In 2011, I took some time away from my duties as a Rooftop blogger/interviewer because I was finishing up a project; I wanted to devote my time to its final touches.
That project was my first book, titled I Was a White Knight… Once. It is a memoir that discusses my upbringing: ten cities, ten schools, and ten sets of friends within the first decade of my life, and parents whose volatile marriage sparked more than one horrific memory (including my mother’s ride on the hood of the family car to keep her estranged husband from taking the kids). It moves across the country and around the world, telling tales of performing for American soldiers stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
One life-story takes place in the mid-1990s, when a female stalker entered my life. We discovered one another via an email list of a mutual friend, Pete. Remember, the 1990s were a time before Facebook, MySpace, or any other form of social networking. Email was the hippest thing being online had to offer, so when you met someone new, it was pretty nifty. The fact you were chatting up someone of the opposite gender made it all the more enticing, as this was a time of Internet ignorance; long before Chris Hansen showed us that the thirteen-year-old girl a pervert thought he was talking to was actually a cop, people naturally assumed the person you were interacting with was exactly who they said they were.
In retrospect, we were indeed very naïve.
The following passage is about my time being stalked, and it takes place within Chapter Eight: An Attraction to the Idea of Me.
The segment has been edited for length, and picks up as I begin to understand just exactly what I have gotten myself into regarding the mysterious woman from the Internet…
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Two weeks later I received a female condom in the mail. If you’ve never seen a female condom, it’s akin to a windsock at an airport; like a Magnum condom times twenty. This makes it very big, and therefore very intimidating… until you realize you do not wear the condom. No, it goes inside her, meaning every thrust you perform will involve rubbing against plastic. Basically, you’re going to be making love to a Hefty bag, which is neither enticing nor romantic.
I thought it was an odd gift, as our interactions had never been anything more than friendly. We got along easily, but never discussed any sort of sexual attraction and had never even exchanged photos. A note was attached to the condom; it read, “Save this, I’m coming to visit.” In my imagination, should this woman happen to look like, say, Jennifer Aniston, I would be in heaven. No being dummy, I did not believe fortune would smile upon me so and became cautious. I asked Pete if I should be afraid. His single word reply was, “Yes.”
[Note: in the mid-1990s Jennifer Aniston was exceedingly desirable; she had yet to wear the stench of John Mayer.]
Jean manned up first and asked for a picture of me. Playing off Pete’s chillingly brief warning, I sent a photo of me skydiving. My head was bowed and the protective, centimeter-thin helmet—a helmet obviously designed to protect my skull if my chute didn’t open and I fell 8,000 feet to the ground— this helmet hid my face in the picture. I gave no indication of my looks and did so half as a joke, half for identity protection. Jean emailed me that she loved the picture and that she had hung it in the middle of the living room she shared with four roommates. They told her I was “something special,” which scared me more than Pete’s warning. Not only did I have no idea how I was being described to deserve such a compliment, but I hadn’t really told anyone about her. There was nothing to tell. I was exchanging emails with a random woman, big whoop. To me, she was a neat correspondence with a hint of “could-be” fantasy and nothing more. But I was common knowledge to her friends? Creepy.
The condom was followed by a string of erotic messages left in my email account, each more graphic than the one before. They began to detail what she wanted to do to me and how her visit was going to be “the best night of my life.” Though several weeks had passed since I sent my picture, the favor had not yet been returned, a definite cause for alarm.
I immediately cut the number of messages I responded to in half. Where to this point I had always dropped a decent reply every time she contacted me, I now began sending short notes to roughly every third one. A detailed account of actions she was going to perform on my body would receive, “Just got home from work, got your letter, am too tired to write” in response. She used my shying away as a sign to double her efforts, and began sending two or three emails a day. Some would be violently angry, complaining about her life or job or boss, then mid-paragraph she would make the most bizarre switch into how I would rescue her from her mundane existence.
“I hate my job! Everyone I work with is stupid! I need a vacation. Can you perform oral sex for several hours in a row?” is a direct quote.
I was told my picture was masturbation material and I received a second package in my physical mailbox. Nothing sexual this time, thankfully, but instead several small, peculiar, gifts. According to the accompanying note, she thought of me when she saw each item and decided to buy and send them. One trinket was a bizarre looking plastic mug shaped like a cartoon vampire, another was a Frankenstein refrigerator magnet. As I didn’t have a particular affection for old horror movies and had never hinted to her I might, why these reminded her of me I do not know.
I decided I needed to stop being a pussy and just get everything out on the table. Where was she going with all of this, what did she look like, and what did she think we had going on?
Her reply was hesitatingly honest, and I felt somewhat ashamed.
“I am a little self-conscious because I am surrounded by women who eat red meat all the time and never exercise,” she wrote. “It wears off on me and makes me lazy.”
At the end of the note, she dropped a mini-bomb; “By the way, I’ll be visiting friends in Wisconsin in two weeks, and on December 28th we’re going to road-trip to Milwaukee to meet you. You better be home, or else…”
The “or else” was probably meant playfully, but my reaction was immediately the opposite; I felt a little threatened and told her I was going to be out of town. At the time, it was a true statement. There was a photography exhibit at the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art by Andres Serrano, and several friends and I had plans to spend several days visiting the Windy City.
