“So I have a stalker,” is a sentence I’ve said to numerous people in the last year and a half. It’s not a sentence I ever thought I would say. It’s not a sentence I ever wanted to say. Yet here I am, repeating it over and over and over again. To friends, to roommates, to coworkers, to my employers, to my sister, to my brother, to my parents.
I have a stalker.
It’s always an awkward conversation to have; it starts with a desire to reassure whomever Ii’m telling that I’m fine – physically. A quiet and tentative, “so I have bad news, but it’s alright and I’m not hurt”. To let them know that I’m not in immediate danger – that I know of. That they don’t have to worry – I’ll worry enough for all of us. Then comes the reveal.
Four years ago, I moved out of my parents house and took those first steps into terrifying independent adulthood. Living with people other than my parents for the first time with nothing but some savings and a brash sort of reckless hope that things would work out. I didn’t tell my parents that of course, when I told them I was moving out it was with the assurance I had a plan, a job lined up, and would be fine.
I didn’t really have a plan, nor a job lined up, but I was fine. Better than fine. The independence was what I needed to grow, and I don’t regret it for a second. My new life wasn’t easy, but it was mine and soon became my new normal.
Then I got an email.
Out of the blue, from a name I hadn’t seen in years, I opened it, curious. I thought nothing of it at the time; just that it was an old high school acquaintance attempting to get back in touch.
I don’t remember exactly what the email said, it was lengthy, and at times difficult to follow. I do remember what I felt while reading it: freaked the fuck out.
Passages that described how I was this person’s “perfect woman”, a clear idealized image of me that wasn’t rooted in any sort of truth but a made up fantasy. A rose colored remembrance of a one year high school friendship. I had remembered those times fondly, it wasn’t a deep friendship but it had been a nice one. Now those memories were twisted, tainted by obsession and dehumanization. Coupled with the creepy obsession notes, were entire paragraphs dedicated to faith and his finding God. Apparently God had created me just for him, who knew?
I showed my then roommates. I remember at the time thinking how ridiculous this was. Things like this don’t actually happen unless it’s a Lifetime movie. Where was my dramatic string music? Would they get an actual Latina actress to play me? Doubtful.
I didn’t take it very seriously. Sure I was creeped out, but we all laughed at it. My roommates recommended deleting the email and just blocking the address. So that’s what I did and for the next couple years it was all out of sight out of mind. While I went on to build my career, working for a well known and respected cosplayer, learning the ins and outs of being a comic retailer, writing for two amazing comic websites, and eventually finding a place as an editor for an indie comic publisher. It was a whirlwind of opportunities, meeting new people, and building myself up from the shy, soft spoken, depressed child of my past.
Then I saw his emails.
I had been checking my spam folder looking for an email from my younger sister when I spotted his email address. I remember feeling shocked he was still emailing me after what was then two or three years since his original email. I didn’t both reading what his emails said, but on a whim, mostly because of my own paranoia, I saved the emails. Then moved on for a while.
Curiosity struck me again, and I checked my spam folder a few weeks later. He emailed me again, this time with news that sent a surprised jolt of fear through me.
He had attended a convention he believed I would be at and attempted to find me. It was a convention a friend had helped develop so I tweeted about it in support. My stalker got the wrong message and had believed I would be there. He detailed the adventure, telling me how he looked for me, attempted to get in touch with me so we could meet up, and how he had wanted to see the newest Avengers film with me.
It left me shaken.
Where before he was out of sight, out of mind, now I learned he was trying to make contact with me. I blocked his name on all my social platforms – which at the time only included Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr. I naively thought if I just refused his friend request and blocked his other accounts it would stop. He would just quietly go back to being out of sight and eventually, out of mind.
I soon found he created new accounts under new usernames and was continuing to follow my every move on social media. His emails never stopped and I began saving each one I saw come through. They would range in topic wildly, their one constant was an obsessive focus on my life and a growing delusion about his place in it.
