As promised, here is a detailed account of my second brush with stalking. Enjoy, and don’t hesitate to use this as a blueprint for what NOT to do when someone is creeping on you.
Chaz was somebody I met online in the spring of 2013. We started up a correspondence after discovering a mutual love of all things kitschy and 80s. Though he lived seven hours away, in another state, it was worthwhile to keep talking to him given our esoteric tastes and shared sense of humor. We were a couple of lonely dorks searching for understanding and companionship - a common beginning in stories such as these.
About a month after making his acquaintance via cyberspace, I invited him to accompany me and a close friend to a comedy show in a city equidistant to both of us. Prior to this encounter, Chaz hadn’t mentioned that he was an agoraphobe. I had no idea that being around unfamiliar people would terrify him. I quickly figured it out, as he was quiet as a corpse and looked like he might keel over at any second. I offered him a Xanax, which he accepted, and during the show he downed several beers. In spite of all the chemically induced inhibition-loosening help he’d had, he never said a word. I kept asking him if he was okay, and he nodded with a tight smile. A few hours later we parted ways with an awkward hug.
After that night, I wrote him off. I know it sounds mean, but there had definitely been no sparks between us. It was a dead end as far as I was concerned. When you regularly meet people from the Internet, more often than not things don’t progress beyond one lukewarm meeting. I’d been through it a hundred times already, and I figured that would be the last I heard from Chaz.
Oh, how wrong I was.
He kept texting me and profusely apologized for his social anxiety. He said he’d been battling agoraphobia for most of his life, and that it had wrecked his ability to connect with people. He said he really liked me, and I felt guilty about my knee-jerk reaction to ditch him. Why shouldn’t I be friends with the guy? He clearly needed a friend. My internal voice of reason had yet to sound the alarm. He seemed harmless, and I saw no reason we couldn’t stay in touch.
For a year, staying in touch seemed adequate. Chaz texted me often; usually just memes and funny thoughts he had throughout the day. He made me laugh. His living situation was pretty fucked up, as was mine, and we both felt like our lives had stalled. It was nice to have someone to share that with, even if we kept the conversation light. We were never super close, but I gave him as much attention as I could reasonably spare. I did my best to be a good long distance friend.
Perhaps inevitably, our correspondence led to something darker. The longer we knew each other, the more he contacted me. Eventually my life underwent some pretty big changes, and I moved further away from Chaz. New city, new job, new connections, and a new relationship caused me to re-shuffle my priorities. I crawled out of stasis and began to drift away. It wasn’t a conscious decision; just a consequence of moving on. It had been more than a year since I’d met Chaz, and I’m not one to stay in the same situation for too long. As I interacted with him less and less, his anxiety surfaced in the form of self-pitying texts. He said things like, “I don’t blame you. I wouldn’t want to talk to me either. I hate that I always ruin things.”
Upon receiving messages like that, I snapped into comfort mode and tried to soothe him. Our friendship didn’t mean much to me at that point, but it clearly still meant a lot to Chaz, and I wanted him to know that my slipping away had nothing to do with rejection. I tried to make him understand that I had a lot on my plate, and faraway friends that I never saw were difficult to keep up with. I assured him that someday, when things were different, we would reconnect and catch up, but even as I said it, I realized it was a bizarre assurance to make to someone who had barely said five words to me the one and only time we’d seen each other in person.
I was moving on; why wasn’t he? As with Yosef, our relationship was casual and definitely not romantic. Chaz knew I was in love with someone else. He knew he didn’t have a chance with me. We were the kind of friends that easily drift apart when more important relationships crop up, and perhaps more poignantly, we were the kind of friends that don’t keep in touch constantly. I could never figure out how I had come to mean so much to him. For the better part of two years, I replied to maybe one in ten texts, and rarely initiated contact. When he screwed up the courage to talk of sweeping me off my feet and whisking me away, I pointedly ignored him. Why was he so determined? Why was he obsessed, and when would he meet someone new?
