After a rough junior year of high school, I was convinced my hardships were over. I had gotten a concussion and stress fractures in my legs that made it impossible to exercise without severe pain, and as a result of both, I had suffered from anxiety and depression. As a 17-year-old high school senior, I was so excited to move on with my life. I had college mapped out, I had a career path and my family life was better than ever. Everything was going my way… until it wasn’t.
I was at church, as I usually was on Sundays, and I headed into the bathroom with my sister Brit. As we opened the door, an unfamiliar, squat, balding man who looked to be about 60 approached me and whispered, “I love you,” before continuing to walk down the hall. I asked Brit if she had heard what I had, and she replied she wasn’t sure.
Brit left for college a week later, and I was on my own. This man, who I later learned was named Earl*, continued to track down where I was in the church every Sunday and approach me, but I had no idea how to deal with it. He would follow me and tell me he was in love with me, but it never got any worse than that.
There are several emotions that come from being stalked: confusion, disgust, fear, annoyance and embarrassment. It’s not flattering; it’s scary, and you don’t know why it’s happening. It’s like stalkers see something in you that reminds them of themselves, or they have a chance to be with you or something. Then you wonder if there’s something that you did wrong to make someone think of you like this. You can try to avoid them all you want, but somehow they find you, and then you have to just ignore them because a response is what they want.
Earl continued to follow me and stare at me and try to talk to me, but only at church. I thought if it would just stay there, I could handle it.
It all came to a head as I was driving over to my friend’s Emily’s* house to take prom pictures in early April. I pulled up to a light, and a flurry of motion next to me made me turn my head. Earl had found me, and I could see that he was trying to get me to talk to him.
He rolled the window of his car down, threw his hands out the window and yelled at me. “Jamie*! It’s me; it’s Earl! I love you! Why are you fighting this?”
I quickly turned my head and tried to control my breathing. I was in a car. I was fine. There was a barrier between us. I would get to Emily’s house. I was safe.
The light turned green, and he turned to follow me.
He tried to keep right next to me, constantly gesturing, always watching me. I knew that if I didn’t get off the road quickly, he would cause an accident. I saw an exit coming up, waited until it was almost impossible for me to get on it, and then swerved sharply over, effectively losing him… and also getting myself hopelessly lost.
I finally pulled into an Arby’s. I was fine until I parked, at which point I started shaking and couldn’t stop. I called Emily and told her I was lost. Sensing something was wrong, she asked me where I was and sent her dad to find me. It was only about 10 minutes later, but to me it felt like a lifetime. When Emily’s dad pulled into the parking lot, I got out of the car and handed him the keys. He kept joking and trying to make me feel better, but I couldn’t play along. I went to prom and was able to have fun with everyone else, but when I closed my eyes, I remembered everything, and I was afraid for the next day.
I overheard some women at church once saying that Earl had done this a couple of times before to two women I knew, both of whom were married and had children. They had told their husbands, who had confronted Earl and told him to stay away. Older people in the church, people I had looked up to and who had kids around my age, accused the women of being unfriendly and selfish. The community’s reaction to them was frightening to me. These women had strong men who believed them and would stand up for them, but who did I have?
For the most part, I was smart about only going out with either my siblings or my friends, but sometimes that didn’t stop Earl from approaching me. It got to the point where I would see him at least once a day. He would approach me, tell me he loved me, that we were meant to be together, and when that didn’t work, he would make lewd and disgusting remarks about my body. I wouldn’t have any reaction to him. I’d simply turn around and walk away. That didn’t stop him from talking louder.
I had to make money for college, but a public job was out of the question. Going anywhere he could watch me whenever he wanted was just a bad idea. I finally decided to submit my resume to a nanny agency and received work quickly, making enough money for me to make it through two semesters of college. It was also in an extremely secure environment with a lovely family whom I have come to cherish. The stalking wasn’t over, but I had figured out ways to minimize it, and I told myself that I would soon be gone to school 2,000 miles away and it would all be over forever.
But as the time for me to leave grew closer, I became increasingly scared. I was terrified of him trying to get to my younger sister. But the stalking had now been going on for months, and if I said something now, I was sure people were going to think I was lying, and it would only make it easier for Earl to move in on my sister.
I left for college on a Friday. That whole day, I cried out of relief of knowing I was safe for at least a while, and I cried out of fear for my family. I was still trying to figure out what to do when my father called me, telling me Brit had figured everything out and asking me if Earl had been following me.
I said yes.
My father was so sad. I hadn’t imagined that at all, how devastated he would be. I had told my dad about my depression and about my boy problems, and he had been with me through that, but somehow I thought he couldn’t protect his little girl from a disgusting man. He immediately got in touch with church leaders and with Earl himself. They met with him and told him he was never to have contact with me again and that legal action was being considered.
That was all it took.
Earl moved a couple weeks later to another part of my home state. He never followed my younger sister, and for that I am truly happy.
It’s been almost a year now since that all happened, and things are different. At first, I would have nightmares about Earl hurting my family, hurting me. I would wake up crying often. My poor roommate quickly learned to wear earphones to sleep. I would be terrified about walking across campus by myself, especially in the dark. I finally told my friend Perry*, and from then on, everything seemed little better.
Another thing that suffered from this experience was my relationship with guys. I was terrified of them; the thought of anyone touching me made me feel physically ill.
On my first day of classes, a boy sat next to me whose name was similar to that of my stalker’s. I fought panic the entire class, bolting as soon as it was over. For a few weeks I was unaccountably rude to him, but for some reason he thought I was just really funny. He genuinely wanted to be my friend, and I unconsciously started letting him. Simple things like letting him borrow a pencil or his leg hitting mine in class had at first made me flinch. But his persistence, somehow so different from Earl’s, eventually won me over and we became friends.
When I came home for the summer, I was wary. My father had asked me not to talk about what happened because he didn’t want my younger siblings to know, but it made healing harder. I have not yet forgiven all those people who had made me afraid of stepping up and saying what had happened, but I have forgiven the women who had been confused into silence. I understand them now. I was one of them, and I learned that, sometimes, it’s really all you can do to save yourself.
People don’t generally talk about stalking. It seems to many a rather narcissistic thing, and the psychological aspect of it is difficult for even the victim to understand. Sometimes when I mention the stalking, I still get the feeling that people assume it went on for so long because I enjoyed the attention. That was not the case. There is a fear of rejection from those you go to for help. At least when you go through it alone, no one has a chance to call you crazy.
I still haven’t been able to kiss a guy since the stalking happened. This man stole my time and my safety, and sometimes it felt like he was stealing my sanity, but he never managed to grab me; I was too quick for that. Now it’s a natural and unconscious reaction to snatch my hand away when a guy reaches for it, even if I really like him. That’s something I’m working on, and I hope to begin working with a professional. I will no longer allow this nightmare to hold me back from future happiness.
A couple days before I left for fall semester this year, I took a drive by myself. I hadn’t driven on the road I was first followed on since that day in April 2012. I wanted to know that I could handle being here without having flashbacks or digging my nails into the steering wheel. I wanted to conquer this road.
I stopped at the intersection where I had spotted him before the prom. I looked to the right, and he wasn’t there. I was all alone. My time was my own. I was not being watched. I pulled onto the road, and I focused simply on my breathing and the road in front of me. I drove, and I turned around when I felt ready. There was no one behind me as I made my way home, and there was no one waiting to watch me lock my car and walk into my house except the stars and the moon and the fireflies. I was alone, and I was at peace.
*Names have been changed.
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