The phone calls started a couple of weeks ago. I was at work, and didn't think much of the first one as I politely but quickly hung up before the caller got beyond talking about a music video and a band I haven't been in for nine years. Right after the last call of the day disconnected my brother rang.
"Did you just get a weird phone call?" he asked. I told him I did, and then asked if he had been pranked too. He hesitated, which made me nervous. Turns out someone had been calling his landline all afternoon trying to get in touch with me. It wasn't until he'd given her my number that he realised he might have made a mistake. The breathy, repetitive diatribes on religious prophecies and butchered pronunciations of our last name apparently creeped him out the more he thought about it.
Of course, by that time, it was too late. I got four calls from her that day, each resulting in a voicemail that sounded like a dying phone-sex operator trying to recite the plotline of her three favourite X-Files episodes. Eventually, when I got home, I was able to give everything a thorough listen. I learned that God, in fulfillment of a blood covenant revolving around the End Times, had apparently chosen me to father her child. It's not the worst pickup line I've ever heard, but the parts about her dying seven times, needing me to come see her, aliens and us both being "in danger" didn't exactly inspire confidence or comfort.
The video that made my stalker fall in love with me. I'm not even in it btw, it was made after I left the band.
I called my old bandmates to ask them about it, and they responded with silence followed by the type of "holy shit" you only want to encounter after someone unzips your pants. Apparently, this same person had been sending "fan mail" through the band’s record label, which included screenshots of the band members from the video, annotated with details of the prophecy she'd begun explaining to me via phone, as well as notarised poems which spoke to the future she saw for her and them. And now me, I guessed.
"We didn't know how seriously to take it," one of them explained. They knew now.
I headed home and dealt with it the only way I know how: I bought a taped-up Louisville Slugger, filled out a police report, went home, checked my closets, drank a beer in the shower and locked myself in my bedroom.
Do you know how long you have to wait for a fat, old, white dude in a robe to tell you that his eight-second analysis of your affidavit has determined that blood covenants + command-type auditory hallucinations = not creepy enough to give you a temporary protection order? Three to four hours if you're lucky, apparently. After shooting me down, the judge scheduled a hearing where I had to have a fucking meet-and-greet with my stalker. Thanks a lot, asshole.
Luckily, comic relief seems to be the main function of the court system, as accessed in small doses between receiving threats. Circular phone trees with transfer after transfer, people who – despite having computers riddled with databases – cannot find the name of the detective who is working your case or whether you have a restraining order in place and who explicitly advise you to "wait" it out, thereby implicitly encouraging the following: screaming into a pillow in existential terror; keeping 911 dialed and ready to "send" on your phone; and staring at your front door all night, shirtless, listening to just-audible NPR broadcasts with a steak knife balanced on your knee.
The key players in the plot to destroy me.
By day three, the messages had started spinning erratic patterns around the central theme of wanting to make a baby with me. The vastness of the plot now encompassed Diane Sawyer, Prince Harry, aliens and her multiple identities, which included characters from movies like Underworld, The Seventh Sign and, of course, the 1990 John Hughes comedy classic and harbinger of the apocalypse, Home Alone.
Within a week, screamed obscenities were becoming a regular fixture of the voicemails. Threatening references to my presumed adulterous nature gave way to promises that “He” was getting pissed at me for “playing with these whores”. I frequently left my phone someplace where the vibrations wouldn’t instantly send my apocrine glands into hyperdrive, and would wonder, when I listened back, what I had been doing while this woman shrieked about all the whores I “could shove up [my] ass”, seemingly labouring under the delusion that I was up to my earlobes in muff. Eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in my cubicle? Taking a nervous shit? Wiggling my pinky around in my ear, grimacing at what came out, smelling it and looking around to make sure no one was watching before I rubbed it on my sock? I learned a lot about myself this way.
I also learned about the mathematics of anxiety. Before the hearing notice even reached her mailbox, I was told by a detective that they’d confirmed her location and her phone’s landline status. There’s an elementary discomfort equation that becomes grafted onto your circadian rhythms when you discover your unrepentant harrasser lacks a vehicle and a cell phone. This is, of course, the time of the last call you received PLUS the amount of time it would take this person to reach you by public transit MINUS 15 minutes or so.
Me - it's easy to see why she chose to stalk me. I'm surprised it doesn't happen more often TBH.
At some point early the next week, she must have checked her mail or answering machine (remember those? I had to Google “phone machine message” to remember what the fuck they were called) and discovered the hearing date, or one of two admonishments from a detective. Her calls took on a diffidence not displayed since Day One. She pleaded for help in calling “precincts” and told me what to tell the “FBI” that she supposed were behind this “plot” to stop her, asking me to “do the right thing”. The detective I’d been asked to keep in touch with, a 6-foot-nothin’ bespectacled woman with a deep voice and no-bullshit attitude, laughed at her promotion to federal agent, but this series of messages made me ache a little. My caller had gone so far as to mention mental illness when explaining her innocence, and I sensed some glimmer of understanding. If I was experiencing the type of auditory hallucination and thought disorder it seemed like she was, it would look exactly like the whole world was against me. Like I was in a foreign country where no one believed other languages even existed, let alone that someone might try to speak one to them. I was having second thoughts about even going to the restraining order hearing. What if drawing attention hurt her more than it helped her?
I explained some of this between cigarettes to friends outside of a pizza place one night (smoking was an expensive side effect of being stalked – a habit I readily cultivated between calls, cribbed from a few nights’ indulgence and developed via moments of #yolo hedonism that lasted until my fiancee got back from a work trip and flushed my organic [“Really?”] cigarettes down the toilet). They delivered a series of “yeahs” that had me wondering if I was losing it, too.
Luckily, just when I was starting to sympathise (Wednesday-deep or so in week two) hostility rolled right back into the voicemails, and my caller was slinging accusations, talking about supreme evil like Nazis and Dan Brown novels and telling me she was “every woman” (R.I.P. Whitney).
So Restraining Order Day rolled around, and I gathered up my message transcriptions, a mix CD of my stalker’s greatest hits and my police report, and headed out bright and early. I noticed something on my windshield as I rounded the corner and tensed up, but what I thought might be a death threat under my wiper blade turned out to be a $50 ticket. I got in my stupid car with the stupid ticket and steeled my resolve. Time to meet my self-/god-appointed wife.
My restraining order.
In the end, the only person I interacted with at the courthouse besides the judge was the detective I’d been talking to. Collected, defiant and strapped, she sat with me in First Session, moved with me to Second Session and sat to my right as I approached the judge, who, without the other party present, gave me the order I’d been expecting to get a couple weeks prior. Fairly quick and relatively painless for me, but oh so surreal. The inside jokes passed between advocates and officers in an otherwise church-like environment, the names of the principle leads from Leave It To Beaver scrawled on the back of the pew in front of me, the lone wasp ducking in and out of the smoke detector directly above a sour-faced magistrate and power-suited clerk, but mainly it was the lack of protection or empathy or even translators for other people whose harrassers and abusers had shown up that rattled me. And what now? I sat on an oversised bench in the basement of a district court outside the office of the clerk looking at the pink legal-sized document the attractive 20-something victim’s rights advocate had handed me like a preschool teacher pressing a gold star onto the back of a kid’s hand. She’s still there, I’m still here. In a few days, she’ll get served, and if she calls me after that, we get to dance all over again. I stuffed the order in my pocket, walked to my car and drove back to my apartment and my fiancee, baseball bat and toilet clogged with additive-free tobacco.