Since I can't fall asleep anyways, I will share with you my thoughts about stalkers. I'm rereading Ruth Rendell's brilliant Going Wrong, which traces in the most minute and stunningly realistic detail imaginable the progression of a stalker's descent into insanity and the unhealthy dynamic of his relationship with his - I cannot possibly say 'victim' in this case - fully participating enabler.
The novel touches me on a personal level because I've had a stalker once. I was very young at that time and kind of naive. This stalker wasn't some menacing-looking criminal type who lurks in the bushes and films you through your window. This was a very clean-cut, educated, talented, brilliant person who, from what I was able to observe, lived a perfectly law-abiding and normal life. That's why it was difficult for me to realize that his behavior towards me had crossed into stalker territory. Initially, this guy was one of a group of friends who met to practice Spanish together. He kept trying to spend time alone with me (without ever declaring any romantic intentions) but I made it as obvious as I could that I didn't want it. During one of the meetings of our group, I mentioned that I was going on vacation to Havana. I said that I was going alone because the purpose of the trip was to practice Spanish, and I didn't want to have anybody with me who would tempt me into speaking English. Everybody in the group was interested in my trip, some people started to offer advice and ask questions, so I passed around the brochure of the hotel where I was going to stay.
So a couple of days after coming to Havana, I got a note under my door, saying: "Your friend Mr. X called to say he will be arriving tomorrow. He will be staying in a room next to yours." To say I was floored is to say nothing. My acquaintance with X was very limited, and I felt that his actions were very intrusive. Next morning I saw X in the hotel lobby, looking radiantly happy.
"Surprise!" he announced when he saw me.
"Why are you here?" I asked in dismay.
"Well, you described this hotel so well that I felt I wanted to see it too. Wouldn't it be great to spend some time together in Havana?"
"I'm sorry, X," I said. "But as I mentioned at group, I'm here to practice Spanish. I have a routine that I've established, people I've met. I haven't planned for you being here."
"No, it's going to be fun," he said, still as pleased with himself as ever. "You'll see."
|Hotel Plaza in Old Havana where I stayed on that trip. It|
doesn't look nearly as chic in real life. But it's close to everywhere,
and it's very different from regular tourist destinations.
So every morning X would place himself in the armchair in front of the hotel's only exit and stay there waiting for me to come down. Then he would attempt to guilt me into taking him with me on one of my walks around Havana. I conducted an experiment once and stayed in my room until lunch-time. When I finally emerged, X was still sitting in that chair, looking peeved.
"Where have you been?" he asked irately. "I didn't come all the way here to sit in the lobby all day waiting for you!"
"Why are you sitting here waiting for me when I asked you specifically not to do it?" I responded. "Please, go ahead, enjoy your trip, don't sit here waiting!"
"Well, how am I supposed to enjoy it if you never want to do anything together?" X inquired triumphantly.
A couple of times I saw X follow me around the city and take pictures of me from a distance. I was beyond myself with anger that I had spent all the money I had on what was supposed to be an educational trip only to have this older guy, who should have known better spoil it all for me. Once when X was following me around Old Havana, he saw me meet with a Cuban friend. When I got back to the hotel that night, X behaved as a betrayed spouse.
"Oh, so that's why you don't want me around! You just need to be free to run around with your Cuban lovers!" he exclaimed.
"Do you realize that you are acting crazy?" I asked, unwilling to justify my relationship with the Cuban friend to this virtual stranger.
"You are the one who's crazy, running around with dangerous Cubans instead of spending nice quality time with me," he said, reaffirming my belief in his tenuous hold on reality.
The next day, somebody stole X's wallet with all his money and cards. It's horrible to be happy over someone's misfortune but I have to confess that I was profoundly grateful to the unknown thief. X's meals were included in the trip, so he was in no danger of starving. All the loss of the wallet meant was that he could not continue following me around. Finally, I was free to roam Havana without feeling his presence behind my back.
When the trip was over and we were back in Montreal, X asked me to be his "official girlfriend." ("Official" yet, like I had been his "unofficial" girlfriend before.) I refused in a very kind (I'm telling you, I was very young) but firm way.
"How can you lead me on like this and then just dump me?" X vociferated. "Do you know that I dumped my fiancee for you? A woman who's been with me for 8 years! I left her for you! And now you are doing this to me?"
"How on Earth did I lead you on?" I asked, feeling completely absurd.
"Oh, so going on a romantic trip to Havana with me isn't supposed to mean anything?" he responded triumphantly.
This was when I finally realized that in spite of his scholarly achievements, university degrees, publications and accolades X was a very deranged individual and told him I never wanted to see him again. Then he took to calling me at home incessantly. He would hang up whenever my sister picked up the phone. And call back. And then call back again. And again.
And then I had enough. The next time he called, I picked up the phone and screamed at him, telling him I would call the police and have him deported from the country if he ever got into my field of vision ever again. And then he disappeared from my life for good. I was lucky because many other people find it a lot harder to get rid of their stalkers.
Please don't tell me that I could have done this a lot sooner, that I enabled him with my passivity for a long time, that I should have put an end to this whole insanity at the very beginning. I know all that. Of course, I enabled. Today, I would have acted very differently but that's what age and experience are for.
Reading Ruth Rendell's Going Wrong tonight made me remember this story. Every sentence in the book rings extremely true to me. It's uncanny to look at reality through the eyes of a deluded stalker after you have been an object of a stalker's actions.