Learned the first rule of self-defense years ago. In a community self-defense course. Long before I acquired my stalker, The Neighbor. The rule was: know thyself. Think now, about these things, before danger comes. Assess strengths. Weaknesses. Know what I can and cannot do in any given situation. Know how to adapt when the situation changes.
A month before taking the course, I had been attacked. A block away from my home. A ski masked stranger with a history of violence needed someone to punch. I was closest. He pounded me. Am fortunate to still have a face.
Before that attack, thought carrying a canister of mace and knowing a few (unpracticed) defensive moves was enough protection. Thing is, nobody prepared me for the swiftness an attack. How it caught me completely off guard. How those two things—matched against a seasoned street fighter—taught me quickly: one well-placed punch to the head (and then another and another) was all it took to render me, and any of my self-defense mechanisms, useless.
It was a horrible realization.
The self-defense leaders addressed this, before demonstrating basic self-defense moves. Saying fighting an attacker isn’t always best option. Facts are facts: if an attacker is stronger, larger, and skilled, you might not have the ability to fight. Because of that, we needed to sit down and get to know ourselves. To do it now. Assess strengths. Identify weaknesses. Then decide, now, before the attack occurred, what we could and could not use during an attack.
They listed options. If you have the strength and skills, then stand your ground and fight. If you lack those things, try running. In other instances, your best bet is waiting for the dirty deed to finish. Not a sign of weakness. It’s part of your strategy. You are waiting for a chance to run later. To fight later.
"Fight Club," by Elisa Moro, on Flickr.com Creative Commons.
It was a shock, hearing that. Before the class, I’d assumed self-defense was a one-size-fits all solution. That not defeating the ski-masked freak in hand-to hand combat made me a failure. In fact, I did fight back, after the attack. Gave the police an accurate description of my assailant. Identified him after his arrest, and pressed charges. That was heartening. But the nagging thought persisted. Flashed behind my eyes as I tried learning defensive moves: what if I hadn’t survived the attack? It distracted me.
After two self-defense lessons, trying to fool instructors that I was really OK and not having a flashback, I dropped out. Told myself I’d re-enroll, later. Time passed. Although I didn’t explicitly say it, my reluctance turned into a subconscious belief. Honestly. What were the chances of being attacked, ever again? Having one attack occur was like getting a Get Out of Jail Free card in Monopoly. Giving me a pass for the rest of my life. Violence already happened. Therefore making me exempt from all other freak occurrences and tragedy. After all, lightening doesn’t strike twice.
Making the realization that my next-door neighbor had fixated on me, was actively stalking me, trying to destroy me, much more horrible. I hadn’t put one thought into self-defense since that the day I got the snot beat out of me, so long ago. Could have put those peaceful years to good use. But hadn’t. Wish I had, before the moment of frantic assessment
. Before reaching a red-hot boiling point with The Neighbor. Where I couldn’t think straight and everything was coming at me at once and how I wished the world wasn’t going off its axis and nothing made sense and I wished I wished I really, really wished that I had just pushed through trauma. Worked a little harder at learning defend yourself.
Whatever regret presented me, I realized. No longer had the leisurely time to choose a defense. I had to pick something anything that worked. Do it fast.
Wracked my brain for ideas. Remembered more information from that class. Every self-defense mechanism has consequences. Backlashes. Things that could go terribly wrong. The burning mace you spray at your attacker just as easily gets into your eyes. You can be disarmed from any weapon you carry. Frankly, I can now quickly tell the difference between people who have effectively weighed and used self-defense, and those who haven’t. The people who haven’t, tend to offer advice glibly, without the weight of those consequences.
Went through several before finding a few that ultimately worked. The next few posts will discuss the following:
- Weaponry: guns, knives, mace
- Martial arts
- Video cameras
- Collecting evidence
- Gathering allies
Take note: I hated every option. Even as I write, I promise to get pissy about every single last one of them. Even ones that worked. So, don't let my negative slant keep you from reading. In fact, you can challenge my assessments.
Also, I won’t recommend any specific defense. It’s just a presentation of options. What worked for me, might not work for you. So, take that with a grain of salt, as you continue to read.
So, tell me: what did you use for self-defense?
"The Good Life," by Scott Law, on Flickr.com Creative Commons.
The biggest challenge, after The Neighbor’s stalking became furious attacks, was adjusting to my new reality.
Before the storm, I had successfully established a solid, not wealthy, but comfortable middle-class life. Landed a career at a corporation with a recognizable name. It boosted my resume and my worth in corporate America. Making enough to easily cover the bills without fearing the winter chill. Meet a friend for a beer, and order more than just beer. Do small improvements on my small duplex. Have well made and readily replaceable clothing. Afford a cat. Occasionally travel to Europe to vising college friends. Then, cash in on frequent flyer miles for a coveted, but small, Burberry handbag
A good life ... that I started loathing. Reminded myself of former, higher goals. To live abroad. Do more with my writing. Take risks. Strike out on my own. The excitement of those old memories, lead to some decisions. Pursue the old dreams! Now! Exciting stuff! All of those realizations coming weeks before The Neighbor’s decision to declare a complete assault on me.
