When I moved away from my rural hometown to start college in New York City, I vowed to turn over a new leaf. My high school years had been a testament to my “moon in Aquarius” astrological designation, in that I was frequently “sought out by people living on the fringes of society” and “known for being able to sooth the mentally unstable.” (Note: I just looked that up while procrastinating; it’s totally true.)
By graduation, bearing the emotional burdens of my peers had exhausted by me. I promised myself that, in college, I would stop reaching out to the sad kids.
Unfortunately, I attended a Catholic university. Far from leaving my past as a consoler of the lonely behind, I was entering a den of messed-up youth. Gravitating, as I always do, toward the fringes, I soon found myself surrounded by drug addicts, alcoholics, neurotics, sociopaths, and the victims of repressed sexualities of all stripes. But none of them traumatized me like a person we’ll call “A.”
Ironically, I recognized her immediately as the one person to avoid. The first time I saw her, she was giving a presentation about her struggles with depression, after which I made a beeline back to my room. Her story was sad, but I resolved to keep my distance from her.
But a few nights later, a friend and I went in search of a rumored Blockbuster Video in the neighborhood, because I am old and that’s what you did back then. We ran into A just off campus and said a casual hello. Before we knew it, she’d decided join our search without any invitation from us. She followed us for over an hour.
It was awkward, I thought, but surely it wouldn’t put me in the running for A’s new bestie.
But then I found her sitting on the floor of my dorm room when I came home one night, apparently having told my roommates she would wait for me. We didn’t have plans. But there she was. I said a polite hello and got her out as quickly as I could.
The hint wasn’t taken; she started appearing in my room frequently. So I studied in the library, stayed late in friends’ rooms, and joined extracurriculars. A promptly joined the same clubs: the LGBT alliance, the theater club, and the women’s choir.
To this day, I can’t remember anyone else from that choir, because A didn’t permit me to talk to any of them. She came to my room to collect me before practice, then waited for me after. She sat so close beside on breaks me that nobody could approach me, and she butted in on every conversation I started with anyone else. I was sick to death of her.
Near the end of freshman year, the gruesome housing lottery approached. A caught up to me one day. “So, where should we live next year?” she asked brightly.
“We?” I asked, knowing what she meant, but unwilling to play along.
“We are going to live together, right?” Her tone was self-righteous, as if it were her right to live with me.
“I can’t,” I lied. “I’m rooming with, um, Karly*.”
Karly was one of my few female acquaintances, and she seemed nice enough. Thankfully, when I asked later that day, she agreed to live with me. We nabbed a decent room, and I thought I was free of A at last. But a few days later, A gleefully told me not to worry: She’d gotten the room across the hall! I had not been worried. But now I was.
When sophomore year began, I had a new boyfriend. I was experimenting with party drugs. I landed a lead role in a musical and made it onto the editorial board of the literary magazine. Everything was coming up roses. Except A’s ponderous knock every time she heard my door click shut from across the hall.
A sitting on my bed, watching me study. A following me down the hall and the stairs. A everywhere. She’d track me across campus, to the dining hall, to meetings and practices and parties. Once, when a visiting friend told her that she was not invited to dinner, A informed me later that she’d been very angry about it. As if she deserved to do everything I did, whether I wanted her there or not.
Then one day in the spring, I was drying off after a shower. The bathroom door opened and a familiar footstep approached. It stopped just on the other side of the flimsy curtain.
“Lynsey?” A asked. I wondered how she knew. Had she peeked in? Ew. “I recognize your flip-flops,” she continued, unabashed. “I know it’s you. I wanted to see what you think of my hair.”
“I’ll tell you once I’ve dried off and gotten dressed,” I shot back.
Five minutes later, she stood in my room, grinning. Her moist hair was plastered to her head. “Well?” she demanded. “What do you think?”
I blinked. “Your hair? It’s, um, wet?”
She forced a laugh. “No, silly,” she said with feigned levity while her eyes bored into mine, all seriousness. “It’s red! I dyed it!”
You know that effect they use when there’s a scary, pivotal moment in a movie? When the bass drops and the focus changes so that things are like, zooming in and out at the same time? Yeah, that happened. See, I’ve been a redhead since I was born. These days it’s less vibrant, but in sophomore year of college, it was bright red. And now, so was A’s.
Soon after, I returned home to find Karly, my roommate, in a state of near-hysteria. She’d been on the phone when A came knocking earlier. Karly opened the door a crack to tell her I wasn’t home, but A said she needed come in to borrow something of mine -- not to worry, I’d said it was OK. (I had not.)
Karly told her to come back later, and started to close the door, but A pushed it open and forced her way in. Karly threatened to call campus security, and A left. But Karly was scared. I didn’t blame her.
We taped over the peephole and put a towel under the door so A couldn’t see whether we were moving around inside. We stopped answering the door. We snuck in and out of our room like fugitives. We didn’t call the authorities, though. A was annoying and creepy, but I didn’t want to give her more power by feeling truly afraid of her. And I had other things to worry about. Drugs to take, booze to swill, papers to write.
After a few weeks of total avoidance, she showed up at a theater production for which I was running props. During intermission I passed by A, who was sitting near the aisle. She grabbed my hand, pulling me into the seat beside her, and when I told her that I had to go, she smiled, then leaned over and ran her fingertip, gently, from my neck to my shoulder, as if we were having a romantic dinner. I bolted up, my mouth agape, and walked away.
