I’m at my desk one morning when he first reaches out. As a recruiter, out-of-the-blue messages from near-strangers are common on LinkedIn, but something about this one feels—I’m not sure.
With your work ethic, you must be CEO by now, he says, then asks if my company is hiring. What does he know of my work ethic, I think, but reply with a polite haha, definitely not, and share a link to our current openings. He thanks me with many exclamation points and tells me I am the most interesting and one of the most attractive people he’s ever come across.
Why the most interesting, but only one of the most attractive, I pretend not to wonder. I don’t respond, and then he tells me he’d like to apologize for the name calling—you look great! Name-calling? I remember the age-old playground logic that boys who pester you just have a crush on you, but I do not feel flattered.
Again, I don’t respond, and he sends another message to say he hopes he’s not coming off stalkerish in any way. I start to feel weird.
More messages come in, but I don’t open them. I feel anxious. I feel like I am being stalked. My stalker finds me and contacts me via LinkedIn, Facebook, and Gmail, the messages like a cancer spreading organ to organ. One time, he even sends me a few dollars via Venmo. When I block him, he simply creates new accounts and sends more messages. I feel creeped out by him, and creeped out by myself for calling him my stalker. It sounds like he is a thing that belongs to me, a thing that I have claimed. But I don’t want to call him by his name. That seems too familiar for someone who attended my middle and high schools, but never shared the same classes or friends. Later on, he did a graduate program where I went to college, but he’s not someone I’ve kept in contact with. Until now.
I continue to avoid his messages, and then they increase in hostility. He calls me a flat-chested dike in an email and says that if people actually liked you, they’d get in line and pile drive you from behind on Facebook.
I feel foolish and fragile at the police station. They’re not too concerned, probably because they’re dealing with murderers. They tell me things like maybe he just wants to keep in touch, and ask me things like did you tell him you wanted to keep in touch? from behind the long, high counter that divides their side of the police station from mine. I am reminded of being four years old at the grocery store, unable to see over the conveyor belt where I hope a pack of Peanut Butter M&Ms is slowly making its way to me, afraid that I haven’t been a good girl and my mom won’t allow me a treat.
The police do share some helpful guidance, though: I need to tell the stalker to stop contacting me. Then, if he persists, I can proceed with filing a report and trying to get a no stalking order. Somehow, after dozens of messages, it has not occurred to me to do this. I guess because life has taught me to leave people alone when they ignore me, I expect the stalker to do the same.
I type him a message telling him to stop contacting me. He types back, I respect your wishes, missing the point.
A few weeks go by, and I start to think maybe he’s moved on, found a new hobby. I feel a bit stupid, like if I’d said stop long ago, I could have spared myself the experience of looking up what exactly “pile drive” means. Then he texts me, apologizing that it’s late and asking for parking recommendations in the area.
I have no idea how he got my number, or if, as his text might suggest, he knows where I live and is nearby. I block his number, and, shortly after, a voicemail appears under Blocked Messages, a dark corner of my phone that I never before knew existed. I listen to the voicemail; it is a man moaning. I start to feel paranoid. I check behind the shower curtain at night.
I feel outraged when I learn he got my number from my school, which has published my contact info without my consent. In a chat application, an administrator explains it was an automatic opt-in, whatever that means. I tell her what has happened, how their policy has exposed me, and she says there’s nothing she can do. She is just the deliverer of the message—another unwanted message I receive via a digital communication channel.
I am now entitled to file for a no stalking order. On my first visit to the domestic violence courthouse where this is handled, I look for an advocate to help me fill out my petition, but they’re all busy with women who I recognize as having much worse problems than some pesky DMs. So I start filling out my paperwork on my own, only to hand it in and be scolded for doing it wrong. Now, for the first time, my eyes brim with tears. An advocate sees me, tells me not to worry, and shows me how to start filling out a fresh stack of paperwork.
