Sunday, February 20, 2011

Surviving A Stalker Part IV: The Aftermath

So Dan Smith* has been caught, convicted, sentenced to two years probation, and a restraining order has been imposed. Most importantly, and often overlooked, the calls stopped completely once he had been picked up (how's that for a little concrete proof?), never to happen again. One would think I'd feel safe.

They would be wrong.

My number was listed under both my name and my grandfather's, as it has once been used as the number for his business. I had the phone company take my name out of the book, but leave my grandfather's. The local phone company kept a tracer trap on my phone (for only an additional $5 a month) for the rest of the time that I lived there. When the services came available to my area, I was the first to be offered caller id, annoymous call rejection and last call return along with per line call blocking. It was several dollars tacked on to my phone bill, but it was all worth it.

I was suddenly super-aware of people looking at me in public places, almost to the point of paranoia, or coincidentally following behind me, either walking through a store or out driving. I started dressing down to go unnoticed out in public, usually a black yoga pants and black hoodie, when ever I went shopping. I found myself interupting my shopping to abruptly move to the opposite side of the store to avoid anyone that might be following me. If I observed anyone driving behind me for a long period of time, I'd intentionally slow down to make them pass me. If they didn't pass, I'd start making erroneous turns or stops to see if they would follow.

I had become introverted and quiet, hardly speaking to anyone in public. I used to be the one who would spontaniously strike up a conversation in the grocery line, but I became suspicious and uncomfortable with any stranger who attempted to speak to me.

I also avoided giving out my phone number for any reason. Someone could have offered me a guaranteed million dollars in exchange for it and I would have told them to keep their money. I stopped registering for prizes and give aways, I only put my work number on documents for school. I didn't even let them publish it in our church directory.

I also forbade anyone who did have my number from giving it out. My grandparents were the worst at doing that. Because my grandfather's name came before my parents in the Leeds phone book, people trying to find me or my little brother often called them first. They would just blurt out our number to whomever asked, without any further questions. I instructed everyone that if anyone called looking for my number, they were to take a message, call me with it, and I would call them back myself. Anyone who wouldn't leave a number was immediately suspicious. If the caller wouldn't accept a call from an annonymous number, I'd drive up the road to the quickmart and call from their payphone (payphones...remember those..LOL!).

When my boyfriend became my husband, and we set up household together, I insisted that we keep all the same services on our new home phone. Every so often he will ask if we can drop something and I will tell him no. Our name is not even on our mailbox.

Barbie* did wind up marrying Dan, despite hearing all the evidence and knowing the torment he was inflicting on other women. They still live in my town. Because it's not a big place, I find myself running into them from time to time.

Once, while on a major grocery shopping trip to WalMart, found myself buggy to buggy with them at the corner of an aisle. She was clearly, enormously pregnant, pushing the buggy, and he was following along like husbands do. Normally I laugh, say excuse me and make a comment about having traffic signals at the ends of the aisle, and move on. But all I could do was gasp. I turned in the opposite direction from where I had intended and hurried down the next aisle, then back over to the aisle they had just come from, and stopped to catch my breath. There I decided to head for the dairy section, the direction they had come from, and shop in reverse. I'd grab exactly what I needed and then go. I would blend in and slip out.

It was then I realized that I was wearing a pull-over in bright, safety yellow, that we had used for Julz's "duck" costume the previous Halloween. The tank top I had worn underneath was not appropriate to be seen in public, even in the best of circumstances, much less the cold, wet weather outside. So much for blending in.

As I went to make my dash for the dairy, they suddenly turned back down my aisle, an aisle they had already shopped! Dan was now pushing the buggy, while Barbie waddled along behind. She rubbed her swollen belly, stopping only long enough to put items in the buggy. I tried not to appear bothered (or worse, panicked) as I made my way to the main aisle (or as Walmart likes to call it "action alley") to make my way up to the dairy section.

I went straight for the eggs. I stopped to check my eggs for cracks, turned to put them in my buggy and who should be standing there next to me! I went to the adjacent milk case, they moved with me. I went down the cereal aisle, and they followed. I skipped the chip/snack aisle to go to the sodas and they followed yet again. I decided that my family didn't need sodas, turned down the cold case aisle and practically ran straight to the front.

I lucked up on a checkout with only one person ahead of me and quickly started unloading my cart. Having worked in a grocery store, I was really pretty good at stacking things on the belt so that the cashier had the easiest time. I began packing my buggy as the casheir filled bags and looked up to find the Smiths in the checkout next to mine. There was a customer in front of them, still being serviced. Barbie was chatting cheerfully with the customer, but Dan was staring right at me.

For a split second, panic welled up in me and I nearly bolted, leaving all my groceries behind. But that would be letting him know he'd gotten to me. I busied myself with my own check out process, but every time I looked up, Dan was staring a hole through me, with this smirk on his face. I came close to yelling, "WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU LOOKING AT PERVERT?!" or "IS THIS 500 FEET?!" (though I think that the restraining order had run out by then )but thought better of it. I didn't want to become that woman that freaked out in WalMart, that every time I came in the employees would point and whisper, "Hey, there is that lady that freaked out in here that time." (Did I mention that I'd once worked in a grocery? I KNOW things like that happen.) Luckily, I had a jump start on checking out, so I was able to get out before them.

