A Stranger At the Door – Part 3

Click here to read part 1.
Click here to read part 2.

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The trooper had pulled me over because he thought my registration was expired. The sticker was for the wrong month. The car dealer had run out of April stickers when I bought the car on April 29th. He had given me a sticker for March.

The trooper had a flat affect, no expression on his face. He was soft-spoken and had an accent that led me to believe he was from an African nation. “Did you have a protective order against you, or did you file one?” he asked.

I was surprised by the question. I didn’t know that would show up on my registration. “Yes,” I told him, “I did have a peace order. I was the complainant.”

“What was his name?” the trooper asked evenly and quietly. I told him. “Was he your boyfriend?” he wanted to know. I blinked behind my sunglasses, wondering why he was asking, and explained that he was not, that he had been a stranger to me. “What was the order for?” the trooper asked.

“Stalking,” I told him.

“Well,” the trooper said softly. “Don’t file a complaint against me.”

My hackles rose. “Excuse me?” I risked a lack of courtesy.

“Don’t file a complaint on me for stalking you,” he repeated, just as softly.

A beat. Was that supposed to be a joke? Or an implication that I’m just some bitch who makes up legal complaints against men?

“No, sir.” I was firm. “My complaint against him was quite valid. He was found guilty and went to prison.”

I grew increasingly uncomfortable with the way the trooper was questioning me. Where did I work? What’s the location? What did I do there? Where was I going now? What would I do when I arrived? Did I have a business card? When I told him I did not, but offered other proof of my employment, he declined. Then he asked me for my license, for the first time since he’d gotten out of his cruiser. I thought he held onto it for too long, stared at it for too long. And as he studied it, he asked me what time I would be off work.

Eventually, he let me go with the understanding that I was watching the mail for the registration sticker. The next day, I was still uncomfortable about the encounter. But I didn’t know if he’d crossed a line or if the cultural difference was the reason for his demeanor. The problem is that my experience with that stalker has made me more sensitive, heightened my suspicions. I hate it. I resent it. I was always cautious, even before I had the stalker. I always looked around, not fearfully, but consciously, so I knew who was where and what cars were new in the lot. My stalker came out of the darkness from his apartment 100 feet away. I never saw him when I got home late at night because he was never out. He stayed inside, looked through the front door of his building for my car, and waited until I was inside my home to creep up. Now every night, even though I don’t live there anymore, I look around a little more carefully when I get home. I look around a little more carefully, even though I could have looked forever before and have never seen the danger.

I am far from paranoid. I don’t live in fear. But perhaps the most unfair part of my experience is this: knowing I have a heightened sensitivity has made me question my own instincts. Sitting on the side of the highway with the trooper at my window, I had felt my anxiety flush through the skin of my chest. Even two days later, something about the incident still felt wrong. But I didn’t want to get this trooper in trouble if he hadn’t done anything out of line. So I hedged my bets and asked an acquaintance who works for the state police whether the trooper’s behavior had been SOP.

My acquaintance responded that he wanted as much information as I could provide on the incident, and that I should call him immediately at an unpublished number if this trooper stopped me again. And then he encouraged me to make a formal complaint against the trooper to his commander.

I was glad to know that my instincts were right, that I wasn’t just oversensitive. But I was alarmed, too. And I was worried; if I file this complaint, does that count as a strike against me somehow? In some future traffic stop, will two legal complaints now come up, painting me as one of those women perceived to have filed one too many sexual harassment lawsuits, one too many concerns about her treatment at the hands of a man? The trooper’s commander was polite and professional, but did not seem terribly bothered by what I told him. Inexplicably, I found myself near tears as I tried to calmly justify my complaint.

Nearly two years after the stalking began, I would like to believe I’m past it. It was an isolated incident and he was punished according to the law. My concerns, coupled with those of a state lawmaker and his staff, translated to action that might protect the safety of countless other individuals by giving them an opportunity to know when an offender is out of jail or prison – something they wouldn’t have known any other way. But every time I hear something that sounds like a pebble against a window, every time I hear someone joke about stalking someone, every time I sense that a stranger’s behavior is odd, I am reminded that I have been changed. And I still feel like a girl with a stranger at her door.

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36 thoughts on “A Stranger At the Door – Part 3

    • Letting it out has been another step in that process. I don’t know if it’s done in my head, but I’ve been well since he was sentenced; still, I have to confront and acknowledge the things that have changed because of him and the experience. Thank you for appreciating what I’ve shared.

  1. Such a horrible experience, but you did bring some good out of it – other people who find themselves in that situation will hopefully take advantage of that piece of information, and be helped by that service as you were. The state trooper sounds creepy beyond belief. Who the hell says, “don’t file a complaint against me”, seriously?!

