Photo by Artem Adobe Stock
If you’ve ever been stalked before, you know it can be unnerving.
I consider myself realistic: I know my strengths and weaknesses. My strengths do not include being able to physically fend off big burly men. That’s why I have a concealed weapon’s permit.
But it turns out, friendships and support can keep you safer than any gun.
An unexpected friendship
I met Surge on my first day at the call center.
He was an older man with deep-set wrinkles and a voice that seemed to boom in the small shuttle as he asked, “Anyone getting off here?”
The call center I worked at was huge; the parking lot stretched on for literal miles, hence the shuttle.
I was often the first on the shuttle after work, and we quickly became friends.
Am I making it weird?
I also met Ray on my first day at the call center.
He was also older, closer to my dad’s age than mine, but he was nice. We bonded over our love for Subway’s meatball sandwich and scuba diving — he was a frequent diver and it was something I was always interested in.
I adored my conversations with Ray. But one day, Ray mistook our friendship for something more.
“You and I should go out to dinner sometime, since you like Italian. Get some real meatballs. What’s your favorite Italian place?” he asked.
“Uh, Carrabba’s,” I answered, but quickly added with a forced smile, “Though, I don’t think my boyfriend would like that very much.”
Yep — I used that line. Ray already knew I had a boyfriend, but I felt as if I should remind him. And that’s when sweet Ray did a one-eighty on me.
“What? It’s not like that. We’d be two coworkers getting dinner. You don’t need to make it weird!”
My face burned. Was I the one making it weird? I backtracked in my head. Had I misinterpreted it?
This was a classic example of gaslighting, which is when the perpetrator makes you question your reality. And it was only the beginning.
Let the stalking begin!
Most stalkings start with someone you know. In fact, 3 out of 4 stalking victims know their stalkers.
Despite my rejection, Ray was persistent.
Every time I took a break, he seemed to be in the break room too. But then it got worse. He’d sit with me and my friend during lunch. He’d talk to me on my way to my desk. He’d constantly ask about dinner. And worse…he figured out which car was mine.
His shift ended 30 minutes before mine, and one day, I found Ray in the back lot by my car…
Was this my fault?
“Thanks for the ride, Surge!” I hopped off the shuttle, half-skipping to my car. Thank god for Friday’s! Nothing could topple my mood!
That’s when I saw Ray, who was also walking to my car.
My skipping stopped. My heart pounded. Shit. I had snapped at him at lunch earlier. Instead, of the fake smile I usually offered, when Ray mentioned Carrabba’s, I said something rude and left the cafeteria.
Now, I was questioning: Why did I do that?!
I hate that I thought that because it’s never the victim’s fault.
Some people think that women who dress or act a certain way are “asking” for rape. Disgusting, I know. And those same people would likely say that women who are abrasive and rude are also asking for it.
Was I asking for this? I thought to myself. No, calm down. Nothing’s happened yet.
Ray stopped outside my driver’s car door as I neared, leaning against it. It was a clear barrier. As if to silently say, “If you want to get to your car, you have to go through me.” Who the fuck does that?
And my mind answered for me: rapists and murderers.
Maybe that’s not fair. Maybe Ray wasn’t intending to rape or murder me. But there was no excuse for him to be outside my car.
Again, I know my strengths and weaknesses. I was very aware that Ray was capable of doing more than making me uncomfortable.
I’m barely 5'2". I have zero muscle. And despite being a legal firearm owner, my workplace is “gun-free”. So that pistol I own? Locked in my car…
If Ray wanted to assault me, it wouldn’t be hard. To be honest, I was terrified.
I slowed down as I approached him, offering a smile. Because that’s what you do, right? Don’t make it a big deal. Smile.
What if he just wanted to talk? What if I made it a big deal and people thought I was dramatic? After all, there’s a cultural stigma against women and being “overly-emotional.” I didn’t want to be overly-emotional.
Still, I stopped nearly six feet away from him.
“Hey Ray,” I said, hoping he couldn’t hear my discomfort through the forced grin.
“Hey. Lunch was kind of weird today. I just wanted to apologize,” Ray began.
But then a vehicle stopped nearby, and a booming voice called, “Malinda? You forgot something in here.”
My Knight in Shining Armor
I turned, and there was Surge. Oh, thank god!
I stepped away from Ray and hurried over to the bus, the modern equivalent of a valiant white steed, and Surge the knight in shining armor.
Once on the bus, Surge asked me with a serious expression, “Everything alright?” He looked over my shoulder to eye Ray cautiously.
Maybe I was that transparent or maybe Surge just had a fatherly six-sense. I just subtly shook my head, tears of relief threatening to spill over.
Surge had many more runs to make, carting people from the main building to the lots, and space was limited on the shuttle. Still, I asked, “Can I just ride around with you until he goes away?”
Surge, of course, nodded. Even better, Surge didn’t ask me to explain what had happened, but I think a part of him knew.
After that day, Surge insisted he drop me off right at my car, instead of the shuttle stop. And he didn’t pull away from the lot until I was safely inside my car and pulling out of the lot as well.
I believe that Surge’s kindness and friendship literally saved me.
Be Someone’s Knight — Help People
People are so focused nowadays on the idea that you have to save yourself.
It’s true, you can’t rely on someone like Surge showing up right before something awful happens. And unfortunately, many social experiments have been done that show that most people look the other way when witnessing someone in need of help.
But we need to do better. We should be able to rely on friends and community in times of need. We need to look out for each other.
Women often feel like they have to just fake a smile and hope for the best when men won’t take no for an answer. But we don’t need to simply save ourselves, not when we have each other.
So next time you see someone who looks uncomfortable, don’t look the other way. It takes two seconds to ask, “Is everything alright?”
If you start asking, you may be surprised how many times the answer is no. We all have an opportunity to help each other, to save each other.
Who knows what would have happened if Surge didn’t take two seconds to ask me that? I sure don’t want to know. But Surge did inspire me to be a better person and to look out for others more often.
Be kind to each other. Look out for each other. In the end, you can change someone’s life.