Call me lady liberty
This is not fiction. It’s a letter to my stalker.
You know who you are.
And I know you are reading this.
A twenty-year old—a child, really—should be allowed a mistake or two. It was an asymmetric relationship back then, more than two decades ago already.
I was so young. You were not. I was impressionable and inexperienced. You had been married twice. You were quick to establish that you needed to be involved with two, three, four women at once, but you were possessive and jealous of me: I could see no one else, of course. Any hint of that led to violent rages. Throughout the brief time I knew you, time, money, decision-making power were all in your favour. That is how you like it.
Not a nice picture. Not at the time and not as a memory. But I was busy then with education, work, and friends, with being young in New York City. And it was never meant to last beyond a summer. Perhaps you sensed my ambivalence, which led you to cling more tightly, demand more belligerently.
I tried to end things more than once. When it became apparent you wouldn’t ‘allow’ it, I joined the Peace Corps and left for Thailand. A pretty imaginative way to break-up, don’t you think?
Two years later, returning to New York, I was more confident, a young woman embarking on a new chapter in her life. Somehow, once again, you felt ‘left behind’. And this was intolerable. You began harassing me—in person, on the phone, by mail.
There were fraught discussions with friends.
“How is it that he doesn’t get his behaviour is irrational?” I’d ask. “Why would he want to force himself on someone who wants nothing to do with him?”
Everyone was as equally bewildered; no one had an answer.
At some stage, you learned I left some things in my upcountry Thai village. Because it was difficult to say goodbye, leaving personal belongings behind was my way of saying to dear friends (and to myself) that I would one day return. Many letters were included in those items, some from you. Through an acquaintance, I later learned you got on a plane, went to this remote village, imposed yourself on my friends there, and took my things. That is not a normal thing to do. It’s when I first understood what you might be capable of.
When I married, I was happy to change my name. ‘Adair’, I took from my grandmother. ‘Jones’, from my husband. Over the years, friends have been surprised.
“I wouldn’t have expected you, of all people, to change your name.”
But it meant that I was divorced from my past; that I had some control over who knew the facts of my life; that I was harder to find; and that if you found me, I’d know you had crossed boundaries yet again.
When I was pregnant with my first child, you got on a New York City bus I rode regularly. Occupied with a book, I only noticed it was you when you stood up angrily after a few blocks, shoved some innocent people out of your way, and got off. I chalked it up to chance.
Some time later, holding my beautiful infant in my arms, the same thing happened. This time I saw you. You walked past. You sat in the seat behind us. It was a crowded bus at a busy time of day. I wasn’t exactly afraid, but I was sickened by the idea that you were gazing on the soft head of my baby while she slept.
Chance again? I don’t know.
Of course, the Internet provides a universe of stalking possibilities. Though I hadn’t lived in New York City for years, though my current name had no connection to the one I was born with, it wasn’t long before you found me.
When your emails began appearing in my inbox, I ignored them. While I felt there was something a little weird about how much you knew about my life, I was more bothered by the fact you were still looking for me.
Then, a friend said, “What are you worried about? It’s no big deal. A Google search is the best way to locate the people you’ve lost touch with. Everyone’s doing it.”
I was persuaded. After all, there was a continent and an ocean between us, not to mention two decades in time. I replied with caution but no lack of good will. This proved to be a mistake.
The floodgates opened and you responded with pages of bitter, abusive, even violent vitriol, much of which was incomprehensible—the rantings of someone who was clearly not functioning rationally.
Kicking myself for believing you might have changed, I again asked that you not contact me.
After your last message, I consulted a friend of mine who’s a psychiatrist.
“Sounds like narcissistic personality disorder with a strong association with obsessional stalking behaviour probably originating from a deep feeling of insecurity and a lack of esteem.”
“Narcissists can be controlling, blaming, self-absorbed, intolerant of others’ views, unaware both of other’s needs and of the effects of their behavior on others. They are insistent that others see them as they wish to be seen rather than how they really are.”
“Such a person attempts to control others from expressing critical comment and also bearing witness to his abusive and controlling behaviours, usually by using threats and even violence to get his way. Narcissists often exhibit blind rage when frustrated, contradicted, or confronted.”
So what do I do?
“Document. Keep a record of everything. Every email, every comment. Narcissists lack a mature conscience. He doesn’t care how you feel being stalked, threatened, or raged at by him—none of that enters into a mind that’s incapable of empathy. But he will be restrained by the fear of punishment and possible damage to his reputation.”
She gives me a hug. “Don’t look so glum. After all, there’s a continent and an ocean between you. It’s not worth the trouble.”
Then, with a cheeky grin, she adds: “Especially not when he can blog-stalk you.”
The guy in the baseball cap
I’m sitting in a café, scribbling in a notebook. After half an hour of intense concentration, I become aware of a man at a table nearby. And I freeze. From where I’m sitting, he looks exactly like you. By my calculation, he’s approximately two decades greyer, frailer, and appropriately stooped. His clothes are the same as those you’d always worn. The glasses, the beard, the baseball cap—all the same. He’s reading the newspaper seemingly unaware of me.
I can’t be sure it’s you, but if it is, this is no coincidence. We’re at an out-of-the-way café in a suburb tourists don’t normally visit. What’s more unsettling, though, is that I can’t be sure it’s not you. Perhaps the man in the baseball cap is only pretending to read the paper; perhaps he’s acutely aware of me; perhaps it is you after all, and a continent and an ocean and two decades in time are meaningless.
I make a plan. I’ll gather up my things, walk off unconcerned, then find a place to look back unobserved. I do all this. Nothing. The man in the baseball cap has not looked up.
Two days later, I see the same man again, this time at a local pizza shop. I’m holding the hand of my youngest. My son is ahead practicing par course on various structures and landmarks. Outside the shop, the man in the baseball cap is waiting. I can see he’s noticed my son, who is unmissable doing a handstand on a railing. My son leaps off then grabs the lower branch of a tree.
“Watch this!” he shouts.
A small crowd forms. I move near enough to the man in the baseball cap to get a closer look. I’m not afraid anymore. I’m mad. If it’s you, I want to know.
Perhaps he’s felt my gaze, because he looks up and into my eyes. He smiles and makes a comment about my son’s acrobatics. The resemblance is uncanny—even his voice. The man in the baseball cap is identical to you, looks exactly the way you might look now; but he isn’t you.
What I’ve learned is that I’m not twenty anymore. I don’t need to run away or change my name or hide behind corners or think that any guy in a baseball cap could be you behaving in some creepy way. I’m not haunted. I’m just someone who once made a mistake and got involved with the wrong person.
I’m fit. I’m strong. With a gorgeous family, wonderful friends, fulfilling work. Your Australian doppelganger has shown me that twenty years have passed for you too, given me a hint what that means.
The asymmetry is startling. It’s no match. But this time, things are in my favour.
(For anyone who’s interested, see ‘Last Rant of a Spurned Madman‘ for a snippet of the kind of thing he’s written to me sandwiched between a few lines of fiction.)