It forced me to start looking at life differently. Caused a series of mental transitions.
The first transition followed my initial shock. Realizing. Ignoring The Neighbor. Brushing off advances. Cutting conversations short. None of them effective defenses. To keep her away from me. Out of my life. None of them ever worked. And couldn't ever be expected to work, ever again.
The second transition. Slowly. Realizing. The lifestyle change I desired? Completely out of reach while a new lifestyle presented itself: constant self-defense. Fighting to keep The Neighbor from destroying me. My sanity. Health. Ability to attend work. Maintain friendships. Even having a good night’s sleep.
The third transition. Oddly? Still needed to re-invent myself. Heard myself say words spoken by so many others, when life threw a curve ball: “I never expected my life to be like this.” Realizing. Fast. I’d have to learn to fight. Become a warrior of sorts. All in the name of staying alive.
"Warriors," by Eric Auchard, on Flickr.com Creative Commons.
My mouth formed another protest. “Unfair. How unfair. I don’t want this.” Then, realized protesting wouldn’t stop anything. As though an invisible clerk in life’s Customer Service department would hear my complaint. Recognize I was completely unsuited for a cloak-and-dagger, fight to the death scenario. Remove me. Quickly. It wasn’t going to happen at all.
Mental images flashed through my brain. Remembered news stories. Survivors of wars, typhoons, flash floods, or North Korea. Huddled in a school gymnasium, waiting for the all clear. Rummaging through the remains of homes. Giving eloquent responses to microphones hovering inches from their faces. In those moments—glancing at tragic photos before clicking the next article—it never occurred to me that these survivors were also unprepared for their private doomsdays. Were also struggling to find meaning from horrid events. Searching for remnants of normalcy. Quickly learning skills that they, too, thought were meant for other people.
I caught on. Fast. Put aside the pity. Learn to live in a new reality. Fast.
During that time, would make eye contact with my Burberry. How very odd it felt, to carry it. Remembering when that handbag consumed my thoughts. Such a thing was reserved for a successful, well-kept woman. Who nonchalantly flashed it at dinner, over a mandatory glass of wine. Who didn’t have problems. That purse became a memorial to another life. When my thoughts weren't consumed with constant strategies of keeping one step ahead of a stalker who shared a duplex wall with me.
Meanwhile, new words crept into my vocabulary. Strategy. Self-defense. Weapons. Karate. Safe house. And …
All these survival options. Coming at me. Way too quickly. Too many to sort through. To weigh with a clear head. Most options? Didn't work. Adding to my distress and growing panic.
Meanwhile, The Neighbor, a serial stalker
, gleefully moved from one familiar attack strategy to another. Enjoying causing pain.
Leading to my increasing awareness: if I couldn’t figure out an adequate defense, I was a gonner.
is a Web page that, for the most part, identifies and wipes the Internet of your private information. Mainly, information posted without your permission, by “people search engines.” That’s Web sites that swoop in, gather and broadcast your address, employer, family members—and more—in the name of providing background checks to anyone with a credit card. Without asking your permission to do so.
I stumbled onto Safe Shepherd after spending about six hours (SIX!) and two days (ARRAGH!) of my life that I’ll never get back, cleaning up my online footprint
. Again, that's six hours. Two days. Meticulous Google searches. Jumping through hoops (because they don’t want to make it easy) to prod offending Web sites into removing my information.
Despite believing I’d covered all my bases, took advantage of Safe Shepherd’s 10-day trial period. Entered information about myself: name, address, phone number and email. Ran the search. Then grasped my pearls and screamed
at information that still existed on the Internet. Like, sites that my six hours of my lone wolf Google searches missed. Or, sites that I was so sure
I had already cleared my information from, yet, stubbornly remained. (Making me phenomenally much more bitter about lost time. I get pissy when this happens.)
However, despite my morale-depletion, Safe Shepherd streamlined the process to do a more hardcore cleanup. It gathered my violations on my private information on a single dashboard. Gave options for nuking them from the Internet. For some, a simple menu click automatically sends the removal request to the offending Web site. You’re done. It’s slick.
Example of the Safe Shepherd interface. Wish I could show you more, but my trial period expired. Squint to see the grayed-out dashboard, OK?
Other sites require a bit more work, but, Safe Shepherd spells out—with step-by-step cheekiness—how to deal with them. If you’re not technologically savvy—or hit an especially difficult site—you can pay extra for the benefit of a live person walking you through the process. Personally? Didn’t need it. Successfully handled the removal on my own, based on Safe Shepherd’s recommendations.
One caveat: what I demoed and am discussing now only managing pesky people search engines. Not damage incurred from hard-core cyberstalkers. If you’re one of those people, you can pay Safe Shepherd a larger fee for their VIP program, where a professional advises you on the cleanup. I’m curious to hear if you used the service, and if you found it worthwhile. Or, if there are any other services that aid with targeted, malicious cyberstalking attacks.
A Mashable review
noted that Safe Shepherd only allowed 10 records to be removed during the trial period, but, during my trial period, I successfully removed more.
