I have been stalked three times in my life. Yes, THREE. The fact of this boggles my mind. As I’ve said before, I don’t consider myself particularly (or stalk-worthily) interesting, so that it happened more than once, let alone three times is completely bizarre. Even more so is the fact that I had blocked out or repressed the memory of those months and the physical impact they had on me until a family tragedy rocked my world and awoke the darkened memories.
I’m not one who ever believed in the merits of counseling, so to decide to seek out a counselor, I was scared for myself, my family and my future…somewhat unsure if there were even going to be one. My grief counselor was an excellent partner for me, and through the process, I began to form a plan to find my way back and, even better, I began to allow myself to dream again. The process of counselling is an odd one, and probably is where I began my introspective bend that continues today. What surprised me most was the realization that I’d largely buried chunks of my history…fully blacked them out in my mind as periods that never happened. These weren’t “recovered memories” in the way that were much hyped in the late ’80’s and early ’90’s. The people in those periods? If I wasn’t still in contact with them, they were blacked out too. Before the tragedy, if I were to see a photo of friends from these times, chances are good that I wouldn’t recognize several of the people in them. These are things that really happened and my brain worked out how it was going to deal with them and then decided to move on. The ‘I’ that I am today would have liked to reason with my brain when it was making these decisions…I guarantee the ‘today I’ would have worked hard to convince it to choose differently. I can handle reality. It’s o.k. to let me face it.
Back to the stalking… The first was in high school. I believe I was seventeen, and I was a cute blond with attitude who drove a fast car. I’d noticed over a period of about a week that there was a specific vehicle that I didn’t recognize as one anyone I knew drove that kept showing up two or three cars back from me whenever I was driving around town. I could tell it was a male driver, but I never got a good look at his face and couldn’t have described him to anyone. I mentioned it to a few of my friends, but we ultimately all chalked it up to a possible admirer. A few days later I was out driving around our small downtown one evening with a friend and I realized there was a vehicle following us. I thought I’d turn down an alley and lose it, but instead found myself facing off with it going the wrong way down this one way alley at top speed. I threw the car into reverse, did some impressive stunt-woman-like driving and got us the heck out of there. Somewhat freaked out but with the stupidity of a teenager, I took my friend to her home in town and then started the drive to my home out in the country.
I was just taking my freeway exit to the long dark canal-lined road that lead to my parents house when I realized the vehicle from earlier in the evening was behind me on my exit. I turned onto my parents street quickly and pulled into the long driveway with my headlights off and watched the vehicle drive slowly by. When I went inside, I told my Dad what had happened and how long it had been going on. I described the vehicle well. He made a few calls (Dad was well connected around town) and then he told me that he’d taken care of it and I didn’t need to worry any more. He then gave me a few ‘street smart’ tips and told me to trust my gut because it wouldn’t steer me wrong. I think my gut heard him, because within a few months, I hit my highest weight of my high school years. Nutrisystem, ballet and tennis knocked my body back in line. Then it was off to college.
The second time I was stalked, I was in college. This time the police got involved because someone or several someones started showing up in the back yard of our rental townhouse at random times of evening and late night. Sometimes they would throw small rocks at the window, call my name and then disappear into the darkness when my roommates would turn on a light. Other times, a car full of guys would come into our cul-du-sac with screeching tires when we were having a dinner party, shout my name and usually something else not quotable and then screech away into the night. Twice, while on a commuter road short-cut between campus and our house, I felt I was being followed. I pulled into a police station parking lot the second time and they drove away. As winter break came, I realized my room-mates were all going to visit their families. I was working part-time in a local mall in Costa Mesa and ended up quitting my job rather than staying in the house alone. After returning from the grocery store one night in early spring with one of my room-mates, we walked into the kitchen from the garage and saw a silhouette of a male in our back yard through our dining room window. I think I screamed, then we heard our back yard gate slam shut. My roommate called the police who took a report and ultimately told us there was nothing they could do unless the creep physically touched me. [sigh] I was later told by an officer working on my case that they believed my ex-boyfriend’s fraternity was spearheading the harassment but no-one was ever officially charged. When school let out that year, I moved with my sister to Huntington Beach, two cities north of school and too far from campus to be an easy target. I also packed on a great deal of weight…the most of my college years. A grueling work and art studio schedule along with Jenny Craig got my weight back in check by mid-way through my senior year at UCI.
A few weeks before college graduation, I called my grade-school best friend who was then living in Bakersfield and told her I was moving to Seattle. She said ‘I’m coming with you’, and a few weeks later, I packed everything that would fit into my car, stopped off in Bakersfield to collect my friend with her car-load too, and we drove on up I-5. After a year of living together in Kirkland, WA, we chose to try our hand at getting our ‘own’ places. She stayed on the east-side and I moved to Seattle where the city had been calling me.
My first post college job wasn’t going well, and as a result, I was going broke. Having worked through college waiting tables to avoid student loan debt, I quit the bad job and took one waiting tables on the graveyard shift at a Denny’s in North Seattle. Physically, I was in great shape and as a newly Independent ‘woman’ in my 20’s who’d already failed at the job I thought I was supposed to have post-college, I wasn’t taking much about my life too seriously. I met my husband there late one night when he and a bunch of friends came in at 0’bar-30. We started dating, and shortly thereafter, a dishwasher/busboy who had always been quiet but smiley around me started acting weird. Before long, I’d catch him staring at me. Then he cornered me in the walk-in freezer one night when I’d gone in to retrieve some ice cream to re-stock the station. He said he thought I was beautiful and ‘that guy’ I was dating was wrong for me. I felt panicked and ultimately told my manager who said he’d watch him. As weeks went on, the co-workers behavior got worse. The more my then-boyfriend came to visit me at work, the nastier this guy got. The last day I remember him working there, he snuck up behind me at a pass-bar where I was entering orders into the computer, put his arms around me with his hands on the terminal in front of me and hissed in my ear the details he’d devised out on how he was going to murder my boyfriend and make me watch. My manager saw him pin me in and saw my expression. He came over and grabbed him by the arm and walked him to his office, documented what had been going on and fired the guy. I took a few days off. I’m told the guy showed up there on my next scheduled shift demanding my address and phone number, but it was made clear to him he wasn’t aloud on the property anymore. I was also told that some of my boyfriend’s hockey buddies had some ‘words’ with him. Again, as soon as it was over, I gained a great deal of weight and have struggled for the past 15 years to get near the weight I was when that last really sick stalker-stint occurred.
It was only fairly recently that I realized I was in part gaining and keeping the weight up as a means of self preservation. As a fat woman, I could hide in plain sight. There was no threat to my family or myself as long as I remain heavy. Friends and co-workers were less threatened by me wearing my ‘fat suit’ and I and the people I love could go on living our lives quietly with the security that the next psychopath on the block would most likely overlook me because I was hiding myself under the squishy and undesirable facade. I’m not pretending that stalking and harassment is what made me fat. More calories in than out, less physical activity, depression, hormonal changes and more are all contributors to that. I am saying that identifying the reasons I remained heavy, reclusive and somewhat ‘off the grid’ so to speak are an important part of getting back to me…the real me…the one who lives out loud, in her healthy body, not afraid to dream, set goals and certainly not afraid of success.
The year in counseling was a result of the hardest single day in my life which ended the hardest year in my life so far. I choose to see the blessings that resulted from the tragedy rather than focusing on the event. One of the biggest blessings I can see that resulted from it is that I again can see myself as I choose to be and am actively working towards that vision. And a side note to my brain that ‘protected’ me for all of those years? Thanks for the effort, but I’m a grown up now…I can handle it.