I practically ran to the parking lot, I threw all the groceries into the trunk, not caring if I squashed the bread or broke the eggs. I put the buggy between my car and the next (a personal pet peeve) instead of walking it to the buggy corral, lept into the car and sped out of the parking lot. Instead of going straight home, I hopped onto the interstate, drove up to the next exit and took as many narrow back roads as I could, several miles out of my way.

Thanks to Google Maps, I later learned that I had driven right by their house in doing that, so I did not make that mistake again.

Another time, I was working the souvenier table for the Miracle League. At the time, it was under a gazebo next to the adjacent tee-ball field, instead of next to the concession stand where it sits today. From there, it was harder to watch a Miracle League game, especially if there was a tee-ball game at the same time.

I love watching the tiny, tee-ball players as they learn to play the game. Some are so tiny their extra small uniforms still swallow them up. Most of the yelling comes from the parents but they yell out when they have to go to the bathroom, in no uncertain terms, for all the field to hear. Sometimes they forget and run toward third instead of first. There are times when it seems they would all rather be digging in the dirt and leave the game to the grown ups, who seem more concerned with it anyway.

I had gotten up to get a tee-shirt from a storage box when I saw them. Barbie, pregnant again, was standing on the fence line, cheering for a little munchkin at bat. Crowded in the tiny space between his shoulders was the word "Smith." Just to Barbie's right, sat Dan in a folding chair, close enough that I could reach out and slap him. And rather than watching his son at bat, he was looking at me.

You know how when you catch someone looking at you, they jump? Well I am not certain who jumped more, me or him. He quickly turned his attention back to the field. I turned back around to deal with my customer, but my heartbeat was hammering in my ears. I sat down and threw another glance over my shoulder. There he was, staring at me with a smirk on his face. It reminds me of the expression the Grinch makes. He and I both knew that the restraining order had long since expired. I thought about yelling at him again but didn't want to embarass myself. i was now a member of the Miracle League board and didn't need to cause any trouble at the park.

I flagged down another volunteer to handle the souveniers and trotted out onto the field to buddy a player in left field, putting the stone pressbox between me and him. A few minutes later, he was at the concession stand, watching me as he waited in line. He then sat down on the shaded bench next to it, where he could watch both me and his son's game unobstructed. I couldn't take it anymore. I told the coach that the heat was getting to me and asked for another buddy for my player. I told Mr. Johnny, our announcer that I was going to have to go home and I dashed to my car. As I pulled out of the parking lot, I called my husband, who now seemed unconcerned. "That's been a long time" he said, "shouldn't you be over that by now?"

Yes, I guess I should. But I'm not.

Over the years I continue to run into them in the grocery store, the gas station and the ball park. Most of the time, I see him first and can exit unnoticed. The times that I don't, I fight the urge to scream in his face, draw attention to him, embarass him, maybe clue his wife into the fact that she didn't change him. I figure that eventually, she will find that out on her own, when he starts again. At least this time, he will have a record and it will be a repeat offense and some poor girl won't have the same trouble I did.

Whenever I hear of someone having strange phone calls or noticing stalker behavior, I always share my story and these words of advice.

DOCUMENT : Keep a journal of dates, times, duration of incident, type of behavior (calling, following, driving by home, etc...) No detail is too small.

REPORT: Go to your local police or sherrif's department (or the law enforcement department that covers your area, if it is happening somewhere other than home like work or school)or call law enforcement to come to you. Ask to file an incident report for every incident. Carry your journal so that all details will be included. This will provide a paper trail for the pattern of behavior.

DEVELOP A SUPPORT NETWORK: Let your family, friends, coworkers, teachers know what is going on. Do not keep what is happening secret. Those who truly love you, will not judge you. They will do what they can to help you.

I once read "If I Am Missing or Dead.." the bone chilling true story of the murder of Amy Lynne Latus. Ten weeks before her abusive boyfriend strangled her to death, she had written a letter about the abuse, sealed it in an envelope marked "If I am missing or dead" and taped it to the inside drawer of her desk at work. She had kept the abuse a secret, rather than seeking help from her loved ones. Don't ever make that mistake.

SIGN THE WARRANT FOR ARREST: When someone crosses the line between nuIsance and criminal behavior, it's time for legal action. Do not be afraid to sign the warrant.

PRESS FOR PROSECUTION (where applicable) : Reoccuring criminal behavior should not only be documented, it should be punished.

SEEK COUNSELING: Victims go through many emotions. Anger, fear, self doubt, did I do something wrong, was I too nice, why didn't I see this coming, etc, etc, etc... Don't try to deal with those emotions alone. Seek counseling specifically for victims.

So in the aftermath, I'm a little less outgoing, a little more observant, a little less trusting, a little more paranoid.

Don't let yourself be a victim.

*names have been changed to protect the innocent, namely me.

On a happier note, here is this year's Valentine's gift from Darling Hubby.
He always knows how to make me feel special
Love the penguin balloon! It reads "Our love warms my heart"

Thank you baby!

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