One feature I skipped during the trial was the Facebook and LinkedIn monitoring service. Reportedly, Safe Shepherd scans both of those sites for damaging information, and offers recommendations for removal. However, I wasn’t willing to grant access to my private information during a trial period. But, again, if using this service is easier than the steps I laid out earlier, for cleaning up a Facebook profile
, it might be worth it.
As well, Safe Shepherd got to the root of the source of those spammers who believe if they cross their fingers and keep clicking Send, that I just might bend and buy that Viagra. My spam receipt has dropped about 25 percent after doing that clean up.
There are flaws, however. Safe Shepherd found information that clearly wasn’t mine. For example, a newspaper article about a woman sharing my name, having a bake sale in a region I don’t live in. (Me? Bake? Are you kidding?) It missed other information that I can find in a Google search. Not one of these instances appeared in the Safe Shepherd search.
When asked about the discrepancy, a Safe Shepherd representative explained, “…based on the way our algorithm works, some pieces of information are still falling through the cracks. Because most names are so common, we guard more carefully against false positives than we do against false negatives … Some of your information may not be showing up because we don't have enough information to find it—if it just contains your name without referencing your employer, address, phone number, or other personally identifying information that we're monitoring for you. For more comprehensive results, you can enter additional addresses, phone numbers, aliases, employers, etc. in your information vault. Not only will our product improve macroscopically over time because our developers are working hard to make it better, but your individual results should improve the longer you use the product."
A fair statement. After all, the site is still a new product. After nearly 15 years in the software industry, I can vouch that none
of my company’s products were a 100 percent perfect at release. That includes startups and companies with much more longevity. If anyone waited for perfection, nothing would go to market. So, for that alone, the missing information doesn’t bother me. But, again, I only demoed the product for ten days—I’d need to use if for a longer time, to verify if Safe Shepherd’s searches improve.
Wish I’d known about the site before I spent ALL THAT TIME on the Google-based information cleanup. Then, I would have had a better dataset to compare to, to see how Safe Shepherd’s searches compared to the raw, untouched Google data. But, haven’t heard of any other product tackling and streamlining an Internet cleanup. If you know of one, or have used Safe Shepherd, do leave a comment about the experience. Despite limitations, so far, Safe Shepherd seems to be the best available solution.
Another benefit? Survivors of stalking and domestic violence get a free account. So, even if you have questions about its reliability—my opinion?—take advantage of the free service. You’re juggling enough as it is. Let someone help give you an added edge for tracking down crap about you. The link to sign up is: https://www.safeshepherd.com/advocates
Hopefully, this doesn’t need to be said. But I’ll say it anyway. If you’re not a survivor, be honest. Don’t sign up unless you plan on paying for the service.
You can read other reviews on these sites:
It's Thanksgiving week in the US. A pre-Christmas busy holiday. Therefore, no real time to write. So, another recycled post. Original content will return next week.
As I spun mental laps around The Neighbor’s alarming behavior, a police officer, back at the station at the end of his shift, settled into a workstation. Wig-waggled the mouse to wake up the terminal. Opened a new file. Began writing the day’s reports:
I was working in uniform in a marked patrol car as unit 2-1-Alpha-7. At approximately 1400 hours, I was dispatched to <address redacted> to investigate a threats call.
The police report—available on request—has several redactions. Those are dark black lines that blot out information. A cover letter explained that the victim in the report requested them. Blocking her personal information. For protection. Although the victim had her information redacted, and the report freely available, to protect her further, I’ve changed details, while keeping the gist of the event.
The report also used a couple of prefixes to keep things straight. In theory, they clearly identify who is who. Oddly, if you’re new to reading police reports, it takes a bit of adjustment to read, with all those crazy identifiers. Anyway. The victim was identified with a “V,” followed by her redacted name. For example: V/<Name Redacted>. My stalker neighbor was also in the report. Her name prefixed with an “S.” Probably for “suspect.” It reads as S/The Neighbor.
All that said, let’s go back to the police report: I contacted V/<Name Redacted>. V/<Name Redacted> met S/The Neighbor through Facebook. S/The Neighbor was angry at, V/<Name Redacted>. She sent threats to V/<Name Redacted> in person, through cards, voice mails and Facebook messaging. V/<Name Redacted> saved all communication from S/The Neighbor.
"Day 166," by Midland Police on Flickr.com Creative Commons.
The victim was smart, collecting all evidence immediately. By doing so, she created a paper trail, documenting the crime. Providing every bit of evidence only helps prove a request for help. The victim also summarized the number of times The Neighbor contacted her. It was in the hundreds.V/<Name Redacted> is scared, feels threatened, and believes her life is in danger. She believes others are also in danger.
The victim was also smart to state her belief. At the time of that police report, my state’s laws required a victim to be in danger of bodily harm to get a stalking order. (My state has since changed its laws: victims now must only prove their fear, which made it easier to get help.) The victim communicated to the officer, tying it to a legal language he understood, why she needed help, and how he could help her.
Without correlating a crime to a law, the police cannot take action.