Fast forward to three years into our friendship. Chaz never went away, and my opinion of him degraded significantly. His clinginess had grown, and I had gotten sick of it. He apologized for overstepping boundaries and blowing up my phone, but he never stopped contacting me. When I lost my patience and demanded space, he restrained himself for as long as he could stand (a couple of weeks at most), and then the constant barrage of texts resumed. This was during my period of no Facebook, so when I went a particularly long time without acknowledging his existence, he tried to reach me through other social media. That pissed me off. I felt coerced. He knew I wasn’t interested in him. He knew I had other friends and a partner I loved. He knew he was a low priority in my life. A few times I resolved to disappear altogether and block him the way I’d blocked Yosef, but I could never bring myself to do it. It wasn’t fear that stopped me then; it was pity. I felt so damn bad for Chaz. His loneliness wasn't a secret, and for all I knew, I was one of his only friends. The fact that I wasn’t as invested as he wanted me to be made me feel guilty. I had neither the time nor the desire to give him the attention he craved, but I hung in there. In spite of how trapped and repulsed I felt, I refused to burn that bridge.
Earlier this year I finally began to feel that Chaz may not be as harmless as he appeared. Due to a lot of unwanted activity on my Tumblr, I installed a tracker to gather metrics on my traffic. It logged a number of things, including the IP addresses of visitors. Within a day, I discovered that Chaz looked at my blog more or less constantly. The hits occurred in 20 - 30 minute intervals. It looked like he was refreshing the page every half hour. My metrics were completely full of Chaz’s hits. That gave me a slimy feeling. Who has that much free time? My Tumblr is pretty impersonal and doesn't reveal information about my life. It’s mostly pictures and quotes that I’ve lazily reblogged from other sources for my own amusement. It tells you virtually nothing about me, except what bands and authors I like. Why was he so fascinated by it? I barely even update it.
I stared at my computer screen. How long had he been doing this? I shuddered. Did he check my other social media that much? Jesus! I placed a blocking cookie on his IP so that it wouldn’t show up in my data anymore and tried to forget about it.
When I announced that I was moving to the West coast, Chaz was extremely enthusiastic. He said that he and his housemate had been thinking of doing the same, and he was overjoyed by the prospect of living in the same city as me. I feigned encouragement, never for one second believing that he was telling the truth. A few weeks prior, Chaz had confessed to not leaving his house in three months. Not once, for any reason. Not even to go to the store. He said he'd dropped out of college for the third time because he couldn't muster up the courage to go in public. The idea that he would move cross country was laughable, and after the Tumblr discovery, I didn’t want to be anywhere near him.
As my move grew closer, Chaz began to talk about taking a temporary trip to my new location. He didn’t give me a lot of detail, and I admit that I continued to blow it off. I’d become an expert at giving him just enough attention to keep him from having a meltdown, but I had checked out of the friendship. Our correspondence existed entirely for his benefit. Whenever my phone buzzed, I would loudly say “Not now, Chaz!” without even looking at it. 9 times out of 10, it was him. On the rare occasion it wasn’t, I was surprised. That’s how much he texted me. I hoped that moving across the damn continent would be enough to convince him we didn’t have a future together.
Much to my chagrin, Chaz was telling the truth about his little journey. I wish I could describe the sense of foreboding that invaded me when I realized he was actually on a plane speeding toward my location at 500 miles per hour. It seemed unthinkable, yet it was happening. Memories of Yosef flooded my mind. It had to be a coincidence, right? He just wanted to go to the hemp festival, right? I tried to tell myself it had nothing to do with me, but deep down I knew that wasn't true. I planned to avoid Chaz as much as possible while he was in town, though I did agree to hang out with him once. I figured it was the least I could do after all these years. I mean, I didn’t hate the guy. I was just creeped out and wanted my life back. I hoped that this final meeting would prove our incompatibility once and for all. I hoped he would realize that I was a complete stranger with nothing to offer him. Needless to say, as soon as he arrived he brought with him an unending stream of messages that trickled in at all hours of the day and night.
“We’re doing ___, do you want to come?”
“What are you doing?”
“So, when you want to hang out?”
“My plans are go to the hemp festival and hang out with you as much as possible.”
And so on.