I found my boyfriend later in the lighting booth. I told him what A had done and snuggled up to him, but he was quiet and awkward about it. When I turned around, there was A. She’d been there before I saw her, and had actually wrapped her arms around me without touching me, to caress his back while I was hugging him. He’d been too freaked out to say anything at the time, and when he told me, I became officially terrified.
But the year was almost over. I’d made arrangements to live off-campus junior year. It would be harder for A to get to me. If I could get through finals and home for the summer, I would be OK. I’d just forget it for now.
Junior year started well. Moving off campus forced a physical distance between myself and A. But then she got a boyfriend, who we’ll call “C” for “Crazypants,” and the two of them showed up at my 21st birthday party. Somehow they’d found out I was having a costume-mandatory theme party, and they arrived in full costume, with their own six-pack. I decided to let them in rather than cause an awkward scene; I was already drunk and feeling magnanimous after months of relative peace.
Most of the other guests had heard of A’s obsessive behavior and avoided her, but she and her guy sat in the corner and drank their beer alone. No harm, no foul, I thought.
Until spring break, when I received an e-mail from C saying that A was visiting him at MIT, and they were having such a great time in Boston! He would love it if I came up! He could get to know me better! I think he mentioned how “taken” he’d been with me at my birthday party, though I’d barely said two words to him.
I didn’t respond. The next day, however, I got an e-mail from A, rewording what he’d said. Except, at the end, she added, “C is really great in bed. You won’t be disappointed.” Apparently, the thinly veiled implications I’d sensed in C’s email were spot-on: they wanted me to come have sex with them.
I felt violated. I asked my boyfriend to call from his phone and make it 100% clear to them both that I would never be interested in them. I should have confronted them myself, but I didn’t. I chickened out. Don’t judge.
Back at school, things escalated. C had come back to New York with A on his spring break, and they were determined to “spend some time” with me. They launched a relentless assault of hourly phone calls, constant e-mails, and ceaseless IMs (because texting and Facebook weren’t really things back then -- like I said, I’m old). I thought of calling the police, but although they were harassing me, A and C hadn’t actually threatened me. I wasn’t sure what they were doing was really illegal.
I ignored them for a few days. The messages became more desperate, laced equally with innuendo and menace. “This is important,” they said. “We need to see you. It’s urgent.”
After half a week I gave in and messaged A. “What do you want?”
“Come to my room,” she answered. “It’s important.”
“No. It’s not important. Leave me alone.”
I signed off IM and turned off my phone. But the next day there were more messages, and they’d become more unsettling. Now it was not only “important” that I come service them; if I didn’t, there would be unnamed “consequences.” My friends encouraged me to call the police, but I was frankly afraid to do it. These two were so unhinged that calling the authorities might just piss them off.
After nearly a week of constant harassment, I snapped. I called A.
“Hi,” I said, as calmly as I could. “I’m going to come over right now.”
I didn’t plan to sleep with them -- I planned to tell them, face-to-face, to leave me alone, with a few of my larger, more intimidating friends behind me to back me up.
“Well, I’m at my parents’ in Manhattan,” she replied. “You’ll have to come down here.”
I could feel my pulse quicken with anger. “I guess we won’t be getting together, then.”
“Look,” she intoned. “We’ve been doing all of this on your terms so far. It’s time we start doing things my way.”
I actually blacked out in a fit of rage. I remember screaming, swearing, vowing to call the police and her parents, and forbidding her to ever look at me, talk to me, or contact me in any way, ever again, but the details are hazy.
I slapped my phone shut (like I said, I’m old) and began drinking. She called me back and I ignored it. A few voicemails and IMs trickled in over the next few days, but then stopped. I was too ashamed of how far I’d let this all go to admit that I should have told her off long ago. But at least she seemed to have gotten the message. She left me alone.
My senior year, A e-mailed me to say that she was sorry about what had happened. That C had been abusing her, and she’d been afraid to say no to him. I didn’t reply. Maybe it was true, but the reality was that I didn’t care. It sucked if her desperation had gotten her into a bad situation, but that had nothing to do with me. My sympathy had run out.
A few weeks later she sidled up to me on campus. “I know you don’t want to talk to me,” she started, “but I’m taking C to court, and I need some people testify on my behalf.” I gaped at her. “I mean,” she said quickly, “would you testify against him?”
I told her I’d testify, but that I'd include the fact that she’d been complicit and active in the stalking and harassment, too. She said thank you and I never heard about the court case again. And, after graduation, I never saw her again.
I’m happy to say that the experience really did teach me a lesson about boundaries. I have learned, in latter years, to cut people off when I sense this type of dependence and/or obsession. But it’s remarkable how often my radar goes off, even now.
And I still have dreams about A. Nightmares. To this day, if I see someone who walks with her particular, shuffling gait, or dresses like she used to in a long black coat and Birkenstocks, I turn and flee.
And, of course, she found me on Facebook a few years ago. She sent me a friend request, which I ignored.
A week later I got a message: “Lynsey, I know you haven't accepted my friend request here, and you may not want to hear from me. However, I'm writing to let you know that your status updates now seem to be publicly visible. If you didn't intend your updates to be public, you might want to check your settings and change them appropriately.”
Ten years later, she’s still stalking.
*All names changed for anonymity’s sake.