Sometimes he would talk about a show or book I mentioned on Twitter. If I talked about Fruits Basket, or watching Inu-yasha with my friends, he would start reading the series and watching the show. Giving me his play-by-play for each chapter and episode in detail. If I posted a picture on my Instagram, he would tell me how beautiful I looked, how crazy it made him. Once he thanked me for wearing a Marvel comics dress telling me how I wore it because I knew he would like it. He would also scold me for how I spoke on Twitter or Instagram, tell me I was being to aggressive, call me his wife, tell me I shouldn’t talk about sex because I had him. In October of last year he wrote:
I saw your instagram post of your outfits. I think you look great. The orange dress with the lilies made me smile. I’m even glad I got to see how you looked even though I couldn’t be there. I thank you so much for that. I always thought you are attractive because of how feminine you are but also how you treated me. What I’m mourning about right now is the cat calling and attention you are getting. You like that? I hope not. If you allow it its only going to continue, and I don’t want you to get caught in another snare of the enemy.
I have the idea that I’m free to read whatever I want, but when my heart isn’t right that isn’t something I can do. I need peace within me; and I just don’t have that right now and I don’t understand why. Please pray for me. Pray for my peace and good mental health, but not to some cat god, but to our heavenly Father; Jesus Christ being our only mediator. Don’t joke about religion. Certain things you don’t joke about but that is definitely one of them. I say this because I care for your soul and that you don’t put it in danger. The Bible never teaches anything negative about undefiled religion. In fact one bible verse saysJames 1:27Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.So when people talk bad about religion, I just think their ignorant.
As for the law, the law is good if used lawfully (1 Timothy 1:8). Consider what the world would be like if there were no speed limits on the road. It would be chaos. So I respect the law, and see it as a schoolmaster to bring us to the end of ourselves and to Christ. Galatians 3:24-25 When I look at the law of Moses, I see shadows of the final sacrifice, which was Jesus. His blood was shed in our place.The reason I studied the laws of God is so that I understand what is pleasing in his site; because if I don’t have peace with God how will I have peace in my life and with the people around me? The reason I don’t always rebuke others when I see they are at fault is because I assume that people should know better. I don’t enjoy correcting people. God has spoken through his Word, but I’m afraid most people either have not listened or are just rebellious.Exodus 22:21
Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.But how often do we see people on social media slander others with the purpose of vexing them; people they don’t know? It happens all the time. I’m sick of it.I observe the law, not because by keeping it am I saved, but so that if I do have success in life it’ll be good success. Not much different than observing the speed-limit. Nobody can keep the whole law perfectly and that is why the Father gave his Son, Jesus Christ, so that in the areas we fall short there might be mercy and grace for us.The scriptures have always taught that if his people would repent from their wicked ways that God would heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14I’m not Jesus Christ so I can’t say whether everything I’m saying is without error, but I know that because of what he taught I should to say something, because maybe there is something you aren’t aware of. I also have not accused you or anybody of anything, but I warn you since my spirit has been trouble by what I’ve seen and read lately and I can’t ignore these feelings.Today I challenge you to self evaluate, and see what you can do to be better, because what we say and do does have an effect in the earth. Let’s continue to build one another up in the Lord and do good. Amen?That’s it for my preaching. I don’t consider myself a preacher or teacher at all, or even that you need me to teach you, but I do feel that these things need to be said.
This was all triggered by a joke I made to a friend about worshiping a cat god on Instagram.
In another email dated Jan 6, 2019 he wrote:
It doesn’t matter that I’ve never posted any nudity on my Twitter page, Instagram, Facebook, or otherwise. Even if I had posted all the female presenting nipples in the world it wouldn’t be cause for this stranger to continuous attempt to assert control over my life.
Yet, it was control he was getting.
