Where I live, one in ten people have been affected by stalking. Almost three quarters of this number are women. Advice is firm and consistent: call the police, increase your personal safety and privacy, tell people you trust about the situation, document the harassment, and get a restraining order. Most stalkers are an ex-partner or someone they know. There is a body of research that has identified different types of stalkers: the resentful stalker, the predatory stalker, the rejected stalker, the intimacy seeker, and the oddly politely phrased incompetent suitor. These range across ex-partners, work colleagues, casual acquaintances, and strangers.
I have read the documentation, I know the statistics, and I wear them like a shield. I know that stranger stalkers are most likely to be violent (kidnap, rape, murder) during the early stages of their obsession. Stranger stalkers also almost always tend to be either intimacy seekers or incompetent suitors.
Strategies of empowerment-through-data tend to weaken under the weight of nuance, however. To begin with, I had some contact with the man who has stalked me for the past five years (I only briefly met him in groups of people, where we never exchanged more than a few polite words). Professionals—judges, cops, lawyers, etc.—have said that regardless of this, my case is far closer to the ‘stranger stalker scenario.’ Mostly because I have no idea who this person is or what he looks like.
(Note how I refer to “the man who has stalked me” and not “my stalker”. Note how I refer to “my case” and not “our case”. These pronouns are the closest thing to fighting back I have been able to muster. Admire my pronouns. Praise me for them.)
I spend hours, days, years refining the words of My Story, clarifying it. It is not about me but it is mine. How can I negotiate that? How dare I feel the pain and the terror and the suffering I have when other stalked women face far more immediate and real threats from men they have lived with, had children with, men who know their secrets?
I can only be what my story lets me, and my story tells me I’m lucky. I am the Final Girl in my own mediocre Slasher film: I struggle, I fight, I survive. I cower in the cupboard like Jamie Lee Curtis at the end of John Carpenter’s Halloween as Michael Myers wanders ominously outside, but I make it out alive. Is that all we can hope for, though? Survival? If the best thing a girl can aspire to is to not be killed, claims of a feminist victory surely lose some of their polish. Clothes ripped, bloodied, and struggling to catch my breath, the screen fades to black as I look towards a future of endlessly predictable sequels.
“I write because it is my way of being best in the world” has now long been my mantra. It has the surface of poetic bluster, but friends know it is a thirteen-word tragedy. My son is now old enough to have memories of me checking the mailbox while carrying a baseball bat. I cried a long time when I realized that. Hours, days; years.
Where I live, the law is sympathetic to cases like mine. That there is no relationship to unpick in an attempt to decipher where responsibility lies makes it more legible from a legal standpoint: the tens of thousands of words and the phone messages this person sent with no reply speak for themselves. His delusions, his fantasies, his violence, and his threats are clearly attributable to their creator. Nearing the end of the second restraining order, however, little of this offers any real comfort.
My anger knows no limits, and is challenged only by my fear. But I can only be what my story lets me, and my story tells me I’m lucky.
Emily Potter is an academic, researcher and writer who probably lives near you. This is not her real name.
Bluestockings image by Camille Coy.