The victim, with all the evidence she collected, clearly backed up her fears of murder, which the officer records next: V/<Name Redacted> received a Facebook message on January 8 from S/The Neighbor. She showed it to me and forwarded it to me. It said, “Sweetie, you know I’m a wicked demon. A demon that will make you suffer. You have no idea the lengths I’m willing to take. Be prepared for torture, my dear.”
As I’m writing, I’m mentally placing this police report within my stalking time frame. It was filed sometime after The Neighbor revealed her fixation on me
and before she dumped a stack of boxes, labeled POLICE
, outside my door. A copy of that report was likely stashed in one box. It was only five pages. Took up a small amount of space. That report cross-referenced several related incidents, also taking up small amounts of space in those boxes. Jammed in between likely hundreds of pages of other police reports, and who knows what all else. Small slivers of pain. Trophies from destroying other people’s lives. Slowly adding me to her growing list of stalking victims.
I wonder how much space I take up in those boxes.
As I write this, years later, I have the benefit of being an omniscient narrator. That’s the all-knowing person who tells a story, cluing the reader into things that the characters are ignorant about. However, at the time that police report, I was still a clueless character. Having hints, but still unaware just how dangerous the woman on the other side of the duplex was. I was careful with her, but not careful enough.
After The Neighbor's POLICE
boxes didn’t get my attention, she took another a step further
. If her dangerous qualities couldn’t grab me, perhaps her sexual prowess would.
It almost unnerved me, reading the article. Almost. An Unrepentant Killer Across the Divider, from The New York Times. About the sentencing of David Goodell, for the murder of his girlfriend.So many points, overlapping with my time in court. Pursing prosecution of my stalker, The Neighbor. Erratic behavior. Belief in her right to torment. Laughter. Unrepentant. The primary difference? Unlike my stalker, Goodell succeeded in murdering his target.Maybe, in time, I'll have profound insight into the criminal mind. Write something useful about it. But for now, I'm processing. Learning. Talking with people who work with the criminally mentally ill. I say things like: "those people" and ask "where does the lunatic end and the evil begin?" One social worker interrupted. Offered a correction. Stated that as a race, humanity is evil. Not an "us" versus "them" scenario, as I proclaim.It makes me pause. Think. I don't have anything to say in response. Except that he's right. More thinking. What do we do, to stop evil, and being evil, as a whole? I have no answers.In the mean time, the best I can do is to point to an article about an unrepentant killer, and overlap it with a recycled post, about finding a bullet in my home, leading into my own time, facing down my stalker in court.
The former owners of my duplex had thoroughly cleared out their belongings, except for one item: a bullet. I found it on a top closet shelf while I was unpacking moving boxes. I had no idea what kind of gun took it—just that it was a live round. Roughly two inches long. Pointed tip. It's just a bullet. Nothing wrong here. Right?
My thoughts raced as I cupped the bullet in my palm, “They must have bought the gun after hearing The Neighbor screaming threats. Put it on the top shelf. Just within reach. Just in case.”
I had to bring myself back down to Earth before my mind went crazy, creating wild scenarios. There were plenty of reasons for gun ownership: lots of Americans do it. It’s our Constitutional right. Second Amendment, even. In fact, when I was growing up in the country, we all had guns. Just for funsies … but come to think of it, no, it wasn’t for fun. Our parents raised us to respect guns. Told us the sole purpose of gun ownership was for protection, as granted by our Second Amendment rights.
I continued to roll the bullet in my hand, mulling if overhearing The Neighbor bellow death threats put me in danger. In light of the idiom, “Everyone has a bullet with their name on it,” I wondered if I should write my name on it and keep it close, to control my destiny. Should I get a gun? I didn’t know. Seemed a bit panicky. Over-reactionary.
Still. I tried an online search on the bullet, thinking if I identified the gun that took it, maybe I could suss out if The Neighbor was dangerous. Problem is, the information conflicted:
- Outdated British military rifle. That meant the former owner of my duplex was just a gun collector. You wouldn’t use an antique for protection. Therefore, The Neighbor wasn’t dangerous.
- Hunting rifle. The former owner lived in the city, yet maintained her hunting enthusiasm. However, she might have bought a hunting rifle for protection. Therefore, The Neighbor might be dangerous.
- The Dirty Harry gun. A .44 Magnum, which a friend said was more deadly than a practice range gun. Therefore, The Neighbor was dangerous.
Oddly, I began panicking again, and I restarted the mental damage control. I just didn’t know, and wouldn’t know unless I asked the former owner, which was just a plain weird reason for initiating contact. So, I ended up tossing the pointed bullet. Felt weird hanging on to it: it just encouraged my mental “what if” wheels to keep spinning, keeping me unnecessarily upset.
Fast forward to four years later. Me, in a business suit, sitting in a courtroom. My friend Pat on one side of me. My state-appointed caseworker on the other side. They boxed me in for psychological protection. For support. Was The Neighbor dangerous? Answer: yes.
Four bailiffs lined up just outside prisoner holding pen. Its door lead into the courtroom. Big men. Grim faces. Guns in holsters.
