I was 23 and had just finished my Master’s degree. I was ready for an adventure with a steady paycheck and insurance.
I landed my dream job as a counselor for youth. So I packed my small car to bursting and headed for a remote rural hamlet in the mountains.
I will never forget the feeling I had as I settled in my new home. My car had broken down and I had no furniture or hot water for my first few weeks, but none of that mattered. It would all work out. I had a dream of making a difference. No hot water, no big deal.
I will also never forget the day I met the man who would become my stalker. I had been in town for two days when my soon-to-be manager invited me to have dinner at her house. I stood in the kitchen as onions sizzled in the skillet.
There was a soft mountain breeze coming in from the window when Dave walked in. Laura introduced us, and he looked at me and said, “Hello, Mik.”
An unexpected gurgle of fear erupted in my stomach. I had an intense desire to hop out the window and run as far away from him as I could.
Each time I interacted with Dave, I felt sheer panic. Heart-pounding, sweaty-palmed, cornered animal panic. I felt so silly to overreact in this fashion. I tried talking to my manager, Laura, about it. She told me I was secretly in love with Dave.
Things escalated when Dave asked me out and I said no. He didn’t like to be told no.
For the next 6 months, he followed me when I hiked in the woods. He showed up at my job. He inserted himself into my life wherever he could, while I withdrew more and more into myself.
One night, as I lay reading in bed, I heard the crunch of gravel. It was late, and I lived alone. I peeked out my window, and there was Dave. Sitting on the hood of his car staring at my bedroom window.
My throat caught. I went back to my bed after turning out all the lights, trying to hide myself in darkness. My childhood taught me you don’t call the police, you don’t tell a man “no,” and this was reinforced by my new community.
I lay in bed, stiff as a plank of wood, hardly daring to breathe, as Dave walked around and around my small apartment, like a predatory animal circling his prey.
It all came to a head on the day I returned home from work and saw my side table was out of place. I ventured further into my apartment and found other little things askew.
My bills were spread out on my desk instead of a neat stack in the drawer. The dresser drawer that housed my intimates was left open with a pair of underwear missing.
This was a small, rural community where everyone knew everyone. When I dared to accuse one of their men, they didn’t believe me. I was an interloper in their eyes, and I felt alone, scared and desperate. I was breaking apart and had stopped sleeping. Nowhere felt safe.
Finally, I left. I packed only what would fit in my small Saturn, bought a map and plotted my travels back home.
Now that many years have gone by, I wish I could grab my 23-year-old self by the shoulders and remind her of some important truths.
1. Trust your gut!
When Dave first walked into my new boss's kitchen and shook my hand, my stomach knotted in anxiety. I wanted to jump out the window and run away from him.
I felt silly for my first response to Dave. But my gut was right. Believe in yourself! More often than not, my intuition is correct. And if it is not, that is OK, too. My emotional and physical safety is more important than a little embarrassment.
2. It isn’t your fault.
I didn’t "ask for it" or do anything to make him stalk me. My “no” was not honored. Even years after I fled, I felt like the stalking was my fault. People said, “You were vulnerable. You lacked confidence. You were new to the community and far from those who cared. You were isolated.”
No matter whether all of those things were true or not, Dave made a choice to violate me. I didn’t make him do it to me. It isn’t my fault.
3. Report it to the police.
At first I reached out to the people in my new community – only to be told I was silly, or imagining things, or looking for attention. I stayed in a very unhealthy situation for too long because I lacked support and was afraid to walk away.
Predators don’t stop preying. They just find new victims. No matter how it feels, report it to the police! My biggest regret is not reporting my situation to the police. Perpetrators like this thrive on silence, and speaking up makes a difference.
4. You are valuable.
Nine months of being preyed upon. Nine months of not being heard when asking for help. Those painful months don’t change how much value I have as a human being. The most important thing I needed to remember was my worth. I am strong and beautiful, and it is never OK to be taken advantage of.
5. Seek help.
The sleepless nights. The heart-racing anxiety. The way I obsessively check that the front door is really locked. The derogatory way I talked about myself. Being stalked impacted me greatly, and for a long time after I left the situation.
It was important to talk to a professional after stalking, to help me find my equilibrium and trust in myself again.
If you find yourself in a situation like this, please seek help.