After a couple months I stopped posting much of anything on my Twitter, and Instagram. I deleted my Tumblr. My Facebook has always been private but even interacting there was a struggle. I often use social media to network with others for work. I’ve met fellow creatives, applied for opportunities, discussed projects, built relationships, and made friends in the various Facebook groups, Twitter conversations, and Instagram posts. A huge part of my job is promoting my own work, I got my start writing articles and essays through online media. I took pride in talking about what I was writing next, sharing with people my finished work. I’ve met amazing people on Twitter and built long-lasting relationships with many in my industry.
All that slowed, and finally halted because of him.
It became too exhausting to engage with people online, even with friends unless it was kept to tightly locked private messages. I was promoted a last year, I wanted to share that with people and he tainted it. I couldn’t even talk about mundane things like my love of Yu-Gi-Oh anymore. It wasn’t worth the eventual email I knew would show up in my inbox.
I’m sure people would wonder why I would even read his emails. For the most part I would skim them, only to see if he had attempted to make physical contact again and to save them. The one time I didn’t check my email for one of his messages, he showed up in my city.
I had been working at home, it was a normal day. Deadlines, meetings, emails, my cat and a cup of coffee in my favorite Saitama mug. Then I got a call from a former employer, the owner of the comic shop I worked at. I had told her the “I have a stalker” story a couple months prior since he had emailed me about the shop saying he felt like, “his wife” was inviting him to come visit.
We laughed it off. He would never show up here! But just in case I kept saying. Just in case, this is his name and what he looks like. Just in case was such an abstract thing. A step away from fiction. This had all been kept to the internet after all. It was stressful but manageable. I was fine. He would never show up in my city. But just in case here is his name, and here is what he looks like.
My phone rang, it was usual call from my former employer out of the blue. I answered, happy if confused, and then she said, “I think your stalker is here.”
I have a history of blackouts that are caused by extreme panic attacks. My entire body shuts down leaving me immobile save for painful tremors throughout my body that come in waves. My vision bleeds black around the edges, my lungs stutter, and softly my knees will give out. It’s a bit like falling asleep except you wake up frightened, and completely unable to move.
In the last couple years I’ve only had about two major panic attacks as I can usually manage my anxiety enough so I don’t blackout completely. That day, it was an extremely close call. I could feel my lungs squeeze when she said those words. A fist through my chest as the panic of being unsafe washed through my body.
He was here.
In my city, near me, close enough to find me. This stranger who has been growing more and more deluded about me, our imagined relationship. This stranger who had slowly and subtly affected my life to such a degree he had stopped an entire piece of my life. A stranger who was suddenly so close, invading a place I felt sure I was safe in.
He eventually left the store, emailing me once more to inform me that he had moved to my state, settling here with family while he continued to going to school. I don’t know if he’s still here, it’s been months now since he showed up unexpected, and unwanted at my former workplace.
Afterwards, I was to scared to go places on my own for months. What if he appeared at the grocery store I regularly go to? What if he appeared while I was out shopping for makeup at Target? Or getting a birthday present for a friend at the mall? What if the knocking on my door was him? He suddenly had the potential to be everywhere and that terrified me.
What would he do to me if we met? If the physical contact he was so desperately seeking happened? I thought about this with a sense of heaviness and paranoia. I know four people in my life who have been raped or otherwise sexually assaulted. I know the trauma it causes, I know what could happen so easily.
I began to have nightmares, especially before I traveled. I struggled to sleep to the point where I needed to take medical sleep aids to cope. Some days I would wake feeling unbearably depressed, distracted, and disinterested in both my work and hobbies. I stopped writing, I stopped reading, I stopped going out near all together unless it was to get food and even then it was more often with my roommate than not.
Not every day was bad, some days I was perfectly fine. I woke up feeling energized, I went out on my own with no sense of fear, I felt like I could breath. Movies paint depression as something romantic almost, all consuming blue tinted soft sadness that you feel everyday. In reality, my depression came in waves. Some days I could swim out to sea just fine, the sun shining, a smile on my face feeling genuinely fine. Then other days, I couldn’t move, felt adrift, lethargic, wondering if my nightmares might come true one day.