Pat nudged me on one side, whispering, “They’re lining up for you.”
My caseworker leaned in on the other side, explaining, “Usually there are two bailiffs in the courtroom. One inside. One outside. They’re usually not needed. Four bailiffs inside the courtroom, ready for action … that sends a message to the judge.”
Anxiety reduced me to full body numbness: a combination of being in the same room as my stalker and fearing what would happen if the judge didn’t believe me. I was on too much overload to talk, so just nodded to each bit of information.
The bailiffs then escorted The Neighbor—in custody for stalking me—out of the pen. I wondered if justice started with her wearing an awful neon yellow jumpsuit and handcuffs. All four bailiffs stood behind her as she took the stand, boxing her in.
The Neighbor was out of control, as usual. Kept interrupting and insulting the judge. Asking why the press hadn’t been informed of the court proceeding. Pat observed the bailiffs shooting sympathetic looks my way, after realizing I was The Neighbor’s victim.
The judge finally ejected The Neighbor from the courtroom. As those four strong, armed bailiffs escorted her out, she bellowed that they were all Nazis. Yelled over her shoulder about Facebook’s conspiracy against her, in case Mark Zuckerberg’s hidden cameras were capturing the event.
A brain ninja zipped through my numbness. Reminded me of times when friends admonished me to buy a gun for protection from The Neighbor. After seeing the amount of manpower needed to subdue her, I countered the ninja with, “Even if had I bought a gun, would it have helped?”
I don’t have the words to explain how I felt.
"If you could do it over again, what would you do differently?" he asks.
"I can't think like that," I say. "The past is the past. My next door neighbor stalked me. I can't change that. Now, it's done. It's over. I can only move forward."
I tell my friend Pat that I wish I'd listened. Back when I dragged her along for a second opinion on the adorable, miraculously affordable duplex for sale. Pat interrupts. Says, "When I saw that weird box of books outside The Neighbor's door, I was more concerned about you dealing with a slob. That you'd be constantly tripping over beer bottles. There was no way you or anyone else could have known what was going to happen. Nobody."
With that in mind, the following is a recycled post about the day I became a new homeowner. Next door to, and sharing a common wall with, a serial stalker.
I ground my jaw to keep from arguing with a chipper radio ad, “Homeownership is stability! Contact a realtor to find the home of your dreams!” It helped suppress my rage over owning the perfect home, but being unable to live in it, due to my next-door neighbor stalking me. In hindsight, a vengeful poltergeist might have been easier to manage.
By that point, I’d stopped berating myself over not seeing the warning signs. As a first-time homebuyer, I’d already exceeded the paranoia quota. Watch for exploding plumbing. Listen for wild partiers. Ask about vengeful ghost.
To satisfy paranoia number one—buying more than what I could afford—I settled on attached housing. This was in the days before the housing market crash, and at that, I lived in a popular city. Real estate was through the roof. As a single girl, with a single income, with no desire for roommates, I didn’t see any alternatives.
Problem was, in my price bracket, even the attached housing was either in the ghetto or near railroad tracks. So, when my realtor called with the perfect duplex, well within my price range, I was light-headed and skeptical. Beautiful landscaping. Unique floor plan. Impressive exercise facility. Good side of town. There had to be a catch.
My friend Pat joined me for the duplex showing. My realtor met us to unlock the door. The duplex was small. Its interior resembled a vacation cabin. Every inch—living room, bathroom, kitchen, bedroom—shared a common wall with the next-door neighbor. But that was minor. Despite wanting to be detached, I fell hard for the duplex’s utter cuteness.
I tried to balance my excitement by asking my realtor, “What’s wrong with it, that the owners want to sell?”
My realtor pulled up the Web listing, and read intently. “The sellers didn’t disclose anything,” she said, and looked up from her laptop. “But, there doesn’t have to be anything wrong. Sometimes people just want to sell.”
Pat and I continued to explore. I opened kitchen cabinets: all empty. Bathroom cabinets: also empty. Empty bedroom. One lone couch in the living room.
"An empty room, a couch and a ran, on the floor," by Mary and the Three Cheeses, on Flickr.com Creative Commons.
“It looks like the owner already moved,” I said to my realtor. “Could that mean something’s wrong?”
“Some people do move because it’s easier to show. They leave a few pieces of furniture for staging. But, I can double-check with their realtor, just to make sure.” That put me at ease.
Then Pat interjected, “Are you OK with the front door being so close to The Neighbor’s front door?” She had a point: they were five feet apart. But by that point, as I explored, I’d lost desire to find fault with that adorable duplex.
“Meh, yeah,” I said. “I get along with folks. I’ll just make extra sure to be friendly.”
“OK, but did you see the box of books outside her door?” Pat asked.
“As long as the mess is contained, I’m not picky those things.”
“That’s not what I mean,” said Pat. “It was full of psychology/self-help books. Weird ones.”
“Oh, I’m fine with it,” I said, a bit too dismissively. “My college roommate had hundreds self-help books. She quoted Women Who Run with the Wolves and renamed herself. I’ll just ignore The Neighbor if she gets self-helpy on me.”
