Always There

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.

Related posts:
A Stranger At the Door – Part 1
A Stranger At the Door – Part 2

A Stranger At the Door – Part 3
I’m Gonna Need My Meds For This


16 thoughts on “Always There

  1. I remember those posts and that time. I’m so sorry you have to carry around this reminder of what happened to you, and that your mother makes it worse. As a mom I can totally relate to her fear for you – there is nothing more terrifying to a parent than the thought that something bad can happen to one of our chicks – but this is a great reminder to me not to paralyze my kids with my own fears.

    • I’m glad you get that takeaway from this post, Peg-O. I think that’s the most an adult child can hope for. I know she worries – I just can’t assume the burden of her worry on top of my own.

  2. I have never been stalked. But I am single. I do live in a big city. And the world is full if creeps. I come home late at night, alone and hate the butterflies I sometimes feel in my stomach. So as much as it is possible for me to understand how you feel I do. I also had a mother who worried if she didn’t have enough to worry about when it came to me, so I understand that, too. I think you will always be slightly on your guard. I will as well. And so, probably will every other woman who lives alone, or is out alone. The key is to make sure it doesn’t stop you from living. And it sounds like you have that under control, challenging as it is sometimes. Your mother will always worry. And it will always drive you nuts. I think you have to be a mother to understand. As for publicizing where you live or other personal info on social media, nobody should be doing that. Like I said, the world is full of creeps and the Internet is their best friend.

    • I can tell you that I was cautious before the stalker. No amount of caution mattered, though, because I never saw him. He never lurked in shadows, to my knowledge – and i was very careful to check. There is a difference, I am sorry to say, between my caution before him and my caution now. It is an injustice. But I agree about publicizing where you live!

      • I was not trying to minimize what you have gone through. And if that’s how it seems I truly apologize. My only point was, and perhaps it was misguided and inappropriate (unintentionally) is that we all have to be on our guard all the time. There are ‘bad’, sick, troubled people all around us. I have a colleague whose little girl was snatched in broad daylight, raped and murdered. I have friends who are victims of abuse. A friends ex husband followed me repeatedly when they were divorcing and threatened me quite a few times because he believed I’d encouraged her to leave him. Which I had. Of course I can never presume to know how you feel because I’ve not been in your shoes. Again, my apologies.

      • Oh, you don’t need to apologize! You didn’t say anything wrong. I only meant to convey that there are differences. I didn’t do that well. One of the things that has always made an impression on me is that my stalker lived so close by that he didn’t have to hide anywhere – he just sat in his apartment and every once in a while looked outside to see if my car was there. Which meant no amount of caution could have kept me safe from him. But you have said nothing wrong, and I cherish your comments.

      • Thank you. I would hate to offend you or minimize what you’ve been through. There are no words to describe it. And if going through it wasn’t enough you had the courage to testify. There are simply no words. So I will just shut up now and tell you that you are a hero.

      • That’s not the point. What you’ve done is heroic. That’s obviously why you’re getting the award. I’m done now. Enjoy your evening. I am writing copy. No rest for the wicked 🙂

  3. I’d like to tell you that you will get that day. I really, really hope you do. But I’m also one of those people who doesn’t post pictures of her own house, and uses iPhoto to smudge the house numbers out of any photo of myself or my children in front of anyone else’s house. I also don’t use FourSquare, I don’t use Facebook’s “check-in” button, and I’ve disabled the location tag on my phone. I avoid mentioning the names of my children’s schools, and label online invitations with “Our Place”, instead of our actual address. And so on. It’s paranoid, and a little ridiculous, and I know that if he really wanted to find me, he could. I do need to live my life in the world, and I will not permit him to stop me. But I also need to know I’m doing something to keep us safe. You know?

    • I don’t use any of those things either. I hate them. The only time I have my phone GPS on is when I’m using it for navigation – although I DO think it’s handy if you have an emergency and can’t pinpoint your location for a responder. And I know EXACTLY what you mean about making sure you’re keeping your family safe but yet not letting him stop you from living. I think that’s what we all do – but I bet you understand exactly what I was saying in this post.

  4. Man, I wish I could make this better for you, but I hope you use some of this in your speech. Part of this is so familiar to me because I was stalked by a truly sociopathic ex-boyfriend until I finally put several hundred miles of distance between us. But I think that the stranger stalking is even scarier because you’re so blindsided by it, and every time you forget to think about it, you remember to think about it. All the weight comes crashing down on you again.

    • I’m sorry you had to go through that; you definitely understand what I’m saying. I don’t think we can compare what’s “scarier,” though there are certainly differences. You’re right about what you point out about stranger stalking. But your situation was every bit as frightening, I’m sure of that.

  5. When I started “reading you,” I’m sure I read your stalker story, but I didn’t know you then, so I went back and read it again tonight. It occurs to me that when I first started commenting on your blog, I kidded about not knowing your name or where you lived. It never occurred to me how that might have sounded to you. If I made you uncomfortable, I am so sorry. I hope by now you know that I am a friend that needs to know absolutely nothing about but what you choose to post, which made your story much more chilling this time. I have nothing useful to offer except my hope that in time, things will get better.

    • 🙂 I knew you would eventually understand. Now you know part of the reason I so fiercely protect my anonymity (along with not wanting to hurt or offend people I write about, and not wanting to lose my job). As for things getting better, you know… it’s not a better/worse thing, really. It’s just a part of my life. Maybe someday it will fade more. I think doing victim advocacy work will keep it fresh, but it’s worth that cost if we can improve safety.

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