One Day, Maybe Next Week, I'm Gonna Meet You

As promised, here is a detailed account of my second experience with stalking. Be entertained by my stunning naivety, 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 began 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.

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 cyberspace friend.

The longer we knew each other, the more he contacted me, and our correspondence led to something darker. 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 clinginess 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.”

This'll teach you to have a life.

This'll teach you to have a life.

Upon receiving messages like that, I snapped into comfort mode and tried to soothe him.  While the friendship clearly more to Chaz than it did to me, 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 (and barely even knew) were difficult to keep up with. I promised him that someday, when things were different, we would reconnect and catch up, but even as I did so, 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. 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, I pointedly ignored him. Why was he so 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 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 occurred during my Facebook hiatus, so when I went a particularly long time without acknowledging his existence, he tried to hunt me down through other means. It was fucking coercive. He knew I wasn’t interested in him. He knew I had other friends and a partner I loved. A few times I resolved to disappear altogether and block him the way I’d blocked Yosef, but I just couldn’t 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. It truly seemed kinder not to.
           
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 fairly 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. Why was he so fascinated by it? I barely even updated it.

YES! More glittery mood boards and Joy Division lyrics!

YES! More glittery mood boards and Joy Division lyrics!

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. 

But 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 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. 

 “Sup?”
“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 give 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.

After years of careful planning, I am finally ready to rock your world. Please stop screaming.

After years of careful planning, I am finally ready to rock your world. Please stop screaming.

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, flimsy though it was, seemed like a complete 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 retreated. 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, and 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.

Ever the peacemaker, 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?

One Way or Another I'm Gonna Find You

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 tune it out. This can be dangerous, and my 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 abstained from the blunt approach because I was afraid of hurting his feelings. 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. We accepted him as he was and did our best to accommodate. 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.

Exploiting your kindness and keeping you too afraid to assert yourself is romantic, right? LET ME LOVE YOU.

Exploiting your kindness and keeping you too afraid to assert yourself is romantic, right? LET ME LOVE YOU.

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 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 piss me off.

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. I accepted the invitation. 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 snuck up from behind and groped me. He touched me like he owned me. Slow, deliberate, utterly revolting. I froze in my bent position, mind racing, wondering what to say or do. 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.

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 whereabouts a secret, and I trusted that they had not broken their promises. And not only that, but 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.

Begone, devil! The power of Christ compels you!

Begone, devil! The power of Christ compels you!

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 solemnly swore not to. They said he’d been dating women almost exclusively since landing in the Northwest. That didn’t surprise me. I hoped he was cured of whatever emotional malady had plagued him throughout college.

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, so there was no reason to refuse. 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 again and see what you’re up to. I thought I should tell you, because that's not cool.”

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? I hadn’t acknowledged this person’s existence in almost four years, and there he was, with mysterious knowledge of my activities, obsessing over me just as much as he ever did.

Shortly after that ill-fated trip, I left social media altogether. 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 revived my online presence. I figured, “new chapter of my life — why not?” I was very selective about who I friended.

Within a day of the inception of my brand new Facebook profile, 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. 

Much like horrible sex demons, stalkers will have you looking over your shoulder for the rest of your days.

Much like horrible sex demons, stalkers will have you looking over your shoulder for the rest of your days.

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.