Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Stalker Story

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.


fairykarma said...

An aside. What accent is your Spanish?

Pagan Topologist said...

I can so much relate. I was stalked by a woman once. The details are different, but the effect was similar.

Clarissa said...

fairykarma: it's heavily Argentinean. Which is weird for somebody who has never been to Argentina. :-)

PaganTopologist: I'm so sorry this happened to you! Women do this a lot, unfortunately, and often believe it isn't the same as being stalked by a man.

Angie Harms. said...

Okay, so now I'm extremely curious. How did you manage to develop an Argentinean accent without ever having been there? Language acquisition is one aspect of linguistics that most fascinates me. Did you have an Argentinian boyfriend perhaps? Or watch lots of Argentinian soap operas? Or a teacher or a group of friends? Or did you simply like that accent and study it so that you could make it your own? One generally does not just spontaneously pick up an accent from a region they have never been to without significant exposure to that accent! Please share! I would love to know how you learned Spanish.

Clarissa said...

:-) my best friend is Argentinean. We worked together, spent all our free time together, travelled together, etc. And since the accent is so strong, I picked it up. No one of my favorite pastimes at parties is to approach groups of Argentineans and pretend that I'm from Buenos Aires. They are fooled every single time. :-)

I also can speak with a Peninsular accent. Also Mexican if I try. But not Puerto Rican, it just escapes me.

KT said...

Stalkers? LOL. Poor you.

Denny said...

@ K: Why does the idea of stalkers elicit a "LOL" from you?

I've been on both sides of the situation, albeit to a much lesser degree (thankfully!) than that depicted by Clarissa and Ruth Rendell's "Going Wrong," and the experiences were horrible all around.

When I was 15 I was madly infatuated with a boy in one of my high school classes. Like Guy in Rendell's novel, I was convinced that if we spent time together, he'd realize how compatible we were. I'd ride the subway in the wrong direction hoping we'd end up in the same train car. I even waited for him outside his classroom, trying to come up with a pretext to start a conversation with him. In a moment of weakness, I looked up his schedule for an upcoming semester, thinking to switch my classes to his -thankfully, I didn't go through with the plan because I had zero interest in his electives. All in all, we had about half a dozen forced encounters over the course of a school year due to my stalking.

During the entire time, my behavior was extremely mortifying for me. I couldn't help my actions, but I knew they were very wrong. I even realized I was being a stalker -that awareness plus the fact I was on the track team, the debate team, as well as working/volunteering, were the only things which kept the stalking incidences under 6 in number.

Later on in college, I went on a date with a man I had met at a club. When he started talking about our future together on that first date, I told him I had no interest in seeing him again. We were not that sympatico. The man started phoning me over and over again, sometimes saying he loved me, other times not saying anything at all after I picked up. After a few days of this I was ready to call the police and have my phone number changed. Happily, the calls stopped.

I was miserable being a stalker and I was extremely frightened being stalked. Neither incident was amusing in the least.

KT said...

I laughed because parts of the tale sounded familiar to me. I've had people tell me that I led them on when I did no such thing and it was interesting to see it from women's perspectives too.

Besides I've been on the other side myself. I was a little boy of eight and was infatuated with a girl of the same age in my class. We were all friends, but I started getting jealous of the guy who sat beside her. So one day, even without having declared my love to her, I just waited for the other guy to leave the class, and I took over his space, declaring to everyone that I'd become the rightful occupant. It took the teacher's intervention and many screaming sessions to get me back into my seat and I remember the intensity of the rage I had for her (the teacher) and the boy who retained the privilege of sharing a space with the object of my desire.

Growing up then with the embarrassing story in my head, I've
always checked myself to be sure that it never happens again. Sometimes, I believe that I even overcompensate for it - i.e. by spending less time with people I don't know very much (even if I like them) so that I don't ever get too attached as to make a fool of myself. This is my experience.

So it was very funny to read when Clarissa wrote about her experience with such detail. It just reminded me of the many experiences I've had myself. Stalking is no fun, especially when it happens to you.

Angie Harms. said...

I'm going to return for a minute to your language acquisition because I'm still curious... At what age did you start learning? And what do you feel was the biggest contributor to your learning it so well? Conversation with your friend? Reading books? Self-study? If you never went to Argentina, were you ever immersed in it in any other country for any length of time, apart from this short trip to Cuba?

Clarissa said...

Angie Harms.: I love these questions so much that I thing answers to them merit a separate post. Which I will write right now. I LOVE sharing the story of how I learned Spanish. :-)

Denny said...

@ KT: Thanks for sharing your experience. I found your story charming. And interesting, in that your focus seemed to be directed on an oblivious "rival" more than on the object of your affections.

There isn't anything wrong, per se, with making a fool out of one's self for any number of reasons. It only becomes a problem when your desire to express your feelings threaten to become an intrusive element in someone else's life. (Which, btw, is why I found "Wall-E" extremely objectionable.)

I have twice mistakenly believed a man was interested in me. In both cases, the man involved would gaze into my eyes during conversation as if I was the most interesting person on the planet. Turns out they belong to a tribe of persons for whom staring is part of normal discourse. I was able to correct my misconceptions rather quickly simply by asking about the nature of their interest in me.

In general, I have found that being forthright regarding one's feelings and directly asking about the attachments of others is an excellent means for avoiding the confusion and fantasy building that is the basis of 'ordinary' stalking.