He used texting and Facebook messenger simultaneously to make sure no question or invitation slid past me. When he didn’t get a reply through one channel of communication, he’d try another. The more he reached out, the more I didn’t want to see him. The urge to blow him off entirely and avoid the whole thing was nearly irresistible. I was a single woman in the middle of moving into a new apartment in a new city, preparing for a new job, juggling a million different responsibilities, and fighting off a brutal case of bronchitis. My first two weeks in the Northwest were not fun. I patiently reminded Chaz of the all the pressure I was under and made sure he understood how busy/sick I was, but my words fell on deaf ears. I sensed his angst and desperation, and knew he wouldn’t ease up.
Finally, I made plans to see him the Saturday before he went home. I just couldn’t avoid it any longer. He brought his housemate along, so I thankfully didn’t have to be alone with him, but I still wanted to get it over with as soon as possible. I felt like a cornered rat.
We met at a video store, and to my surprise, Chaz actually spoke to me. He didn’t say much, but he wasn’t silent. I chatted about stuff I thought was cool, picking up old VHS boxes and waxing nostalgic about this or that B movie. I thought maybe our common ground would give us something to talk about. After a while, it became clear that we didn’t really have the same taste after all. Most of the stuff I geeked out on brought a blank look to Chaz’s face. There was no thread of familiarity, no spark of mutuality, and our shared past seemed like a joke. It slowly dawned on me that everything we’d bonded over had been researched. That was why he checked my Tumblr so much. I had no idea who this person actually was. He’d been pandering to my interests to get close to me. That gave me another slimy feeling, and I made arrangements to beg off as soon as I could. After one beer at a nearby club, I bid my strange companions adieu. Chaz looked like a forlorn puppy watching his family leave him at the pound, but I ignored his stare and silently vowed to evade him. I was done.
For the remainder of his visit, Chaz messaged me incessantly. I continued to remind him that I was busy assembling IKEA furniture, nursing a bad cough, and preparing for a career change, but he didn’t care. Finally, on his last day in the city, he asked me to stop by his hotel because he had a present for me. I had no idea what it could be and didn't want to find out. I was about to politely decline, but as I typed, he sent a second text asking for my address so he could mail me the gift if I failed to show up. That was the last straw. My stomach churned at the thought of telling Chaz where I live, and I suddenly realized that I was afraid of him. He’d been fixated on me for three whole years. He was incapable of recognizing that I wasn’t interested. He had no respect for my privacy. He had misrepresented himself in order to feign a connection. He compulsively monitored my online habits. He flew to my city and hounded me relentlessly only a week after I moved. Now he wanted my address?
I didn’t reply. I deleted his texts and blocked his number. I blocked him on Facebook. I cleansed my life of Chaz within five minutes and tossed my phone onto the half-finished futon I'd been building. I felt immense relief. I replayed the previous three years in my mind, searching for any indication that Chaz might fly off the handle. How would he react when he realized I was unreachable? In the past, when I put off answering his messages for too long he wallowed in a pit of despair and hinted that he might hurt himself. What would it take to turn that emotional manipulation into something worse? I worried about what he might do, but there was no turning back. I wanted to be free.
Less than 24 hours later, Chaz tracked me down on Ok Cupid. Determined to contact me no matter what, he actually looked me up on Ok fucking Cupid. His message reeked of the same unknowing cheerfulness as Yosef’s repeated attempts to get back into my good graces as he casually apologized for “pushing too much.” That apology rang hollow, and the extremity of his efforts went entirely unacknowledged. I was chilled by his obliviousness. I'd turned my back on him. Could he really not see that?
I explained my position as politely as I could and told him that I no longer wished to know him. Chaz responded by minimizing his years-long obsession and explaining it as a product of social awkwardness. He said he considered me one of his best friends. He said he loved me. He said that my silence had confused him and he hadn’t understood what was wrong. That comment rendered me speechless for several minutes. My silence? I'd been off his radar for one day. Just one goddamn day. Social awkwardness is not knowing what to say to your boss at the company picnic; frantically hunting down a woman you barely know through any means necessary from 2,000 miles away is something else. How could that seem like reasonable behavior to any semi-sane person?
I firmly informed him that I would file for a restraining order if he contacted me again, which is something I wish I’d had the bravery to do when Yosef stalked me. I haven’t heard from him since, but it’s only been a few months. Time will tell whether he’s really gone, and if I’ll soon have to worry about sharing a city with two deranged individuals.
Is it time to hire a bodyguard or what?