big paper to work on” would get him to scoot. One night I went through my entire bedtime routine before his very eyes, went into my bedroom, turned off the light, climbed into bed, and asked him to lock up when he left. He hung around that long. All my attempts at courteously kicking him out failed.
I should point out here that I refrained from being blunt and insisting that he leave because I was afraid of hurting his feelings. See, Yosef was the kind of person who had to be handled carefully so he wouldn’t break. You could never be too forward with him, even though he willfully ignored the wishes of virtually everyone around him. He was messed up, and we all knew it. He needed people. It wasn’t just me; all our mutual friends felt the same way. After the details of his break-up got out (suicide was attempted by at least one party and threatened by both), I never had the heart to tell Yosef to buzz off and leave me be. I was genuinely afraid he might hurt himself.
As his presence encroached on my free time more and more, I began to develop separation anxiety. Every time we parted ways, he hugged me for an uncomfortably long period of time, sighed several times, and said creepily intimate things like, “I could hold you all night” or “You’re one of my best friends; I love you so much.” I felt absolutely trapped by his companionship. I hated it, but I also hated saying goodbye and enduring the awkward bullshit that came with it. I began to suspect that Yosef wasn’t as homosexual as he pretended to be, or that I was his unicorn. He no longer treated me like a friend. He treated me like someone he wanted to date. This persisted for months. Every time I ignored his calls and texts in an effort to draw some boundaries, he’d track me down and angrily tell me that he didn’t like being pushed away. He acted like a possessive boyfriend. More baffled than anything else, I refused to believe it was stalking.
I asked myself what I could have possibly said or done during the course of our friendship to give him the impression that we had such a deep connection, but I came up with nothing. His clinginess cropped up out of nowhere. I was also in a fairly serious relationship by that time (my partner would eventually become my spouse), so Yosef’s pursuit of every second of my free time and blatant disregard for my significant other began to seriously upset me.
Things came to a head when Yosef invited me over for dinner one night. I was hesitant to go to his house, but he lured me in with the promise of a fully functioning washer and dryer. It was the end of a hectic week, and I was a broke college student who didn’t feel like spending $10 at the laundromat, so I accepted. My plan was to do my laundry, scarf down whatever vegetarian pasta dish he fed me, and bolt. That may sound opportunistic, but I was pretty sure Yosef was trying to bribe me. What happened next taught me to never again ignore my inner voice of reason.
As I bent over the dryer to fling my wet clothes inside, Yosef came up behind me and groped me. He touched me like he owned me. I froze in my bent position, mind racing, wondering what to say or do. It was a bizarre situation. Before I could react, Yosef took his hand away and kept talking to me as if everything were normal. I opted to keep my mouth shut and ignore it, lest he lose his composure and do something to hurt one or both of us. That was one awkward dinner, and by the time I finally hauled myself out of there, I was crawling out of my skin. The smug little bastard never even acknowledged it.
After that, I resolved to finally put some serious distance between myself and Yosef. I didn’t care if it upset him; I felt violated and wanted space. I knew he had other friends that could cater to his social needs in my stead, and I was ready to be rid of him. I avoided him completely. No texts, no calls, no social media, nothing. I gave him the cold shoulder and figured he’d get the message and back off.
No such luck.
Yosef was impervious to the stone-wall approach. It just made him try harder. He started showing up at my workplace again, because it was the only place he was guaranteed to find me. Rather than the indignation he exhibited previously, he decided this time that throwing gifts at me would bring me back to his not-so-loving arms. He insisted that I take a number of records from him (one of which was incredibly expensive, I later found out) and offered to buy or prepare me meals of all kinds. His unabashed desperation shocked me. Why was he so obsessed? Why wouldn’t he get a grip and realize that I just wasn’t into him? That I was engaged to someone else? That we had never been close and never would be? That he was harassing me? That he had fucking assaulted me? A couple of our mutual friends later confessed that he talked about me incessantly when I wasn’t around, and that it really freaked them out.
I ended up blocking him from every channel of communication I could think of, changing my phone number, and quitting my job. Two months later, I left the country to attend graduate school abroad. There was no other way to be rid of him. He didn’t take hints, and given the apparent instability of his mental state, I had no desire to try and explain the situation. I assumed that he would calm down and move on after I left the country, and that I’d never have to deal with him again.
