My most persistent stalker worked the press at a small publishing house. I was a copywriter, proofreader and eventually low-end manager in a related department. Part of my job was to do press checks, which put me in daily contact with the guys who ran the massive, dangerous, noisy machine 24/7 if necessary.
After three years, the job had the best of me. Underpaid, exhausted, sick and angry, I quit in a fairly dramatic show of defiance. Anything that reminded me of that job made my stomach ache, even the arrival of my last paycheck. My doctor diagnosed an ulcer and put me on muscle relaxants and painkillers for two weeks--protocol back then. The combination didn't allow for much waking time.
Before quitting, I'd started receiving anonymous odds and ends in the mail. One package contained a mixed tape of songs by everyone from Bowie to a few local bands. Another was a post card of an image of the Space Needle, with "You Are Near Here" and an arrow drawn in red ink. The Needle, as we call it, was within walking distance. There were a couple of short letters, an envelope full of heart-shaped confetti and nothing contained a return address or signature. I was curious and vaguely flattered.
My two-week coma was interrupted by the ringing of the phone. It stopped. It rang again. Over and over and over. I'd asked my roommate to keep the ringer off, but in fairness she was missing tons of calls from her insecure boyfriend. Everything went to a physical answering machine back then but some callers, like roomy's boyfriend, weren't comfortable leaving messages.
When it rang again, I stumbled over and picked up the receiver, thinking it was going to be Jay, and wouldn't it be nice if he could leave a message with a live body while Tammy was in the shower? "Hello?"
"Hello, Wendina." The voice was thick with an accent, so it came out more as, "Hallo, Fendina." It sounded familiar, but it wasn't Jay. The drugs didn't allow me to add a face.
I listened, and waited for more clues, and finally it hit me. I'd spoken to him only once before, down by the noisy press, where we usually used hand signals to communicate. I'd asked him where his manager Mark was, a man I was dating at the time. It was a work-related request, in as much as it could be. The conversation took all of five seconds.
Part way into the call, he asked me out. I told him, "I'm still dating your boss here and there, so I really can't. When I'm feeling better I'm going to hit the town and celebrate quitting that job. Want to come along? I know some really fun people." He sounded disappointed, but agreed it might be nice to meet some potential friends.
When I hung up I saw the message light flashing frantically. That happened when there was no more room on the tiny cassette. My roommate appeared from the bathroom, swaddled in towels, to let me know I'd received dozens of calls from "Some foreign guy."
Tammy and I stood together while I listened to the first 10 minutes of the tape. It was him saying a friendly hello. Then him sounding worried. Then him pleading for me to answer.
As the tone of his voice morphed into anger, the phone rang again. Tammy and I stood together and listened as he left another message, about how he needs to see me right away. He said he would tell his boss about us so I wouldn't have to break up with Mark, myself. Awkward.
He hung up, and the phone rang again, and again it filtered through the machine. "Why won't you answer? I know you're there! You can't treat me like this!"
The next time he called I answered, and told him I'd tried to be nice but at that point I needed him to stop calling and mailing things. At first he tried to deny he was my mailbox stalker, but then admitted to it. He said, "No more. Gootbuy" and hung up, and I thought that would be the last of him.
He was from Hungary. He was short, slight and boyish. Because of these attributes, a close friend started calling him Little Hungarian Problem. My Little Hungarian Problem drove up and down my street. He called and hung up when I answered. I knew it was him, even in silence. When I found a new job he called me there, breathing, and I told him never to do that again.
Months went by, and then I noticed him following me home from work to my new apartment. I walked to and from, so to follow me he had to either slow to a walking pace or circle around. I ran up to someone's porch pretended to knock. I turned to see him drive away. When I arrived home the phone was ringing and it was him. He'd convinced the operator, via his accent, to give him my blocked number. "Hallo. Iss Fendina there?"
"No one here by that name," I replied, trying to keep my voice friendly and neutral.
Six months later I was in a play, and he'd somehow found our rehearsal space and leaned against a doorway and stared at me. He delivered packages for a small courier company, so it was possible he'd found me by accident while doing his duty. Maybe. I acted as if I didn't know him, while carefully gesturing to my friends that there was a potential problem. Everyone started to stare back on my behalf. He grew self-conscious and my Little Hungarian Problem left the doorway.
I never saw him again physically, though I received a few postcards in his handwriting. And a few phone calls. They only stopped when I moved yet again and took on a fourth or fifth phone number. When I'd called the police, they told me that was my only recourse unless he became violent. Stalking behavior wasn't enough for protection or a restraining order, though the officer I spoke with was definitely concerned. I complied, paid another first and last month's rent and deposit and hauled my belongings across town, because I didn't know what else to do.
Stalkers are frightening. They are maddening. They are selfish and they are rude. But most of all, stalkers are a damned inconvenience.