I want to post pictures of myself standing in front of my house online.
Lots of people have done that, right?
But I can’t. Because I have my mother. And a man who lives in my head and tells me he’s coming to get me.
Now, do I really want to post those pictures? Nah. They don’t even exist, actually. But there’s a very particular reason for that. When I bought my house in November, I didn’t take any pictures of myself in front of it. I thought about it, but I didn’t do it. I didn’t take any pictures of the keys held up in front of it, either. Thought about it… didn’t do it. I didn’t post any pictures of it on Facebook. Not even nondescript pictures of ONLY my house with no numbers and no street name. Because what if the stalker sees them?
Or my mother?
My thoughts and behaviors are governed by him. All the time.
And by my mother. It’s like what he doesn’t get, she does. And sometimes they overlap.
And the two of them are really pissing me off.
Every once in a while, I think about how having had a stalker has permeated my life ever since. It’s been two and a half years, but it’s like he’s there all the time. It’s not active fear, you understand. It’s just the knowing. Knowing I’ve been watched before, coming and going from my home. Knowing that when someone decides to show up and mess with you for an hour late at night, there’s really not much you can do to stop him except hope the police catch him. Knowing makes you more careful. Knowing makes you change.
Since July of 2010, on some level, he’s there every time I get into or out of my car, no matter where I am. Every time I stop at a stoplight in the dark. Every time I walk into or out of my home. Every time I walk through my house wearing less than a full suit of clothes. Every time I hear a noise I don’t recognize or one that sounds like a stone hitting a window, and every time I see a shadow or turn a corner or drive down the back alley to my parking spot behind my house.
When I was debating whether to buy a house, I worried that I wouldn’t be safe and wouldn’t be able to pick up and leave like I had before. When was looking for a house, I was always wondering in the back of my mind, “Will I be stalked if I live here?”
It’s an infuriating thing to think. Stupid and frustrating and infuriating.
When I meet someone new, I wonder. And then I remember I had never met him, so it’s useless anyway. When I think about dating someone, I wonder. When someone watches me in the grocery store or on the street or in a restaurant, I wonder. When I fill out forms that require my address, I wonder, even if they’re forms that would logically require my address, like at the post office. People delivering stuff to my house? I wonder. People installing appliances? I wonder. People who look at my license to verify I am who I say I am at the airport or when I use a credit card? I wonder. It’s always, always, always there.
Finding out that I’m being honored by the governor, and that I’m giving a speech, has given me new occasion to think about the whole ordeal all over again. And that’s okay. Along with other people, I turned the experience into something positive for others, and I’m immensely, deeply grateful for and humbled by that. It’s the only thing that made everything make sense.
But I’m also remembering it all, all over again, and it’s definitely working on me.
In spite of that, though, I managed to post a picture on Facebook the other day without thinking twice. It shows the window above my front door. It so happens that my house number is up there. But it’s a cool-looking picture – there’s a trick of light happening – I like it. So I posted it.
And I got a message from my mother.
“I know you closed your PO box (which I had so that I couldn’t be traced to a new street address), but don’t you think that putting your address online is going a little too far in case that creep thinks to look for you? When you pull up your FB page, it shows your pretty face in front of row homes, and the numbers on your window. There are ways to find out the exact location from pics online and that makes it easy to find you.”
First of all, my mother exaggerates. The street name is not on the picture, so although you can see the house number, you cannot see my address, really. Secondly, my mother believes everything she reads on the internet. Which is an issue on lots of levels, trust me, and I don’t know how we survived the presidential election. But that’s neither here nor there.
It’s not that she’s totally wrong. I do see her point. But in a sense, posting that photo was a kind of victory for me, a freedom, an unburdening. Not intentional. It wasn’t a declaration. It just happened, and it was a good sign, a sign that I wasn’t occupied by thoughts of someone finding me and doing me harm. And she took that away.
Now, I know she didn’t mean to do that. She doesn’t read it that deeply. She’s a mom, and her daughter lives alone in a different city, and she has always worried about that. And then something happened that she’d always worried would happen, and now she’s even more worried. But in her message, she reminded me of my fear and brought it back. She told me I could be found. She took away my enjoyment of something simple and small and made it about her own worries instead. She put him back in my head. In her effort to protect me and keep me safe, she made me afraid that I’m not.
I want one day. One day when I don’t think about him. One day when there’s not a single caution I take because someone once threatened my safety. One day when there is nothing in me that is afraid. I have not yet had that day. Even the day I posted that photo, I hadn’t gone without thought of him and his effect on my life.
It makes me tired and angry that he is so there. Working on initiatives to help keep other crime victims safer always means reliving that experience, but it’s the only thing I can do to make good come out of it, and it’s working. I just want the power to dictate exactly when and how and why I have to think about him and that time in my life. I want veto power over anxiety. I want to be able to block him from my head, take him out entirely, and erase all of his effects. But that would mean erasing the work I’ve done, erasing having ever met Rich, erasing having moved to a better home.
He is inextricably, undeniably woven into my life. And into my mother’s. For her, that means reminding me to stay safe from states away.
For me, it just means wanting to forget.