O, Facebook. In one week, FB connected me with two people: One whom I was delighted to hear from again; one who made me cringe.
The cringeworthy person was known as Stalker Mike, half of the Evil Twins. (Hi, Ann! Haha, good times, right!)
Stalker Mike was, well, my stalker. We were assigned to work together on a history project. I sort of pitied him--he was weird and an outcast and perhaps a little interesting--and I thought it best just to be nice to him. I went to his house one day after school to work on the project. His mother was pretty crazy, maybe bipolar?, but she makes a mean marinara sauce.
O, nice. Do not be nice to a person with latent stalker tendencies. (Disclaimer: he didn't, like, murder my cat or kidnap me or anything serious. Don't get too worked up.)
Stalker Mike decided that he was in love with me, but it was a strange projection of me. He liked to claim that I was wearing a mask, that I wasn't letting out the real me.
Michael was just sort of creepy, and I was too nice. I was brought up on nice. I'm a freakin' pleaser, OK? Raised Catholic by teachers; you try not to be nice. Senior year, I found a month-old love letter from him in my backpack. I had an LL Bean backpack with a gazillion little compartments beneath a gazillion little zippers, and Stalker Mike had the misfortune to place it in a zipper I seldom open.
I flashed back to a month earlier, when the principal had asked me to step into his office. (Hey Ann, I don't think I ever told you this part, because it was too creepy and embarrassing!) The principal asked me if I had a boyfriend named Michael. I said no. I couldn't even think who he would be talking about. The principal told me that "Michael loves Karen" and "Michael + Karen" were spraypainted all over the boys' bathroom. I suggested that perhaps it was the students visiting for some kind of acadmic bowl earlier in the week. I was mystified.
Yet, I thought that Michael's letter deserved the dignity of a response, because, you know, too fucking nice. So I wrote a nice little missive about how, thank you for your interest but you are not a qualified candidate because I don't feel the same. I passed it to him in the cafeteria or study hall. I thought that would be enough.
He came up to me later and thanked me for the response, and then proceeded to argue against it. I can't rememeber what I did.
I went to college. Stalker Mike sent me bizarre letters on graph paper. He often placed the words on the page in a shape. I'm not sure how he got my address, come to think of it. He liked making poetic metaphors that made no sense. I don't recall writing back, but the letters kept coming for a time. At some point, I'm not sure if it was from the letters or what, I noticed that whatever I said or did seemed to be "wrong". I hadn't yet heard of borderline personality disorder.
Now here's where I get stupid. Because, after sophomore year of college, none of my friends were returning to our podunk town (annual event: cow chip festival!) for the summer. College students are endlessly social people and require almost infinite contact with peers. Who was in town? You got it! Stalker Mike and his Evil Twin, Angry James, who had grabbed a girl and shoved her against the lab bench in junior year honors physics.
Stalker Mike had a girlfriend, Heather Who Had Been in a Cult. But Heather, Heather seemed so nice and normal. And at first I didn't know that she had been a Satanist for a while. It was later that she told me of the vengeance ritual that made a beautiful but treacherous model's hair fall out, and by then she was ashamed of her prior self. Stalker Mike was stalking her now. It was all OK! They could be dysfunctional together! I could just enjoy hanging out on Thayer Street in Providence with them. They introduced me to Monty Python (like) and that tedious card game Magic (hated). I was safe because Michael had a lady.
At some point, Stalker Mike and Satanic Heather were living in their own apartment in Providence. At some point, they were kicked out and homeless, living out the car in Lincoln Woods. Then they lived with the kind and patient monks of the local Buddhist monastery for a time. Then they were ("unfairly," said Michael) kicked out of the monastery.
[Note: I cross my heart that I am not making up or even embellishing a word of this.]
At one point, Heather and I sat on the curb of Thayer Street eating our falaffel, and Heather said that she and Michael had talked about taking a "break" when I was home for the summer so that he could date me. I told Heather that I was just not interested in Michael romantically and he didn't seem able to accept it.