    • That’s what I thought, too! I couldn’t imagine him thinking it was funny, so it seemed like a slam. I don’t know his motive for saying it, and I know law enforcement officers are human and make mistakes, but I think they need to know that it is never a good idea to stand in a position of authority and power, with a gun on one hip and handcuffs on the other, and make cracks about circumstances like that.

  2. What a horrible experience for you. Thank you for taking action and sharing such an intense, personal story. So many people wouldn’t know what to do in the situation.

    For what it’s worth, my hackles went up with the trooper’s questions. Totally inappropriate and not relevant to your stop.

    Many, many long years ago I had a phone stalker. The first time he called he was very casual. Initially I thought it was someone I knew but didn’t recognize their voice (this was before caller ID). He asked me what I was wearing and then he made a rude comment (thankfully I can no longer remember what that was.) I thought it was just a crank call. But he kept calling, not with any regular pattern. It began to be that I was afraid to answer the phone and then I started looking around before I left the house. There was nothing the police would/could do. Finally one time my Hubby answered the phone and I think that was what actually ended the harassment.

    I can still remember the terror and like you I also look around and try to be aware of what is around me.

    Good for you for standing up for yourself and doing what you needed to do and then moving on and not letting this incident define you.

    • Thank you for validating my concerns about the trooper. I am so sorry for what you went through years ago. It IS terrifying, and we tend to push that fear away with some sense of disbelief – Why would anyone pick me? we think. Thank God, there are now ways for law enforcement to track those kinds of phone calls and they can, in some states, be criminally charged. I wish that had been in place when you went through it. Thank you for sharing that story here, and the impact that it’s had on you. And good for YOU, too, for moving on.

  3. Thank you for sharing your story. It is very well written and thought provoking. I like your attitude to not let this rule your life. I am sorry you had to endure but am thankful that you were able to initiate some change.

    • Thank you Sandy. We all go through things that are unfair or inexplicable. For me it really does come down to making something good come out of something bad. I wish that could always happen – it has been what has most helped me, in the end. But I couldn’t have done it without the very dedicated and passionate public servants who pushed to make it happen. Please remember that, too: that there ARE people in government who want to help the people they represent.

  4. I had a police officer give me the third degree similar to yours years ago. He stopped me one evening and said I had run a red light, when I knew I hadn’t. He started asking very personal questions, including who I lived with, where was I going, what I did for fun, did I have a boyfriend, etc. He finally got the hint from my less than respectful answers and backed off. It’s distressing when those you think are there to protect you act as the aggressor, or you feel belittled for being made to seem like the “silly female” when you fight back. I’m so sorry for your experience. I would be cautious after that ordeal as well.

    • You’re exactly right. There’s such a conflict between confronting someone who is supposed to be a protector, but feels like an aggressor, and feeling, like you said, belittled and “silly.” I’m glad you were able to stand up for yourself firmly. There’s no way an officer would behave that way toward a man; it’s enraging, really. We should be furious.

  5. Thanks for sharing your story. I hope it helped you in some way to get it out. I had a similar situation that changed my ability to trust medical practitioners and the court system. It has caused me to be extremely sensitive to strangers and what I perceive as odd behavior. I am not the same person I was before the incident and while I’m okay with that, it still causes me a bit of sadness. I’m sorry this happened to you and will always be a part of your history. I do applaud your efforts, however, to help others get the information about offenders being released from jail or prison. An effort definitely worth your pursuit.

    • Your experience mirrors mine in so many ways, just by what you’ve said in that paragraph. Thank YOU for sharing that. For me, doing something to make sure others got the information I got was what blunted the edge of the incident. Yes, it will always be part of my story, but so will that provision for other victims, and though I wouldn’t say it makes it all worth it, it does make me feel like I’ve done something positive. Thank you for supporting it, and remember that you can do something too, if you feel strongly enough.

  6. This is a positive story for so many women who have been through something traumatic like this. Of course, women are going to be more cautious after living through such a harrowing experience. I’m glad you have the guts and the will to push through, to try to construct positive initiatives that will benefit others in the same situation.

    • I’m blessed. I really am. And sometimes I’m a little nuts and a lot stubborn. One of the things I wanted to show readers is that they can take action when they find that something needs to be done. Maybe it will work, maybe it won’t, but doing something will make them feel empowered. It’s not always romantic and it’s not always a Sorkin screenplay (though there were elements of our work that seemed like they were), but in the end, it serves the people with good intentions. Thank you for reading the series and being so supportive.

  7. I think it’s remarkable that you have used this experience to advocate for systematic change within the legal system.
    I say that it is remarkable, because even when you were ‘stuck’ in the experience, having been changed by it for ever, you were still able to look at the big picture and take action!
    That is difficult to do sometimes, for many people. Yes having the additional perspective and advice from your friend would have been helpful, however, I genuinely believe that you would have taken it apon yourself to do some digging yourself, eventually coming to a simliar outcome.