For a while, I was right.
Two years later, I found myself back where I’d started. Brief jaunt to Europe over, brief jaunt to California over, marriage over, grad school a bust, back to square one. Within two days of moving back to my old town, I got an email from Yosef cheerfully asking me if I wanted to have lunch with him. My blood froze. How had he gotten my email address? How had he known I was back? After I cut ties with him, I implored our friends to keep my information and whereabouts a secret, and I trusted that they had not broken their promises. When I came back to the States, I stayed off the grid for a long time. It took most of the people I knew months to figure out I’d returned, but somehow Yosef knew right away. He knew, and he was ready to bring his obsession back full force just 48 hours after I stepped off the plane. I deleted the email and blocked the address it came from. I hoped that would be the last I heard from him.
The following year, I heard through the grapevine that Yosef had moved to Seattle. Two of our mutual friends, Maggie and Harold, lived in nearby Portland, and they filled me in. I once again reminded them not to ever bring me up in his presence, and they agreed. They said he’d been dating women almost exclusively since landing in the Northwest. That didn’t surprise me. I silently prayed to the universe that he was cured of whatever emotional malady had plagued him.
Six months after that, one of my closest girlfriends decided to move to Seattle and asked me to be her copilot so she wouldn’t have to drive cross-country alone. She didn’t know Yosef. About halfway through our western odyssey, somewhere out in Kansas, I received a friend request from Maggie and Harold’s cat. It was a little out of character for them to make a Facebook profile for their pet, but it seemed plausible enough. “Lazarus” messaged me as soon as I accepted. It was largely gibberish, so I played along to keep the joke going. It seemed harmless. Once my friend and I landed in Washington, I received a message from Harold:
“Hey, I don’t know if you’ve realized this or not, but Yosef is the person that controls the Lazarus account. He asked us a few weeks ago if he could make a profile for our cat, and we said yes, even though we thought it was weird. Yesterday he made a bunch of creepy comments about how great it is that he can stalk your Facebook and see what you’re up to. I thought I should tell you, because that's not cool.”
The timing was impeccable. Could it be a coincidence? It didn't seem like one. Seattle is a big city, but knowing we both occupied similar zip codes gave me a panic attack. Stalk. He’d actually used the word stalk. Is that what he was doing? Stalking me? For the first time, I faced the reality that my attempts to get rid of him had not been an overreaction. I hadn’t acknowledged this person’s existence in almost four years, and there he was, obsessing over me just as much as he ever did.
Shortly after that ill-fated trip, I left Facebook altogether because I no longer enjoyed social media. That absence lasted just under two years, and brings us to the present. A few months ago, I made the decision to move to the Pacific Northwest myself. I have a lot of friends up here, and the job prospects are far better than where I’d been living previously. Just before I left, I returned to Facebook. I figured, “new chapter of my life — why not? Maybe things will be different this time.” I was very selective about who I friended.
Within a day of the inception of my brand new profile (security settings not at maximum capacity, but still pretty high), I received a friend request from Yosef. I immediately deleted it, blocked him, and scolded myself. How could I have forgotten him? Of all the people to preemptively block, he’s at the top of the list. Luckily, my location isn’t permitted on my public page, so he couldn’t see that I’m just a short drive away from him now, but that didn’t stop a cold wave of paranoia from washing over me. He has ways of finding things out.
I have been avoiding this person for six years, and 24 hours is all it took for him to notice I was accessible to him again. When I venture into public spaces, thoughts of Yosef are never far away. I avoid places I think he might frequent. Record stores are enemy territories where I don’t dare tread. I’ve completely abandoned that hobby. Sometimes when I’m lying in bed at night and the motion-sensitive light in my front yard comes on, I quake with fear, never sure if it’s merely the neighbor’s cat setting it off or something more sinister. Yosef never threatened me. I admit that. I have no rational reason to fear him, but I do.
If this didn’t chill you, stay tuned. While I was busy trying to forget the nightmare of knowing Yosef, another man without healthy boundaries became fixated on me, and that was no picnic either.
Part two is forthcoming.