My apartment is gated, a code is required to gain access to any of the buildings. I happen to be the type of person who doesn’t answer their phone for numbers I don’t know. To many telemarketers and or college recruiters. So when I saw my phone ringing with a strange number I texted back I was unavailable please text. This usually gets rid of most cold callers. This time, my mysterious number responded with a simple, “I have a gift for Desiree Rodriguez”.
I froze. In that moment all I could think was he found me, he finally found me. The delivery person was buzzed in, I can’t recall if I let him in or another resident or the office. My mind at the time was whirling with panic. I don’t even remember thinking beyond, he found me, my stalker found me. I answered the door, the delivery man smiled politely, and gave me my gift of an edible arrangement. I placed it on my kitchen counter, dreading opening the card. Fearing something sickeningly sweet, and equally possessive.
I opened the card, “Get Well Soon, from Lion Forge” it had read in clean typed script.
The panic that I had felt at that moment washed away. My knees almost gave out at the sense of relief that swept through my body. I sat down, I didn’t cry, but it was a strange moment, one that had only lasted maybe two minutes but felt like an emotional hour.
The gift was to wish me a good recovery on the eye surgery I had recently gotten. Post-surgery had been difficult, with my one eye swelling shut for near three days and a general inability to see. I was in great pain, and deeply frustrated with not being able to work – my one steady constant. I had informed my employers that I was struggling to see but had recovered enough to be able to work. I remember joking with them that I still had one good eye and that was good enough.
They sent me a get well gift; it was a sweet gesture, an honest one, an appreciated one. A gesture that felt mildly tainted by the fear that had followed before it. I remember growing angry. How dare he take that from me? How dare this stranger take what should have been a happy, pleasant surprise, and twist it into something ugly?
There were those days too. Days when I would just be angry, when the temptation to say something on Twitter or Instagram that I knew would provoke him crept up. Snaked its way into my fingers and cried to be fulfilled. I never gave in, which only made me even more frustrated. The control he had was growing, and I hated every moment of it.
I have worked hard, extremely hard, to overcome various obstacles in my life. Things that I keep tightly locked in that only a handful of people know about. Traumas I refuse to share with anyone other than close friends. I struggled and fought to become an independent person. To build a sense of identity and self-acceptance. To prove I was worthy of something. To consider myself to be a person of worth. I don’t take pride in much, I’ve always tried to be as humble as possible, but I took pride in being independent.
And he was slowly taking that away from me.
I realized that it had only been a year since I begun keeping track and saving his emails. A year. A single year and it felt so much longer. It had become such an oppressive force in my life and it had only been a year. A year of slowly feeling more and more unsafe. A year of escalating delusions and behaviors. A year of this invasion into my life.
How much longer could I go on like this? This was no longer out of sight, out of mind, this was on my mind almost every day. This was in my home, in my life, in my dreams at night. No longer.
I contacted a lawyer. They advised I file a police report. Before doing that I felt compelled to tell my family everything that had been happening in the last year. I had kept it from them one part to stop them from worrying and the other part because I was afraid they’d see me as weak.
My sister was creeped out, my brother was angry, my mother was scared. Telling my father was the hardest.
It hurt to tell him. I remember begging him to not think that I was weak. I remember apologizing that this was happening, that I was so sorry to bring this into his life. He told me it wasn’t my fault. He also told me to look into getting my gun license. He told me I should delete all my social media and the law wouldn’t be much help.
My Instagram wasn’t as big of an issue, so I set it to private later that day. My Twitter was harder because it was a networking resource as well as a place to promote my work. I don’t have a large following, in fact it’s pretty small, but I still worked hard to build that base. Eventually I decided to set my Twitter private for a small period of time.