I half-listened to Pat’s guesses on The Neighbor’s psychoses. I’d already decided to make an offer, and let Pat’s voice fade into the background, as I mentally overlaid the duplex with IKEA room models.
My realtor confirmed the sellers’ disclosures: nothing to disclose. I checked online police records of the neighborhood: nothing bad. I then moved fast on an offer, because during the housing boom, good stuff went quickly.
Closing was a breeze. Nowhere near the horror stories I’d heard. I felt horribly cocky. High-fived myself for being awesome up through Day Four of living in my home.
That’s when I heard a woman scream, “A curse upon your head!”
For a moment, I forgot to breathe. What did I just hear? Surely it was someone’s TV.
Then it happened again. So loud, that the yeller may as well have been standing in my living room. “I curse you! I will destroy you!”
That was no TV. That was The Neighbor. The one I shared a wall with. Whose door was five feet away.
By the intensity of her screams, I completely believed that she was going to carry out her threats.
In that instant, two thoughts collided: “Now I know why the sellers bailed out,” and “Oh no.”
In short: give it a rest. "Cement Block Shoe," by julián on Flickr.com Creative Commons.
The pain. The struggle for meaning. Justice. Grinding teeth over the unfairness of it all. Dominos toppling. Past connecting the present.
Telling myself, "Give yourself a break."
Clawing with both hands. Repairing life. Finding meaning after that horrid awful very bad thing ends. It’s easy. Getting caught up in the whirlwind of rebuilding. Change. Healing. Both come slowly. Recovering being stalked? Like surviving a Mafia hit. Their cement shoes didn’t drag me to the bottom of the river. But it’s a slow process, chipping them off. Even slower, trying to walk while wearing them.
Despite the agonizing process, my friend Pat reminds that I’m not … she’s not … we’re not
the same as we were when we first became friends. We’re moving forward. Growing. Changing. Moving forward. At what seems to be a snail’s pace.
I forget this. Lots. Want answers now. Blame it on my inflated work ethic. My German heritage. Descendant of an intense, hard-working, efficient people. There. That’s why. Blame the great-great-grandparents. Because if I finger-point at someone else, I don’t have to account for my actions.
Or, blame the stalker. She did all this to me. If I hadn’t lost so many years to her horrid aggression, I wouldn’t feel compelled to stay up late. To work even harder. Play a little longer. Agonize. Make up for the lost years. Frantically. Quick! Reclaim my life! Find meaning! Before it’s too late!
Making all a horrid gut-wrenching chore.
Pat warns that I’m making writing my identity. I back off. Realizing: I am dangerously close to missing beauty.
Anne Lamott—one of my favorite authors—had a lot to say about this in her November 15 Facebook post
My pastor once told us that you can trap bees in jars without lids, because they look straight ahead, muddling around, panicking on the floor of the jar, bumping into the glass sides, because they don't look up. If they did, they could fly to freedom.
"Bee Tongue," by Mandie on Flickr.com Creative Commons.
Lamott’s words should have described me while being stalked. Not afterwards, as I allow weighty questions to confront, then consume me. The questions, “What am I doing here?” and “Where is meaning in my life?” and “How do I move on?” are forefront. In many ways, preventing me from looking up, and finding freedom.
Quoting Anne Lamott's post again:
We ALL think we missed school the day that the visiting specialists stopped by our 2nd grade classroom to distribute the pamphlets on what is true, who we are, how we are to live with the great mystery of life, how to come through dark times, how to awaken. We're all sort of winging it, trying to learn self-love and respect, trying to be here, now, sometimes, and live lives of meaning and joy.
I realized. If I’d never been stalked, I’d still be searching. Striving. Questioning. True: surviving a madwoman’s quest to destroy my life ups the ante a bit. But, I’ve exchanged one consuming goal—staying alive—for another one. Even the quest for goodness can get myopic.
Time to back off my mental pressure a bit. Recognize little moments of gratitude. This weekend, I woke with a weird feeling. The Help hadn’t rotated my tires in oh, a few years. Went to the tire shop. Learned a passenger-side tire was nicked, and on the verge of a blowout. I am grateful I caught it before driving home for Thanksgiving.
I’m making my dad Chex® Party
mix for Thanksgiving. He wants it the way Grandma used to make it. Trying to track down her recipe. Have a feeling it’s the same as the one on the box. Am laughing over such a goofy scenario. I am grateful for laughter.
Rain falls. A fire roars in the wood stove. My cat steals the sweet spot. The part of the couch that gets hit with the most warmth. He falls asleep. I am grateful for peace in my home, at last.
Three friends and I text each other. Simultaneously. While I should be writing this blog entry. I justify it. Tell myself that texting IS writing. I am grateful for 160-word bursts of companionship.
Acknowledging this relaxing moment. Recognizing this one perfect moment in time. My life repaired, in part. It’s a very different life, with huge lingering questions. But right now, there is peace. Quiet. Laughter. Without worrying about the stalker on the opposite side of the wall. Don’t need to answer the big questions right now. Rather, accepting. Enjoying. The right here. The right now.
