The Stay at Home Feminist is a safe place for all. And as such, from time to time, I provide this space to fellow writers who need to share pieces that, for various reasons, they can not share elsewhere. I ask you to welcome them here and be gentle, their stories are personal, they matter and I promise you, there is a real person behind these words.
The following post comes with a Trigger Warning and deals with abusive, stalking and terrorizing behaviour.
We met through a friend. I had just moved across the country to a strange city in a new province. I had left everything I knew behind me in the hopes of starting fresh and I had to prove to myself that I could go it alone and be completely independent. All I owned was my car and whatever I could stuff in it.
The first time I met him, my new friend and I ran into him on the street. She introduced us and we all briefly chatted before going our own way. He didn’t really strike me one way or another, but I was happy to be meeting new people. Over the ensuing weeks, I saw him on occasion at my friend’s house or out at a bar. Eventually, he and I started dating. I’m not even sure “dating” is the right word - we mostly hung out and went out to clubs. It was never an exclusive arrangement and there were no romantic dinner dates, but it was nice to experience my new city through him.
It lasted only a few weeks. I ended it when I realized he just wasn’t for me.
After I broke it off, he called me often – at least daily, but sometimes more. One night, he called to tell me he got a new roommate: a woman. I didn’t care. He’d go into too much detail about their near-sexual encounters before I’d say, “That’s nice.” and hang up the phone. I didn’t care. I never really had.
One night, he called me and said “I saw you with another guy. Are you dating him?” I told him I was and that he needed to stop calling me. I wasn’t interested in him; it was over. It had, in fact, never really begun.
That night, I woke up to a rock breaking my bedroom window. I knew he’d done it.
I called the police because my landlord needed a report for insurance. The officers came, and after inspecting the window, they asked me if I knew who had done it. I gave them his name. They stopped writing and looked up at me. “This guy is known to us for weapons and uttering death threats. If we bring him in for this, he’ll come after you because we can’t hold him.” Then I watched them leave as I gripped my incident report in my hands. My Super told the landlord that some partiers had done it, and it was fixed the next day.
That night he called. “I see they fixed your window. That was fast.” I hung up.
That’s when I became aware that he was stalking me. He didn’t really try to hide it; I think he enjoyed knowing that I knew. He seemed to enjoy knowing that he literally lived on the periphery of my life, affecting my choices and influencing my movements. He knew I saw him standing across the street staring up at my window. Once, he even sat outside my apartment door for three hours when I was inside – every once in awhile saying something to let me know he was still there.
When I was at a club, he’d stand on the edge of the dance floor and smirk when I noticed him. On one occasion, he followed me into the women’s washroom, grasping my arm as I tried to pull away. The women inside scattered, but security rushed in and took him away.
This happened 10 years ago. I was in my 20s, fiercely independent, and maybe a little bit naïve. When he wasn’t physically barring me inside my apartment, I carried on with my life. I walked alone in my neighbourhood, assuming he was there. I went to movies and clubs by myself. I walked to work, or quickly ran to the coffee shop across the street after dark. Some might say my actions were stupid or reckless. In hindsight, they probably were. At the time, though, I refused to let him win. I refused to live in fear. I refused to let him control me. I was always aware, though, and everything I did was calculated. The times I was most afraid was when I was alone in a subway station – I always stood against the wall, far away from the tracks. I was fairly certain that he wouldn’t do anything to me in front of witnesses, but being alone in a public place was scary, especially a place with high-speed trains and open tracks.
I don’t remember telling anyone he was stalking me. I didn’t want anyone to tell me it was my fault. I didn’t want anyone to deter me from living my life. I didn’t want anyone to encourage me to involve the police again. I had figured out a rhythm to my life, which unfortunately, included him.
After close to two years of living my silent hell, I had to tell someone. For my own safety, I told my apartment building Super. We weren’t friends and I didn’t particularly like her, but she needed to know. I needed her to know the day I looked out my window and saw her having a friendly conversation with him. When she came inside, I ran downstairs and asked her what he wanted. She said, “Do you know him? He just applied to live in the apartment next to you.” I felt like I was going to throw up. I reminded her about the rock thrown through my window and said “That was him. He’s been following me ever since.” A quick glance at his rental application revealed that he had used an alias. Her response was swift. She picked up the phone and called the police, telling them everything she knew. They asked to speak to me and I gave them a brief history of his behaviour. They told me they couldn’t do anything unless he was still on the property, but gave me some possible options to help me feel safer. I informed them that I was moving back home – across the country – in a month. They said “Good. Leave in the middle of the night.” And that is exactly what I did.
A few years later, after my son was born, he tried to comment on my blog, saying, “The world is lucky you had a boy. It doesn’t need any more women like you in it.” We traced his IP address across the Atlantic, where I hope he’s stayed. I now also have a daughter.
Rarely, does he enter my mind these days. My days are no longer governed by conscious, calculated decisions to keep myself safe from him. I am, however, often reminded of how he continues to affect me – he’s the reason I don’t publicly share my kids’ names or faces online. He’s the reason Facebook continues to ask me where I live, and I refuse to fill it in. He’s the reason my location on Twitter is vague and encompasses a large geographic area. All these years later, I must protect my kids from his prying eyes. I need to be careful because I know he reads my blog and, probably, all my public social media.
Some may wonder why I am sharing this now, or at all. Why, 10 years later, have I decided to write this all down and share it with the world? My private hell. My past. My present. My on-going need to protect those I love from one single man who isn’t even known to them. My answer is this: I am not the only one. There are scores of women who live in constant fear, tormented at this very moment. Women who must protect themselves the best they can because no one else is. Women who are living their own private versions of hell.
I want you to know we are here. I want you to know that the silent ones have stories that deserve to be told, even when we think no one could possibly care. To my fellow quiet women: your stories matter even if no one hears them, even if you think that no one is listening. They are valid. You are valid. You may not know me, but I care. I care about what is happening to you, what has happened to you, and what continues to affect you.
I’ll admit that part of me doesn’t want to share this – to give him, or any man like him, the satisfaction of knowing that his actions had long-term effects. I don’t want him knowing that I think about him, ever. I don’t want him knowing that he factors into any of my decision-making. It offends me on a deep, visceral level that I need to give power to my experiences – to what he put me through. All told, I came out of this relatively unscathed. I actually feel like I’m a lucky one - so many other women have worse stories than this one. Hell, this isn’t even my worst story, but in some ways, I feel like it’s the most important one – the one I share with so many others. This is the story that so many other women could have written, but they suffer in silence… like I did for so long.
The author of this piece chose to remain anonymous to protect her family. She is unwilling to expose her children to the fire that might reignite in her stalker if she publicly declares that this happened. This fear of repercussions is why stories remain untold, go unreported, and personal, private hells are silently endured every day.
Photo Credit: _namtaf_ on Flickr