Last year, I managed a café bar. My days were extremely slow, so when a reasonably charming writer came in and expressed interest in wasting my time, I took the bait. We chatted. He was a little self-involved and didn't seem to remotely understand what it was that I did (or that anyone but him could be a writer), but I was bored enough to listen to him talk about his own self-published novel for a few hours.
He stared me down with ominous intensity, but I thought nothing of it — until he came in the next day with a friend, stared at me for three hours, and spoke to me as if I'd known him for 10 years. He proceeded to stand over me as I ate my dinner and list all the items on my plate (there weren't many, granted, but it took some time).
I soon tweeted facetiously: "I have a new stalker, guys! I'm stoked! I hope he's rich!"
The next day, my boss told me that said creeper had been in and, instead of his usual three-hour eyeball party, had asked for me before downing his coffee and leaving. I was flattered, if a little weirded out.
Things were quiet until he came in on a Wednesday with a beautiful, eccentric girl, and he didn't speak to me at all. When she came in alone the next day, I had to know more and got to talking to her, soon realizing that she was the coolest, and far too good for his antics.
He often hung around past my shift ending to ensure he could catch me on the way out. One day, he invited me to his house and, out of curiosity, I agreed, only to discover that it was almost directly opposite my house. Of course.
Astonished that I didn't find binoculars on the windowsill, I observed my surroundings. What I saw was more akin to Patrick Bateman's apartment than a home. Orchids, white sofa, white appliances. Clean. Possibly bleached to remove bloodstains. No DVDs, no posters. Just a few carefully cultivated books to get across just how intelligent he was.
I sat for an hour and clutched my cordial glass as he stared me down and talked endlessly, probing me with questions and acting as if the reason he asked them was because he was just so honest.
Have you ever been with a woman?
Have you ever had a threesome?
Where do you stand on cheating on your boyfriend?
Did you know I would drink Mena Suvari's blood? No, mate, but I do now.
He quickly moved past small talk and moved to the heart of the conversation and the reason for the invite: his discomfort at my budding friendship with his girlfriend.
"She's my pussy," he stated simply, charming as ever. I told him that I was fond of her. He said that, in that case, she was considering she might be bisexual, so would I get involved? I declined.
His fascination extended to relatively persistent texts, telling me he had seen me out running with my dog or asking when I was working. He would make strangely specific comments on my hands or ask if he could touch my "dainty waist." His regular café visits usually devolved into threesome talk as his girlfriend and I laughed at him, her being my only comrade in understanding his bizarre intensity.
It was his proclivity for staring at me that I found most unsettling. Ann Rule once wrote that when Ted Bundy stared at you it felt as if you were the only one in the room, but once he stopped, it was as if a light had been turned off. I wanted, desperately, for someone to turn the fucking light off.
But I also wanted to be around his girlfriend, so I continued. We went to parties where his ego was so bruised at our new friendship that he would repeat, constantly, "You wouldn't even KNOW each other without me!" like a baby having a tantrum that two of his friends had clicked in the schoolyard. As a notoriously awkward person who finds comfort in comedy, I found his sincerity was alarming.
He once asked me how I learned to write, and when I responded, "in school," he was less than impressed. His favorite topic was himself, and when I read his novel, he pressed me constantly to get an honest review out of me. I told him it was great, that he was talented. Any further and I would have told him that I didn't actually need to read another self-published anti-internet ode to sex by a middling beginner.
"You should tell everyone that you know me. I'm going to be huge," he once told me.
He obviously suffered from such low self-esteem that led to delusions and claims of grandeur, which enabled me to feel some sympathy — for his girlfriend, mostly. We spoke at length about him, and when she met my boyfriend, she threatened to have a threesome with us instead. Patrick was not pleased. He had a near-breakdown and threatened to storm off.
I wanted to laugh, but I also almost felt some empathy for his evidently tragically low self-esteem. But self-conscious doesn't means harmless. I think often of the times we went to drink and his possessive nature over his girlfriend was distracting, the way he always had at least one hand on her neck and would talk about her body and sex life at length to strangers.
He might never have been outwardly threatening, but his attitude of "I want it, I take it" was there. The way he made a point about telling me all of the details of his sex life and just how many hundreds of women he had "had." He warned me that he would be writing a sex memoir one day, and I laughed. Then felt a little bad — once again, for his girlfriend.
They finally broke up, and I had her to myself without ever having to see him again. Through shared skeeve at his weirdness, she and I clicked. We mocked him and worked through our own fear that we might end up headless at his hand. His intensity was a source of horror and comedy, his need to look directly in his eyes as he told me, so self-assured, "I am going to be the next Spike Jonze, only better."
His constant repetition of asking why she and I were friends, why we talked, did we talk about him — and his anguish when we said no, actually, we have more important things to discuss. Every run-in I had with him outside my house, at the train station, outside work — he would insist on telling me about his open relationship, as if it made any difference to my own very closed one.
When I thought the saga was over, I went for dinner with her in hopes of catching up. We checked into the restaurant on Facebook. Forty minutes later, he walked past the restaurant just as we left at 7 p.m. on a Sunday night.
"I was going to cross over... to avoid you," he said. Sure.
We hugged awkwardly. She and I laughed a lot.
The fact is that we could have seen this situation — his obsession, trying to engender jealousy and spark three-ways, his persistent intensity — as a source of distrust between women. She could have hated me, seen me as the the reason for his attempted infidelity. All I saw in her was someone much smarter than him, getting exactly what she needed out of their situation and getting out.
She and I had an unusual yet valid opportunity for friendship. We bonded over our shared experience of being in the narrow-beam searchlight of a potential stalker, and our friendship rose far above the man that brought us together.