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Guest writer: Lea Grover is a writer and speaker living on Chicago's south side. She writes for Cosmopolitan, Chicago Parent, xoJane, and many more print and online publications. She is looking forward to the release of her first memoir. Visit her on her Facebook and blog.
The first time he asked me out, I said no. We had known each other in art school, and he always struck me as a little off. Not that he wasn’t brilliant. Not that he didn’t have a body that sparked a million fantasies and eyes so icy blue they could freeze sunlight. But he was so obviously damaged, so obviously unstable. I wanted to be smarter than my hormones, so I said I’m sorry, I can’t.
He picked me up, lifted me into his arms, and walked me across the flooded street. He said he’d ask me again the next day. It was a bold move, and I noticed.
It made me nervous.
Over the next few weeks he called every day. He emailed twice as often, love poems laced with sexual innuendo and filled with the specifics of our conversations. He seemed genuinely enamored by me, and finally, I relented. I told him I’d go out with him. He’d earned a date.
Over coffee he told me about his abusive father and stepfather. He showed me the knife he kept in the pocket of his corny leather jacket. I tried to look unfazed and calm. I didn’t ask him back to my place, but I agreed to see him again.
I saw him every weekend for almost two months before he told me he loved me. After a few weeks of that, I started saying it back. I must love him, I thought, after countless hours listening to him cry on the phone in the wee hours of the morning, telling him he was good enough, that he deserved compassion, that he deserved affection. I thought that meant I loved him, or I was obligated to love him.
Winter came, and he fought with his mother. She kicked him out of the house, and he told me as a blizzard rolled in that he was sleeping in his car. That he didn’t care if he froze to death. For the first time, I invited him to my apartment. To sleep on the couch. He wasn’t my boyfriend, I wasn’t sleeping with him, I let him know I wasn’t interested in either of those things. But he could sleep on the couch.
When he closed my apartment door behind him, he shut out everything about the world that made sense. He yelled at me and sobbed in turn, threatened suicide and climbed uninvited into my bed. He hurt me, emotionally and physically both, and when I finally lost the ability to continue to stop him he raped me in the dawn light on my own bed. Then he put on his shoes and left. I didn’t answer the phone for days, didn’t leave the house. I lost my job, too traumatized to move. My answering machine filled with messages from him, all professing his love.
As soon as I gathered enough of my courage, I wrote him a letter, telling him never to contact me again. But every few hours another call, another email. A well-meaning neighbor let him into my building, and he stood outside my apartment door sobbing until I called the police. When they arrived I declined to file a report - it had been more than a week since the assault, what did I have to prove my story to them?
The calls and messages were relentless. After two months and three changed phone numbers and email addresses, I couldn’t face living alone any more. I moved in with friends, male friends I thought might deter him. I told all our mutual acquaintances he had raped me and wouldn’t leave me alone. For a few days, the phone calls became more plaintive and desperate, and then they turned ugly. The same talent he had used to woo me with beautiful poetry produced threat after threat, send from anonymous email addresses but laced with hints. He threatened to kidnap me from the coffee shop I frequented and skin me alive. He told me I looked beautiful when I walked to the grocery store, mentioned the clothes I wore that day and how many bags of groceries I took home. He threatened to cut out my heart with the knife I’d seen on our first date.
I stopped leaving the house. I saved every letter, every note, every voicemail. For two years I wondered when enough would be enough, when the dam would break and I would have the evidence I needed to take to the police. But nothing had his name on it- everything was so careful, no email address used twice, no names, every threat sent in the form of a fiction story starring fantasy characters. It was all my word against his.
But one day I couldn’t handle it any more. Not knowing where else to go, I went to Planned Parenthood. They listened, they believed me and did not blame me, but referred me to a psychiatrist and to the courthouse, to file an order of protection. When I arrived at the courthouse I had the police report from when I declined to name him, but had told officers my ex wouldn’t leave my front door. Two years earlier. I was told I would have to report the assault to the police before I could proceed.
Reporting the rape and stalking to the police was nearly more traumatic than the experience itself. As I read story after story aloud, the officers rolled their eyes and sighed in a bored sort of way.
“This sounds like a bad breakup,” they said. “Not a crime.”
“If you were raped, why wait two years to say anything?”
“How do you know that’s even about you? Or from him? Aren’t you reading an awful lot into this?”
At the end of the afternoon, one of the officers shrugged. “I can’t file any charges over this, but I can tell him to leave you alone, if you want. Scare him for you.”
I don’t know what the officer did or said, but it must have worked. In the eight years since, I have only heard from him once. Five years ago. Maybe. An anonymous commenter online said something vague, not exactly threatening, but it sounded like him.
I look for him in every anonymous comment I ever receive. I won’t step foot in the town where he lived, in the restaurant where he worked, in the coffee shops he threatened to kidnap me from. I still fear him, but I think of him less and less.
If I were to see him now, there is nothing I could say to undo the trauma of years of abuse, or of nearly a decade of therapy to overcome what he’s done to me. There is nothing I could say to make him feel guilty- I believe his guilt drove him the whole time. Anything I said would only make things worse, and what I want most of all is to believe it’s really over. And if I were to say something to him, it wouldn’t be over. It would still be happening.
I look for him online, sometimes. I don’t know why. It’s a compulsion I can’t stop.
I think the biggest misconception about stalking is that it occurs in the real world only. That a stalker shows up on your doorstep, but most stalking is psychological. It’s not having a shadow, it’s more like having a spy in your life. Like having a spy in your head. With the access into your life the internet gives nearly anyone, it’s easy to learn your habits, to follow you digitally if not physically. And real terror can occur with out any actual contact at all.
If you’re being stalked, know you did not ask for this. Know you did not encourage this. Know that, as painful as getting help can be, it is worth it. I wish I hadn’t waited so long, because there never was definitive proof. There probably never would have been. No matter how long I waited, and no matter how long anyone being stalks waits, their abuser won’t fall into some simple track and identify themselves and their intentions. You have to believe that you will be heard, that the truth will out, despite the obstacles. You have to believe that you can ask for help and it will arrive, even if it’s not the help you expected.
There are resources so much better than I knew. If I could go back and tell myself then what I know now, I would tell myself to look for resources specifically for people being stalked, because they exist. Because there are people who can help so much more than an officer willing to threaten a suspect without accusing him of a crime.
There is a better way, and you can find it.