As time went by, there were more of these shadowy figures, and they would come closer the longer we were living there.
His name was Josh and he was 16. Or at least...that is what he told me. Sometimes I wish I could go back to the moment before his instant message popped up on my screen. If I could, I would tell myself to sign off and maybe then I would save myself from over a year of terror and pain.
It didn't start off as bad as it ended.
When he first messaged me, he was friendly and funny. We both were on a website for teenagers who were in need of a support group. My parents were going through a nasty divorce and I was very scared and lonely. Call it "daddy issues" or whatever you want but I was very happy to have attention and compliments from someone of the opposite sex. I was not popular in real life so I soaked up his undivided attention. He seemed to hang onto my every word.
He was there when my world was terrifying me and at the time I saw that as a way to escape what was happening around me. I could tell him anything and he would say things that just seemed to make sense. I could not believe for someone his age he was so opinionated and smart. I really liked him in the beginning.
After a while of getting to know him, I started to learn his "quirks." Like how he did not like when my brothers were around me because "those brats make too much noise and need to be disciplined."
And how he did not like my mother telling me to get off the phone to do my homework because "that bitch needs to mind her own business."
It made him extremely mad if I did not answer his call. It did not matter what I was doing. Taking a shower, going to the store with my family, eating dinner, even going to school. None of it mattered to him. If that phone rang I needed to be at the phone before the ringing stopped.
If I wasn't, he would continue to call. Over and over and over. And when he stopped calling was when I knew I had really screwed up.
When I finally called him back I would get quite a tongue lashing from him. I got everything from "Where were you for so damn long?" "Why do you not care about me enough to pick up?" "If I am not worth your time then I will just leave for good."
One time he even told me he would kill himself the next time I did not pick up. I began to keep my phone with me at all times just to know if he was calling.
My world became more and more overcome by Josh the longer I knew him. I went from being an A and B student to failing assignments because I did not have time to do them. I lost my friends because I was not paying any attention to them.
He insisted I was his forever and told me if any guy tried to come into my life, he would kill them. He did not want anyone close to me to be in my life whatsoever, family, friend, or guys.
I was horrible to my mother and pushed my brothers away so Josh could not hear them make noise. Josh would tell me he would show up one day and tell me to walk out of the house and then light it on fire. I did not know if he was serious but it scared me so much.
He wanted me to join him in some weird satanic church. I told him I was a Christian and had no interest in that. He said that it did not matter because I did not have a choice in the matter anyway. One night he told me I had to get on a plane and fly to him that night. I said I couldn't and he freaked out and said he would kill himself. Then he hung up. That night I actually hoped he would go through with it.
He sent me a text the next morning with a picture of the self-inflicted burns and cuts he had given himself because of me. He began to track down more and more information about me. He knew places I went. He even went as far as to contact the father I was having problems with and the two of them worked together in an effort to move Josh into my father’s house and have me come live with the two of them.
I was terrified and luckily my mother fought my father and said there was no way that was going to happen since there was talk of underage sex and alcohol and Josh was going to force me to drop out of high school to be with him constantly.
He even had told me that I was not allowed to go on birth control and he would not wear a condom, but if I ever got pregnant he would beat the baby out of me. I remember thinking it was a lose/lose situation for me no matter what.
When Josh's true colors came out to the world, my family and friends became a sort of shield for me. I was "forced" to block him on social media, change my number, and not have contact with him whatsoever.
Those things saved my life. I am sure of it.
The more I told people what he had said and made me do, the stronger everyone around me made the wall. Josh fought to get in contact with me, but eventually the fighting stopped.
I am not sure how, but somehow I eventually picked up the pieces of myself and my life and put them back together again. I had a lot of things I had done that I needed to apologize for. And I had a lot of things I had to learn were not my fault to begin with.
I still cannot figure out how he got me so trapped. How was he so manipulative that he could control me from so far away? I may never fully understand what happened or why but I will always be thankful I never came face to face with him.
I have not spoken to Josh in about 6 years, yet I still am afraid he will find me.
I am no longer that young naive girl. I am so happy married to a man who taught me what true love looks like and how a man should treat a woman. We have an amazing little guy who is the second love of my life. Both of them mean the world to me and sometimes Josh's threats pop into my head and I am afraid one day he will find me again and hurt one of them.
The thought that scares me even more than Josh is that one day my son will ask if he can go online like everyone else. I know what to watch out for and I know all the precautions. But I have learned the dangers of the Internet and I would never wish that or worse on my little boy.
I also don't want to shelter him from the fun of the world we live in now. I don't want to teach him to live in fear of badness when there is so much good in the world. I do not want to punish him for the horrible things a person he doesn’t even know has done.
I believe when the time comes I will cautiously let him explore his world and teach him what I had to learn the hard way. And trust my gut that if something seems off, it probably is.