(may contain some spoilers)
In ‘The Liliana Batchelor Series’, one of the story lines is how Lily is harassed by her boss, Nathan. He does his best to try and make her life difficult, make her dependent on his good graces, and when he is no longer her boss, he resorts to other means to disrupt her life.
I have been stalked twice in my life; once somewhat casually by a man who I now realise wanted to groom me and was testing the waters, (I was a sophomore in High School, he was in his late 20’s), and later on, after I moved out to Washington, by someone who threatened me with physical harm. I am sometimes asked if I use real life events in my books and I don’t, although my experience definitely influenced that portion of Lily’s story.
As you may know from reading my bio, I moved to Seattle when I was eighteen. It was rough – I had no support system and only two acquaintances out here. I also had bills, as it was difficult to get a job when all my references were in New Jersey, and I rapidly went through the savings I brought with me. After several years and a few jobs things were looking up; I was a receptionist/office assistant at a small software company in north Seattle. For a while I rented rooms in homes, then shared an apartment with a roommate, and finally was able to rent one on my own – a little one bedroom within walking distance of the aforementioned job. I still had a backlog of bills but I was paying them off, albeit slowly. I still had power, gas or phone, (in one case two of the three), turned off once in a while, but things were improving on the financial front. My relationship with my mother could still be described as fractious, but I was pleased to finally capture a bit of the stability that had eluded me since my father died, even if things with my mom were still strained. I was given a loveseat, bought an inexpensive table, moved in my futon, (I slept on the floor for six months after I moved here), and settled into having my first ‘home’ on my own. It felt good to have done it by myself – difficult, but good, empowering. I finally felt I saw a light at the end of the tunnel.
I answered the phones at work, (let’s call the place ‘RTI’), and one day after reciting my greeting to a caller I was hit by a voice I didn’t recognise. I actually have a really good memory and had a knack for remembering voices – so that often just by a person’s hello I would realise who they were. “How are you Sonja? Are you still seeing that issue you mentioned yesterday?” People began to expect that which was a problem sometimes, especially during a busy spate when my attention was a bit scattered.
Anyway, that day I didn’t recognise the voice, and thought it was perhaps a prospect for the sales manager, but the brief return greeting was followed by something ominous: “I watch you walk to work.”
It could be a joke, a prank, and go no further.
But it did.
I could hear noise in the background as he told me he was going to rape me, although he called it fucking.
I hung up, but it shook me. I’m tall for a woman – 5’8” like Lily – and fairly tough, but I’m still the average height of a man and I know no match for the strength of a man. And of course there was that chilling fact he knew – I did in fact walk to and from work most days, even sometimes going home for lunch.
Perhaps it was a one off – a guy who did it on a dare, or whatever – but that wasn’t to be the case. After a few days he called again.
So I started walking to work less, usually sticking to bright days and times when other people were around the small building, because of course I didn’t know who he was. I would probably recognise his voice but by then it would be too late, right? I am a fairly cautious person with regard to my safety but that increased – I was even a bit nervous walking to my car which was parked in front or on the side of the building because maybe he was hiding in between the vehicles. I had my keys out when I did walk home, but that was a more and more difficult thing to do because he continued to call sporadically. I told my manager and she seemed alarmed but there was nothing she could do. I called the police but – and I’m not kidding – they couldn’t do anything because he didn’t call regularly enough. Sometimes he’d call once a week, sometimes three times, or skip a week entirely.
I started to hate it when the phone rang. Our clients liked me – during a survey of the company they said I was their favourite thing about the place! – and I had begun to settle in, feel welcome and make friends with some of the people who called as well as my coworkers. This harassment cast a pall over everything – my newfound security, my sense of my job, everything. At one point I briefly wondered if it was my fault in some way; my mom always said I answered calls like a phone sex operator, that my voice was too sexy and I thought, did I in any way encourage it? Luckily I was able to shake that off immediately – I had done nothing to deserve this.
As the weeks went by he got more bold, and his descriptions of what he was going to do to me became more violent. I would sometimes say something back to show him I wasn’t afraid, thinking that perhaps he wanted a cowering victim but it didn’t matter. Sometimes if I hung up straight away he would call back quickly and be angry, or wait for a few minutes or a few days. I called the police again, as what he said became more threatening, but still the calls weren’t specific or regular enough. It was often the same officer who was there when I called, and he genuinely seemed regretful that the situation didn’t allow him to tap the phones. It was surreal.