I officially told both Evil Twins to stop contacting me my senior year of college, when they were fighting over Heather's affections and asked me to referree by email. Then I jumped up and danced through our on-campus housing, freed at last. In my jumping and spinning I accidentally hit the thermostat with a stray hand and the cover came flying off. Thus I earned the nickname, The Goddess of Destruction.
College students. Everything was hilarious to our former selves. Why is that?
Recently, my family was reminiscing at one get-together or another, and my dad recalled how (unbeknownst to me until that moment) Stalker Mike would drive up and park in the road across from our house at 5:30 AM many days. My poor father would (he said with amusement!) go out to the car and say, "Go home, Michael."
All of which is to explain why I cringed when Stalker Mike found me on FaceBook. Yet, I couldn't quite remember everything I just told you. I had this vague sense of anxiety, distrust, and aversion, but I didn't remember quite why.
But some patterns take a while to change. I thought (of fucking course), People change! I wonder what Michael is up to! I wrote back.
What ensued was a strange correspondence. Michael said (I'm paraphrasing), "Let's play a game. You can ask me one question, I'll answer, and then I'll ask you one." I agreed. I made sure to mention that I was married at every opportunity; that would make me safe. He was living in China; that made me safe, too. This correspondence promised to be interesting. (See? It's my goddamn love of all things interesting that gets me into situations like this.)
My questions were pretty reasonable, I thought: How did you come to live in Asia?, but Stalker Mike wouldn't answer that, not directly. He asked me things like, "When's the last time you had a good cry?" and "What's the biggest mistake you made this week?" I answered them all truthfully, but within boundaries I felt appropriate. For example, when he asked me, "Where are you most ticklish?" which was truly inappropriate, I cleverly replied, "The back of my throat because of the ragweed." He was still not answering my questions. He suggested we talk by phone and
offered to mail me some of his writing. I tactfully ignored him.
Then Michael said "First, let me compliment you. You seem like a very confident and self-possessed person. But it just doesn't fit what I see of you. I know there's a whole galaxy inside there. Why don't you let it out? For example, when you told me about visiting the bees, you just reported it. But I sense that it moved you deeply. So tell me, K, how carefully constructed is your mask?"
I told him it was his own fault if he couldn't see the real me and then quoted the Heart Sutra. I told him to take some responsibility: If he wanted to hear more about the bees, then he should ask.
I asked him, AGAIN, how he wound up living in Asia. He again did not answer.
The next 2 times I logged onto FB, to correspond with that other friend I was happy to talk with, within seconds Stalker Mike was right there on the FB IM trying to reach me. The first time, creeped out, I shut the browser without finishing my message to A. When I logged on again hours later to finish the message, Stalker Mike's name popped up: "Are you there now, K?" I replied, "I don't IM. It's a time suck." He replied, "Well, excuse me, I'll leave you to your super-productive emailing :P". I replied (STILL TOO NICE!), "Going out to run errands. Have a good one."
I came back to find another email from him ("I should have asked more about the bees, you're right, but you can assume that I always want more. I'm a deep guy. You can participate as much or as little as you want."). I decided that enough was enough. Basta cosi!, as the Sicilians say. This morning, I wrote:
I'm feeling very angry with you.
I have honestly answered every question you have asked me, but you suggest that I'm hiding behind a mask. Yet, you have still not answered the very basic question I've asked you.
I don't do mindmelds and I don't play mind games. I think you are being very manipulative. I can't be friends. If you see it differently, then our perceptions are so different that we are incompatible as friends, anyway.
And then I removed him from my FB friends, the Ultimate Electronic Insult!
Then I remembered all the ways in which Stalker Mike had earned his nickname, all those elusive memories that were flying like bats hidden below the surface. And now you know, too.
Judge me not.
Update: Actually, I am feeling sort of proud that I had the guts to trust my instincts. I've laid it all out for you so that you can see the stalker thread clearly, but stalkers are crafty and often seem logical, reasonable. You can tell yourself, "He's just a nice guy with a crush on me. There's no need to be cruel. We can be friends." Stalkers, alas, are so delusional that subtlety does not work, although they can be subtle themselves. It's hard to understand, perhaps, unless you've had your own Stalker Mike.
I think having a preserved preserved correspondence helped me to spot the Creepiness.