    For some of us, sometimes, it looks too big, and we do not know where to start, so we don’t.

    Thanks so much for sharing your story with us!

    Miss Lou
    x

    • Thank you. You know, maybe it’s a matter of faith. I had faith in the system, and faith in myself that, if the system let me down once, I’d keep at it. When you have so many people who work in public service, you can always find someone willing to help you affect change. You just have to find the RIGHT someone. I’m so grateful I didn’t have to look for long. But I can tell you this: It DID look too big, to me. It was overwhelming at first. But I figured, “Well. Just start. Start with a letter.” I suppose that’s where the saying comes from: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

  8. Always, always trust your instincts. I, personally, would rather come off as being an alarmist than not reporting something that should have been. At least now, you’ve established a precendt wrt to the one officer, and eventually, someone else will voice concerns, even if you didn’t feel like the commander validated them.

    Stuff like that- it totally changes who we are. We can move past the trauma; move past the experience, but we will always carry it with us in some way. Even after 20 years, your instincts will remember all of this, even if it’s a momentary flash. All of our experiences meld within us, making us who we are, yet not defining who we become……………

  9. My God, what a frightening story. I’m glad I’ve been away long enough to read it all at once. As always, wonderfully told … my skin crawled more than once as I was reading. I especially relate to the idea that the experience makes you mistrust your instincts. I hope you don’t … they’ve served you well. Take care, my friend.

    • Thank you. I had split it into parts because I thought it was too long to post all at once. Of course, I wrote about seven versions of it before all was said and done. My hope is that the parts helped readers. I don’t know that it helped with the way I told the story, but it was a good challenge that took me away from the visceral nature of it and into the writing of it at times. In any case, I’m glad you were able to read it in a way you liked and that you didn’t get tired of it (I’m assuming) before the end.

      I often do have to stop and think about whether my instincts are right or whether my experience makes me judge situations inaccurately. It’s a frustrating side effect.

  10. It’s sad to know that there are things out there, out of our control, that can fundamentally change who we are – how we think, how we feel, how we view and react to the world around us. I don’t think that’s an overstatement – anyone who has been through a traumatic ordeal like yours knows the truth of it. You don’t always seem different, but you are. It is a loss of some of your innocence, a loss of your sense of safety and security, a gaining of the knowledge that “bad things can happen to me, too”. But it’s even more than that; I know that bad things can happen to me, but I don’t really expect them to. I think, now, that your expectations are different than mine. I think that is what he took from you.

    We can combat some of this, and you have done a fine job of that. I’m so proud of you for using your terrible experience to help other people. Helping others, writing about it here, being cautious but not house-bound, those are all brave things you’re doing. They prove that you may not be exactly the same person you were before, but the best parts of you could not be touched.

    • Thank you. I feel like getting something done to help others was the redemptive part of the whole thing for me. That doesn’t mean that anyone who finds themselves in a similar situation and cannot affect change has failed, of course. I think you’re right to some degree about how it changed me, but being able to do something about it helped to keep that from being the ONLY outcome. I find it frustrating to have been changed by it; having affected change for others takes some of the sting out of that.

  11. I can only imagine how terrifying this was for you. Instead of cowering in your home, which nobody would blame you for doing, you chose to DO something to help others. Good for you – Bravo!!

  12. We expect more from law enforcement — they are supposed “to protect and to serve,” not make bad situations worse. I am so sorry for both the stalking that you suffered, and this officer’s insult. I can only imagine how his behavior brought back your nightmare in its entirety. I am very proud of you and your ability to work through both events and take back your life. Congratulations! You have proven once again that we women are the STRONGER sex.

    • Thanks Angel. Of course I wish none of it had ever happened, but I’m grateful to put it to good use by helping others have a better chance at staying safe. So much credit goes to those who helped get that done!

  13. Wow. Yes, thank you for sharing. Your three-part saga was painful just to read, much less to experience. Once we are violated, it lingers in our cells, I think. A scent, a name, something as inane as the panelling on the wall, can trigger a kind of PTSD about it. And a fear. I am glad that you are okay. But that trooper was totally out of line, and I am amazed that his commander took your report so cavalierly. I hope you found that relating this provided a measure of healing for you.

    • Thank you, Sea. I think it did help me to write it. I have been thinking about writing it for over a year: How should I? How much detail? How much emotion? How much “drama?” I could probably write it 50 times, 50 different ways, and still not feel that I had wrung the whole thing out. But I do want to say this: the issue with the trooper was handled properly by his commander. I think he didn’t want to have to discipline the trooper at first and wanted to put me at ease about the stop, but he did later tell me he had some concerns about it (after watching the dashcam video and coupling that with my report) and disciplined the trooper.

  14. Pingback: Always There | thesinglecell

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