"Release," by Luca Rossato, on Flickr.com Creative Commons.
“I think I can only read one more post on forgiveness,” said Pat while reading the happy hour menu. It was a dark-at-6:00 p.m. kind of a Fall evening. We hunkered at one of our city’s popular Irish pubs. Or, rather, a New World spin on Ireland. You have to ignore that not one pint of Guinness is ever in sight. But whatever. All that mattered was conversation.
Pat occasionally volunteers feedback on this blog, which I appreciate. This is a one-woman show. Which means no editor. Which means I’m the only person filtering out what’s crap and what’s decent. Most writers crave this freedom. Not me. Feel a bit naked without an editor.
As a personal rule, I don’t solicit blog feedback from friends. Without a salary, editing bi-weekly content gets old. And let's talk about the obvious: they’ve already heard more than their fill of the rough years. They need as big of a break from stalking as I do. So, Pat only gets hit up for advice when I’ve hit a technological wall or need a broader perspective. She’s freakishly savvy with these things. However, I’ve been questioning myself over the past couple posts about forgiveness
. So, when Pat mentioned reading them, I pummeled her for a reader response.
"Tater-Tots-Ketchup," by Theresa Carle-Sanders on Flickr.com Creative Commons.
Pat thought the last post could have included more detail about the mentality of an abuse victim, “Kept wanting you to go into detail about this thing, and then that thing. I can see that you’re staying at a high level. But in that post, wanted you to go into more depth.” She had a good point.
I said, “You’re right. I try to explain as I go. But, most of what I’m writing about is still so close, and so familiar, that I don’t realize that I’m introducing completely new concepts. Sometimes it's hard being objective.
“On the other hand, I’m also purposefully keeping posts light. For victims, reading tons of info is overwhelming. It can trigger flashbacks. For me? After The Neighbor was arrested, my caseworker mailed a huge
packet of stalking information. It was too much. My head started exploding. Couldn’t read any of it. I think I blacked out, and recycled it, because all of a sudden, the packet vanished. So, I’m keeping in mind that stalking survivors may also not have the mental capacity to read an in-depth post. Hard to say for sure. It’s all a crapshoot.
“It’s an especial risk to write about forgiveness. Even as I write about it, am getting angry with myself. Calling myself a weak-willed pansy. Absolutely didn’t want to forgive my stalker. Frankly, even though I did it, don’t think my readers want to engage with this crap.”
Pat spoke while continuing to read the faux Irish menu. “You’ve written--what?--two posts on it? I think I can only read one more post on forgiveness. It has nothing to do with the topic, but with my attention span. I also want tater tots
. Wanna share, if I order?”
I briefly wondered if real Irish pubs have tater tots. A Canadian friend had never heard of them. Anyway. “No. Skipping the tots. Am trying to be good. Holidays are coming up,” I said. “No. I want tater tots. No. Stop. Don’t order them. But I want them. Ya know, by the way, this is is exactly what forgiving my stalker neighbor was like. I didn’t want to, but I had to. For my own good.
“When I say I forgave her, I know it sounds like I had a moment of insanity. Like, I suddenly told The Neighbor everything she did was OK, and we hugged or something. It wasn’t
OK. I absolutely
despise her. If The Neighbor ever decides violates my stalking order, you’d better believe I’m prosecuting.
“But, when everything from the courtroom faded away, I had to let it all go. To move myself into a position where I no longer allowed the rage aftershocks to hit me. Otherwise, they would have consumed me. In a sense, The Neighbor would have succeeded with destroying me. It was more important to rebuild my life. To decide a termination point for her evil.”
The waiter then delivered the pub salad I ordered. Glanced at it. Regretted not getting tater tots. Wanted to sink my teeth in their deep-fried, salt-laden, ketchup-covering goodness. I love, love, love tater tots. Took a bite of green salad, instead. Sighing dramatically as I did so.
Pat asked, “So, what does forgiveness mean, anyway? How do we do it? What is
“No clue,” I said. “Still figuring it out. Think it has something to do with separating fact from emotion. A conscious decision. Without waiting for emotions to catch up. You say to someone, ‘I no longer hold you accountable for what I believe you deserve as punishment for your bad behavior,’ and mean it. However, you still use smarts to guide your interactions with the person, afterwards.
“It’s like forgiving an unpaid debt of $20.00. You might forgive the debt because you know you’ll never be repaid. It’s easier to just let go. But, it doesn’t change the fact you just lost $20.00. You’re just not holding the debtor actively accountable. You’ll also never loan that person money again.
“So, back to forgiving my stalker … frankly, letting go was a relief. It removed The Neighbor from being the center of my life. I desperately wanted that. Yes, I still have quite a bit rebuilding and healing, because of the hell she caused me. Not to mention the parting gift of post-traumatic stress disorder
, which will never leave me. But, it’s easier to heal without The Neighbor being directly in front of me. I need her gone, physically and mentally, to be able to move on.”
As happy hour pub conversations go, the conversation drifted to other topics, without a good conclusion. So, this is where I break from talking about the Pat/Irish pub/tater tot evening, and ask: What did you do, to move on, after stalking or any other trauma?