Jean was furious. “ASSHOLE MOTHERFUCKER BASTARD SHITBAG ASSHOLE MOTHERFUCKER” was left in my inbox the very next day. “I AM COMING TO MEET YOU WHETHER OR NOT YOU WANT ME TO, SO YOU BETTER FIND TIME FOR ME TO DO SO BEFORE I LEAVE ON SUNDAY!”
Her “How to Win Friends and Influence People” response sealed the deal. I told her my schedule was full and that there was nothing I could do about it. Because of that, I received another thrashing. I also received an oddly timed surprise. On the same day her second email of anger and spite found its way into my inbox, my actual mailbox received an envelope from her, something obviously mailed before I told her I wouldn’t be around for her visit. Gathering up great courage, Jean had finally sent her picture. The note with it read, “Just wanted to send something so you’d know who was knocking at your door when I get there.”
The picture was only her face, which was enough. As cruel as it sounds, it was a face that created the phrase, “Only a mother could love.” As much as I knew I was dealing with an easily wounded ego, I was also concerned with the tone of her emails and entirely sure I didn’t want to end up in a room alone with her.
Two weeks passed quickly, with Jean continuing to insist she was going to meet me no matter what. Unfortunately, my plans to visit Chicago fell apart, and I couldn’t think of any way to get out of town for the weekend. I picked up a couple bartending shifts at work and figured that in the least I just wouldn’t answer my door on the 28th.
As if on cue, at one o’clock that very afternoon, I was home alone, sitting in my room reading when the door buzzer went off. Someone was in the lobby. I closed my book and frowned; no one ever visited my apartment.
The door buzzed again, and as I got up cautiously the door buzzed a third time. I decided against answering, and instead walked into the living room and sat down behind a plant next to the window. From this vantage point I could see the front porch; my apartment was on the first floor, and when the person left I would know who it was. If a friend, I would knock on the window, bid them back and explain my childish behavior. If not…
The door buzzed. Two minutes had passed since the first time, meaning this person was persistent. I remained seated. Two more minutes passed filled with intermittent buzzing. I became irritated. When calling someone, how many rings do you wait before deciding no one is home? Twenty? Fifty? This was absurd. What was running through this person’s mind? “Hey, maybe someone’s home, but they’re in the shower. If I keep ringing, they’ll get out and come to the door!” I have no idea the person in the lobby was thinking.
After six minutes, the front door to the building opened. My mystery woman from South Dakota stepped out, shook her head, and walked away. As cruel as this is to say, her description of being “lazy” told only half the story. She was roughly 5’4″ and topped 250 pounds easily. I could see where the self-esteem problem came from, but the aggression that went with it is what had me on edge.
I went back to my bedroom, and moments later the door buzzer went off and was held for ten seconds. While not a long time in most cases, when listening to a door buzzer it is an eternity. I wondered if she had somehow seen me step away from the living room window?
Three short bursts filled the air, followed by silence. I began reading again and after several hours took a peek out the window. I didn’t see her waiting for me, so I made my way to my car went to work undisturbed.
After my shift, I went out with co-workers and finally returned home and went to bed around 6:00 a.m. At 9:00 a.m. my alarm went off; I was driving North for the day to visit a friend. I got up from my three-hour nap and called him, checking to make sure he was awake when the door buzzer went off. I excused myself from the phone and hung up.
Something didn’t feel right.
I took my hidden seat by the window, and waited. The door buzzer sounded repeatedly over three minutes, then paused. Moments later, I heard my neighbor’s door open; the lobby security door soon followed suit. Two seconds later the other apartment door closed and a knock came upon mine. This was not a knock used to wake a person sleeping in on New Year’s morning, but a cautious one, almost too quiet to be effective. Tapping, if you will.
It was repeated several times over the minute it took me to gently tiptoe across my creaky living room floor in order to reach the door. Once I arrived, I looked through the peephole. As sunlight was pouring in behind the figure, all I could see was a dark silhouette. It was very large, and though I couldn’t be 100% positive, who else could it be?
I stood bent over, watching every move, listening to every knock resound a mere inch from my head.
My breathing was light. The figure leaned over. It looked into the peephole from the outside and we were now watching each other separated only by two inches of wood. I had to fight back laughter over the absurdity of the situation, and I stood frozen, so no movement could be seen as she peered inside.
And then, the doorknob turned.
I looked down as it twisted…
This wasn’t a person casually entering a room. Someone was testing waters here, easing their big toe in to check for warmth. The knob reached its crescent and paused. Gentle pressure was applied, and the door creaked in my ear. Someone wanted in. The door moved a millimeter, was halted by the lock, held in place a moment, then relaxed. I returned to the peephole.
The figure stood with slumped shoulders, a defeated pose. Its head looked up and to the side, as if in thought. It retreated into the light and was exposed; though there had been little doubt, it was indeed Jean, and I watched as she looked out the lobby door, back at my apartment, and ultimately left.
I got dressed in twenty seconds and left out the back, un-showered and unconcerned by that stinky fact.
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