Then it got more surreal. I think my boss, ‘Judy’, didn’t really ‘get’ how bad these calls were but she definitely got an earful when he left a message on the answering machine. One of my jobs was to check the answering machine for messages and he fucking left one on there. Fairly brief, and to the descriptive point. When Judy heard it, she turned pale and was shocked. I called the police again – aha, proof! – but no. Still no help.
I won’t get into specifics and exact descriptions but I will say this – he promised to repeatedly rape me violently, to the point of injury.
So I did what I had to do; I got a gun.
My father used to hunt and I had fired a gun on my great aunt’s farm with him – he had grown up on a farm himself, and was a good shot. One of his exercises for me was to shoot a watermelon and I remember it was mangled afterwards. This was a reminder to never shoot unless you mean it, because the damage is horrific – you could easily kill someone, so do not do shoot lightly, he said.
I never thought I might actually NEED to protect myself like that until those calls, and until the police would do nothing about them. I had endured the harassment for about two months – two months of every day going to work and wondering who was watching me, which building he lived in… could it even be mine, and he was biding his time? Two months of hating when the phone rang, because the PBX didn’t show a caller ID on the phone a lot of the time – it could be a client, it could be him. Two months of breathing easily when he didn’t call for four days, only to be unpleasantly surprised on the fifth, perhaps, or the sixth day.
During one of the phone calls to the police, the officer I spoke with several times – let’s call him Officer Nelson – said something interesting. He had asked if I recognised any sounds or distinguishing features and I said it sounded like there was a cartoon on in the background. (!!!) He didn’t seem surprised, (I’ll paraphrase what he said).
“A lot of times these men are ones who feel impotent. They might have lost their jobs or whatever and are now the ‘wife’ and they are looking to gain control in their lives and this is how they do it. Sounds like this guy is home alone with the kids and these calls are how he is making himself feel important again.”
None of this made me feel any better – sure he was home with the kids now but he leaves the house sometimes. Could we shop at the store and he’d pass me and I would never know it and he would? Would I walk outside one day and find my tyres punctured? Could I go out with my girlfriends and unknowingly meet him at a club? His recitations of what he was going to do to me as I said were getting more violent and descriptive, despite any stand or attitude I gave him or how many times I hung up on him, so would it progress to the next step?
I don’t think I scare easily, but I was worried. I hope to God you never have been or ever will be in this situation, but no matter how brave you think you are it gnaws as you – he knows me but I don’t know him, and I have to be vigilant. I felt it was clear he was watching me by comments he made, so I wondered if it was only a matter of time until something broke, until he escalated, until he learned some pattern or saw a hole he could exploit.
So I had a gun at home and that helped, because I could even the playing field if he tried to force his way in, since he knew where I lived. I didn’t answer the door to people I didn’t know, speaking through it instead when the Jehovah’s Witnesses came by, for instance, and I looked into getting a concealed weapon permit after I found out a friend had one.
Then, thank God, there was a break. I called the police again – it had been a bad week for calls – and Officer Nelson suggested something.
He told me it might not work, but it was a trick that could scare the stalker. Nelson told me next time the stalker called, I should tap the disconnect on the phone, as if I was switching to call waiting but not actually do it enough to hang up, and say something to the effect of, “Officers, this is the call to trace.”
So simple, yet it worked. The minute I did that HE hung up and never called again. To be honest I felt guilty a little because it didn’t solve the problem – he wouldn’t call me, but was he still a threat to someone else? He could have been calling other women too, or moved on to an easier target. It took a while before I finally believed he wouldn’t call again, and for things to return to some semblance of normalcy; after a while I once more felt that bit of security I had captured when I got my job and apartment, constructively taking control of my OWN life.
Even though the worry is gone and it’s been a long time, the shadow of those feelings remain, even as details – like the name of the Officer – have faded. It felt good to exorcise those demons through Lily and for Nathan to get his comeuppance. As I said early in this post the situations aren’t the same, but I definitely drew on my experience when I created Nathan and that situation.