What if my stalker, The Neighbor, had forgiven me?
I wish she had. Life would have been so much more tolerable, if she’d done so.
Let’s clarify what I mean, before we go too much further. Sounds like I’m confessing. Of doing something wrong enough to merit abuse. Granting The Neighbor permission to stalk me. Which meant I needed to go to her. Hat in hand. Humbly accepting fault. Hoping it was convincing enough to be released from the pain she caused.
That’s what it sounds like, when I talk about my stalker forgiving me. Doesn’t it?
It’s not at all what I mean. At least right now, that’s what I mean. However, during the dark years, stray thoughts curled around my ears. Whispered. I solidly deserved the abuse. Especially when it became a daily occurrence. Combine that with apathy and accusations when I asked for help, well, it became hard filtering out rubbish. Holding onto truth.
"Release Me," Chiara Vitellozzi on Flickr.com Creative Commons.
The Neighbor had a manifest of accusations. All of them with a grain of truth. I didn’t introduce myself immediately after moving in, therefore, I was horrible. I called the police repeatedly on her, therefore, indicating my oversensitive lack of tolerance. I made more money than her, therefore, making me elitist. I pin-pointed her stalking past, therefore, I conspired against her.
After awhile, found myself nodding numbly at the accusations. Despite knowing my acceptance was wrong. Started believing I deserved everything The Neighbor dumped through our shared wall. None of this would have happened if I hadn’t somehow stepped out of line.
It was easier pulling out of the lie when The Neighbor started a healthy measure of transference. Claiming I stalked her. Stating I was fixated on her. That I and other victims were ganging up on her. We were the troublemakers. Not her.
It woke me up. Smacked my face. One cheek. The other cheek. Come on! Logically, what were the chances of one woman magnetically pulling such a crowd? All blindly accusing her of the same crime? All justifiably deserving the abuse?
It was a twisted perception of reality. The primary mandate: The Neighbor had a right to act horribly to others. We had to allow it. Not adapting to these rules meant punishment. A worldview, after whole-heartedly embraced, is hard to release.
Which is why I wish The Neighbor had forgiven me. Forgiven her other victims. Even if we fell short of her rules, she could have the benefit of hating us. If she wanted. But, she would’ve released a desire. Justice for pain she believed that we caused.
It’s fruitless. Bemoaning what she could have done. Should have done. Trying to remotely control another human being? Impossible.
Instead, I focus on the one person’s actions who I can change: mine. Instead of trying to remold the past, focusing on the present. Saying, daily, this is how I change myself. Moving beyond aftershocks of being stalked. Since I can see so clearly benefits of forgiveness, I turn to myself. Saying, “I choose to forgive The Neighbor.”
And then, doing it.
Forgiveness—and all of its ugly ramifications—confronted me hours before the criminal trial for The Neighbor, my stalker, began. It sauntered into the room, as I discussed two options with the district attorney (DA):
- Pursue the trial. Spend weeks in the courtroom due to The Neighbor’s constant disruptions. For the sake of payback. Attempting to give The Neighbor a criminal record. Justice for myself and the other victims. Preventing The Neighbor from finding future victims. Meanwhile, enduring her defense attorney ripping me to shreds.
- Settle out of court. Forgo the pursuit of justice, in exchange for a quick ending. In the process, I’d have to accept one thing. That in settling, I would give up any idea of absolute justice for the years of pain The Neighbor put me through.
I chose Option Two, after quickly prioritizing two more options. What did I want most?
- For my stalker to be absolutely fried? Or …
- To get my life back?
Again, I chose Option Two.
As negotiations for the settlement progressed ...
In between spurts of information ...
Brain made choppy connections.
As the DA and The Neighbor’s defense attorney scuttled back and forth between us (I in the courtroom cafeteria, The Neighbor in her jail cell) ...
My decision. To settle. It said more than, “I want it to end. All of this. End it. Now.” Essentially, what I also doing was waiving my rights. To never ever again pursue justice in a criminal court, against The Neighbor. For her four years of attempting to destroy me.
Never ever. Ever. Never again.
My decision to settle essentially said, “I forgive you.”
I'll guess what you're thinking. That forgiveness looked a lot like me saying, “Hey there, Neighbor. That cute little obsession? The day you tried smoking me out of my home? The times you followed me? Yelling at me through our shared duplex wall at midnight? Totally fine! Say, after the bailiffs remove the handcuffs and you get your street clothes back, what say you and I get a cuppa joe? Have a few laughs? Maybe? Whaddya say?”
That’s not forgiveness. That’s stupidity.
But we tend to think that’s what forgiveness is. An act of weakness. That makes all evil OK.
Forgiveness is a powerful act. Haven’t pulled out my balancing scale, to see if the act of forgiveness weighs more than the pursuit of justice. Both are strong, weighty words.
But. In my case. Deciding to cancel the justice I believed my stalker deserved? Ended up being a stronger decision than using the courts to fry her. It freed me from more lasting after-affects of pain, after the stalking ended …