It’s hard for people to understand how detrimental stalking can be. I was going to do a lot of research and post a lot of statistics and talk about inconsistent anti-stalking laws, but that wouldn’t really help anyone understand.
So, here’s this instead.
TRIGGER WARNING: Stalking
You’re startled awake. The phone’s ringing, even though it’s 2:00 AM. You think a family member must be on their way to the hospital, because why else would anyone be calling? Your heart races as you imagine all the car crashes and heart attacks this call could be about. “Hello?” you say into the receiver. But all you hear is someone breathing on the other end. Then, click.
It’s been happening a lot lately, but it’s never been in the middle of the night before. You thought it was just some kids making prank calls at dinnertime, but now you’re not sure. Your heart’s still racing and you know there’s no way you can go back to sleep now. So, you stay up and watch Netflix until you finally drift back off to sleep on the couch around 5:00 AM. But, that only gives you an extra hour of sleep before you have to get up and get ready for work.
The next morning, you’re exhausted when you get home. You aren’t paying much attention as you reach into the mailbox and pull out your stack of bills. After dinner–and another breathy phone call–you flip through the stack. Catalog. Bill. Junk. Bill.
You hold a white envelope. It doesn’t have an address on the front or a stamp. Maybe it’s a note from your mail carrier? You open the envelope and unfold the single sheet of paper that’s inside. Two words are typed neatly in the middle of the paper. “I’m coming.” It’s got your company’s letterhead on the top.
For a second, it feels like your chest is being compressed because you can’t quite catch your breath. Your heart pounds so hard you can hear the blood whooshing past your ears.
What does this mean?
You try to think about it rationally. Someone is after you. But, that sounds so paranoid, doesn’t it? Phone calls. A note. That’s all that’s happened. Nobody’s actually come after you or anything. It’s probably just a prank.
But, in bed that night, you can’t stop thinking about it. You don’t know who’s calling or who sent the note, but they know you. They know your phone number. They know your home address. They even know where you work.
Life’s quiet over the next week. You figure whoever it was gave up on their little prank, so you put it out of your mind.
On Friday, a florist delivers a plant to your office. Your name’s on the card. You aren’t sure why anyone would be sending you a gift, but you walk up to the front desk and retrieve your plant anyway. There’s a card stuck into the soil. “I like your blue bedspread. We’ll be together soon. XO” There’s no name signed at the bottom.
How does he know you have a blue bedspread?
“I don’t want it,” you tell the receptionist.
She gives you a strange look, but keeps the plant at her desk. You call the florist to see who sent it to you, but they don’t know, and whoever it was paid with cash so there’s no credit card transaction to track.
That night, you stay up late watching TV. There’s no way you’ll be able to sleep. Something in the back of your mind is starting to bug you, and you can’t tell what it is until you see the flash of headlights swoop past your window again. And you realize you’re seeing headlights pretty regularly, which is strange since you live down a cul-de-sac.
You lift a single mini-blind and keep a look-out. Sure enough, a few minutes later, you see a blue sedan drive past, turn around at the end of the road, and drive back out. About ten minutes later, the same blue sedan’s back and makes another pass. Again and again.
Your first reaction is to call the police, but what would you tell them? It’s not illegal to drive down the road. And it’s possible the driver’s just lost. Instead of calling the police, you get up and double-check all your door and window locks.
Saturday night, the blue sedan is back. And Sunday night. You stay up both nights and catch a few hours of sleep during the day.
On Monday, you make a huge mistake at work and get reprimanded. At lunchtime, your office phone rings. You pick it up and hear breathing, so you slam the receiver back down. Everyone around you stares.
You have to figure out who this is.
You fake sick and leave work an hour early so you can drive around the company parking lot, looking for the blue sedan. You find two. It could be either one, but you know one of them belongs to a particularly strange co-worker. You had lunch with him a couple of times when he first started, just to be friendly to the new guy, but you haven’t talked much since then. Mostly because he seems a little off. He’s just odd enough to make you uncomfortable, but not odd enough to justify complaining to management.
You’re sure it’s him, but you don’t have any proof. But you promise yourself you’ll call the police the next time something happens.
But nothing happens for two weeks, and you think he’s given it up. You start sleeping again now that the blue sedan isn’t driving past every night. What’s even nicer is your odd co-worker has taken a week’s vacation time, so you don’t even have to see him at work.
On a Thursday, you get home and see a shoe box sitting on your front porch. You lift the lid off with the toe of your shoe and recoil a little at the smell. It’s a dead bird.
Your mind starts racing. Is the bird supposed to be me? Is this a threat?
You go inside and call the police. They take a report, but say it’s probably just kids playing a prank.
You tell them about your co-worker, but they ask, “Did you see him on your property?”
But you haven’t. So, as far as the police are concerned, anyone could have left the bird. Still, they take the note you found in the mailbox and tell you to keep a diary of everything that happens.
And then they’re gone, and you’re on your own. And you still don’t know if you’re the bird.
Over the next few weeks, you start to think you’re going crazy. Things are moving around in your house. You always keep your shampoo in the shower, but when you go to use it the next time, it’s sitting by the sink. Did you move it and not remember? Does he have some way of getting into your house?
You call the police again, and they take down another report, but who calls the police over moved shampoo? You know they think you’re paranoid and they don’t appreciate you wasting their time.
When you go to work, you do your best to avoid this man, but he likes to walk around and chat with all the co-workers near your desk. Even though you tell yourself to ignore him, sometimes you can’t help looking up, and when you do, he’s always staring at you. And he smirks.
You never sleep now, unless you stay over at your aunt’s. She makes up the couch for you to crash on. But, one night, the phone rings at 2:00 AM and nobody’s there, and you know that he knows where you are. He always knows where you are.
One morning, you stop back at your house after staying with your aunt. There’s a manila envelope sitting on your kitchen counter, and you don’t remember putting it there. Inside the envelope is another note. This one takes up the entire page. It’s a long list of reasons you’re a worthless piece of garbage that deserves to die.
You call the police, and finally, they take the threat seriously. They even ask your co-worker some questions, but he denies everything, and they can’t arrest him because there’s still no evidence that it’s definitely him.
And there’s nothing you can do. He controls your life now, not you. You don’t get to make your own decisions. When to sleep. Where to sleep.
It’s not what he’s done that causes your now frequent panic attacks. It’s the fear of what he could do.
Every day, other people wake up and they know what their day will look like. It’s nice and predictable. But you don’t have that anymore. Because you never know if today’s the day he’ll leave you another dead animal or another death threat.
Maybe today’s the day he’ll make good on that threat.
Because you’ve done your research. You know that this is a stalker. And you know that stalkers like him really do kill their victims sometimes.
You jump at every noise. You know that thunk outside probably isn’t him, but it could be. You drive down the road with your eyes more focused on the rear view mirror than the road in front of you. You’re exhausted all the time.
But you can’t do anything about it. This is your life now.
Except it’s not your life, unless you do have a stalker. You can stop reading this anytime you want. Someone with a stalker can’t stop. They don’t have any control over what comes next. Stalking is a form of terrorism.
Do you remember 9/11? How freaked out everyone was about what might happen next? That’s how stalking victims feel all the time. Because we never know what might happen next, so that fear and anxiety follows us everywhere, all the time, and we can’t escape it.