He was thoroughly upset. Terribly so. The day after I made my Instagram private he emailed me hurt, asking why he couldn’t see my page anymore and if I had accidentally blocked him. He provided his username so I could “double check” to make sure I hadn’t blocked him. I hadn’t blocked him because I didn’t know his new username.
But I did now.
After blocking him on Instagram the weekend passed and I celebrated my birthday with friends. Feeling lighter, and freer than I had in a long time. Come the work week he had emailed me again, three times in a row, within minutes of each other. Two of his emails were duplicates, and read:
His other email was about sex and masturbation. I didn’t read that one.
I had a police officer come to my house after much coaxing from my friends. I showed him the emails (of which I have sixty-four saved and filed), I explained the situation, I filed the report. The officer game me some advice, ask my lawyer what my legal options were, talk about this publicly if I wanted to, and I felt comfortable email him back telling him I wanted nothing to do with him please stop emailing me. My father was right, there wasn’t much they could do legally, especially since I didn’t know where he was, but at least now it was filed. I had in writing I didn’t want this man near me.
It may be strange to say, but I don’t hate this man, my stalker. Even during the lowest points of this entire ordeal, never have I hated him. I sometimes think I should, I sometimes think I’m stupid not to, yet I don’t. Yes I’ve been angry with his actions, I’ve been terrified of his potential to harm me, and I’ve been simply sad at the state at which his actions have negatively affected me. But thinking of those actions, of each email, each invasion of privacy, each invasion of my personhood, I don’t feel hatred towards him.
I feel pity. I believe he needs help, and I do hope he gets it. Even the officer said it was clear by his emails he didn’t seem to be in the right state of mind. Though I feel a sense of pity towards him I also hold one even stronger belief.
That he needs to stay the fuck away from me. I want him out of my life completely. I may not hate him, but I want nothing to do with him. I want to make very clear, I was never in a relationship with this man, I never invited his feelings, nor have I ever responded to a single email of his.
I struggled with writing this essay. For a long while I decided against it out of fear. What if this upsets him? What is this makes him more angry with me? If he retaliates wouldn’t it be my fault? Am I inviting my own harm by doing this? The answers seem so simple, with anyone else I would say a resounding no to all of the above. But with myself, I still feel conflicted.
My father told me this wasn’t my fault, but also that I had to take steps necessary to keep myself safe. It feels so contradictory in a way. To keep myself safe I have to think about him and take precautions, but I also don’t want to think about him for one second of my day and simply live my life. I want to be able to post a dumb hot take on Twitter without the dread that he’ll soon scold me for what I said. I want to be able to step out of my house without a chaperone. How is that any way to live for the rest of my life? But then, am I not taking my safety seriously enough? If I’m hurt will it be my own fault for not taking self defensive classes (which I am)? Or carrying a gun (which I don’t want to)?
With anyone else I’d say not to blame the victim, but with myself I’m still confused. Caught up in a circular spin cycle of thinking it’s not my fault but the consequences could be my fault. How do I balance that? How do I live with that?
I haven’t found those answers, I’m still not sure if this essay is a good idea. What I do know is writing is one of the few ways I can freely express myself. Writing has always been a comfort to me, it’s been an outlet for my thinking, and my emotions since I was a teenager writing bad poems during class. I don’t pretend that I’m very good at it, but it is a way for me to take back control. To sort through my feelings, to reach out in a small way to others.
My story isn’t that different from many others. According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, there are 7.5 million people in the US who are victims of stalking each year. I don’t even think my story is as bad as others. After all, we still haven’t made any sort of physical contact, and he’s never been overtly crude in his correspondents (except for the sex email I refused to read). Just utterly god damn creepy and increasingly possessive.
However bad or not-bad my experience is, I wanted to write about it, and share it with others. It’s my way of taking back a part of myself. I don’t know if this is a good idea, maybe it’s a terrible one. I honestly don’t have the answers, but I do know that I’m tired.
It’s my life, and I want to be able to live it.