I feel embarrassed by her kindness, and the tears spill from my eyes. I’m someone who has often felt undeserving of care: when my third grade teacher complimented my long hair in front of the entire class; when my best friend told our classmates to cheer for my solo in the school musical; when her mom asked me why I wouldn’t eat the cake at graduation, and why I’d lost so much weight; when a therapist told me that I could have a bigger life; when I went to my first 12 Step meeting and a woman passed me a note with her number—I cried in all these moments, too.
The process of getting a no stalking order takes months, takes on a life of its own. I feel my way through, learning as I go, from court date to court date, calling one sheriff, and then another. Now I am the stalker, searching the stalker’s name online—where I learn he has a record, he has done this before—trying to find his current address so the sheriff can serve him a court summons.
I feel almost clever, like I have guessed the right answer on a TV game show, when the stalker sends an email saying I’ll get a restraining order against you, you stalker! because it means he’s finally been served. Then I learn from the sheriff that they found him at a VA hospital. I imagine the unfortunate circumstances that might have brought him there and feel something heavy inside, like I am pregnant with a water-logged, thick-soled, black leather shoe.
The stalker doesn’t appear to contest at the appointed court date, and a judge with curly blonde hair grants me a two-year no stalking order by default. For a moment, I feel that things have been turned back upright. I exit the courthouse and breathe the cold air in and out. The lawn and bushes are dotted with plastic lighters in pastel colors, like an Easter egg hunt—you can’t bring these items past security, and so visitors have stashed them in the grass for later. I could steal them all, I think strangely. I have been unreasonably fucked with; I could unreasonably fuck with right back. Instead, I cut across the lawn, pluck my pepper spray keychain off the bush where I hung it and continue on to the street, leaving footprints in the frost.
I don’t know how much time goes by before the stalker contacts me again—a series of Facebook messages. I want to fuck you so hard, he declares, then proceeds with a battery of insults. You photograph really well, not too sure about in person though, lol.
I feel resigned as I screenshot each one and save them to my folder of records. I feel newly sane as I download my Facebook history and delete Facebook, because what has Facebook ever added to my life anyways? I feel annoyed by a lawyer, a friend-of-a-friend, who takes a couple weeks to return my call, only to suggest I just ignore the stalker. To her, he doesn’t sound like a serious threat. The fact that he has never shown up at my job or apartment building means he probably won’t. So I don’t need to do anything more than just keep blocking his accounts and deleting his messages. Again, this unsatisfying playground logic: just ignore the bully until they go away.
I find another lawyer. This one I pay to talk to me for an hour in his office. He brings in a stalking expert for an additional fee, and together they tell me basically the same thing as the first lawyer. The stalker sounds unhinged, and pressing charges might only provoke him further, so… ignore him. This time, I feel more satisfied by the advice, even though it’s what I started out doing more than a year ago, before the messages turned nasty, before I went to the police and discovered my school had published my phone number and address, before the court dates and sheriff calls. But now, having been through all of that, having paid two experts a couple hundred dollars, ignoring the stalker feels somehow like a new idea.
I do it, and the messages dissipate, like a monster that disappears as soon as the child stops believing in it. But then the monster grows new heads: the stalker follows my brother on Instagram and messages my father on LinkedIn. By this point, I’ve already told my family about the situation, and my concerned brother and father ask how I’d like them to respond, as if it makes a difference. I tell them to ignore him.
Do I feel acceptance, or is it only numbness? Mostly, I just want to move on—if the stalker would only let me. He emails periodically from assorted addresses, each one a new permutation of his first, middle, and last names, as if names were just random strings like those in the long, spurious-looking links he sends in his emails. At least he has ceased his verbal assaults on my body for now.
One day, he sends a mass email, and I recognize the names of other classmates in the “to” field. I feel relieved as I realize that I’m not alone. Then I realize that he is. It’s just his email in the “from” field, reaching out to all of us, none of whom I can imagine reaching back. I feel many things, including sorry, because his persistence seems like the tactic of a person who might believe they don’t matter. And I just keep ignoring him—and keep asking for help, again and again, at the police station, the courthouse, the lawyer’s office—because I want to believe that I matter, I do.
studied creative writing at Northwestern University. Her work has been published in iō Literary Journal. She lives in Austin with her husband.