Sunday, March 29, 2009
Object of Obsession
I’ve been reading articles lately about the gymnast, seventeen year-old Shawn Johnson, and her recent ordeal with an obsessed stalker. A deranged, 34 year-old man developed a fantasy world around the delusion that he and Shawn were meant to be together and he had himself convinced that she "spoke to him via telepathy". He showed up last week at ABC studios in Los Angeles, where Shawn is taping “Dancing With The Stars”, with two loaded guns in his car and a roll of duct tape. Luckily, he was intercepted and has been arrested and charged with felony stalking, as well as carrying a loaded weapon in a vehicle. Hopefully this guy will be kept in custody until they can commit him to a secure, psychiatric facility for a long, long time.
This story has triggered memories of a time in my life about twenty eight years ago when I was the target of this kind of unwanted attention. I know first hand how upsetting and scary it can be to be stalked.
When my husband Mac and I were engaged, he was living in a tiny, three room cottage on a small lake in a nearby town. At the time, I was living two towns away in big apartment with two friends. Mac and I, and the two dogs loved to canoe on the lake and we spent most of our time there, and I would occasionally stay over, rather than make the drive home alone late at night. Since Mac would rise very early and be gone off to work before dawn, I would be left there on my own for a few hours, with only the two dogs for company. I was not apprehensive at all about this. I felt very comfortable there and I never thought twice about it.
One morning just after it had gotten light, I awoke to the distinct feeling that someone was watching me. The dogs were quiet, so I wasn’t concerned. I was lying facing a window that sat a few feet off the ground. I opened my eyes and the first thing I saw was a figure, wearing a black knitted hat with a ski mask peering in at me.
Oddly enough, I was startled, but not afraid. I assumed it was one of the little kids from the neighborhood, pranking me. If it had been a total stranger, the two dogs would surely had gone crazy barking. I chuckled about it a little and went about my business straightening up and feeding the animals before I had to leave and go back to my apartment to get ready for work.
I was a smoker in those days, and as I walked across the yard to my little, red VW bug, I lit up a Kool. After getting in and buckling up, I pulled open the ashtray under the dashboard, and to my surprise, saw that a playing card had been stuffed into it. It was the queen of hearts. On the back of the card was a cartoony picture of a puppy and some flowers. Written on the face in a messy hand was a sloppy verse, warning me that I had narrowly escaped being raped, and that it was known that the back door didn’t lock properly. Now I was afraid.
I remembered that Mac mentioned coming home one day and finding the back door open and his desk drawers pulled out and in disarray. He had nothing at all of value in the little shack, and never bothered reporting the incident to the police. Neither of us thought much about it until this happened. That night we drove to the police station. After telling the story and showing the officer on duty the playing card, we left, feeling dismayed and nervous. We had been told that they could not, or would not, do anything about it until something actually happened. Until what happened... I got raped or murdered? I decided to stay away from the lake from then on, at least during the nighttime. This was very upsetting because I loved the lake, and I loved the dogs even more. There were no animals allowed in my apartment building and the only way I could see them was to go to the lake or meet up with Mac someplace else. It made me sad, but more than that, it made me angry. My freedom had been obstructed by someone I didn’t even know. It infuriated me.
A day or so later, on my day off, I decided to pop over to Charlotte’s across the street from Mac’s. She was a sweet, friendly woman and I wanted to tell her to be wary of strangers lurking around the neighborhood. She opened the screen door and greeted me with a smile, but as she turned the card over in her hand, her face quickly clouded over. She demeanor changed suddenly, and she acted as if she wanted me to leave. She practically shut the door in my face. I left her driveway, wondering at her odd response. She had always been kind and polite before. Her husband was a dour and solemn type who would wave hello only if we did, and never took the opportunity to speak. It would not have surprised me if he responded that way, but Charlotte had never been rude. Her youngest son was constantly visiting with Mac, watching him chop wood or work around the yard. He was nice kid, sweet and pleasant like his mom. There was an older son whom neither of us had met. I had seen him walking down the dirt road toward the bus stop a few times. He was about seventeen or eighteen and seemed very shy. He never spoke to us or waved.
That evening, when Mac pulled his truck into the yard and shut it off, there was suddenly a knock at the driver side window. It was Charlotte. In tears, she explained that I had come to see her and had shown her the card with the threat on it. She recognized it as coming from a deck in her home. On a hunch, she confronted her oldest son and had gotten a confession from him. He really had no intention of harming me, she insisted, but had a crush on me and had gotten the idea for the playing card note from something he had seen on T.V. She begged Mac not to go to the police with the information, as she feared his father would “kill him”. She said that she had already made an appointment with a counselor and that the boy was enlisting in the service as soon as he graduated high school in a few months. She swore that he would never bother us again. I had serious misgivings, but I felt sorry for her. She was a good person and I didn’t want to make any trouble for her. We would be married in a month or so and moving to another town. Besides, the police had been no help and she was getting the kid counseling. We decided to let the matter go.
I continued my policy of visiting only during the daytime and never staying alone at the cottage, but one afternoon I was driving down the dirt road alone, and I saw the older boy walking in the same direction that I was traveling in, a few yards up ahead. I thought to myself that he must be very embarrassed about the whole thing and I was feeling a little sorry for him when, to my shock, he stopped walking and turned around. He stood and faced me as I approached him, and he stared at me, wide-eyed, with the creepiest look on his face, his eyes following me as my car rumbled slowly by on the rutted road.
Shortly thereafter, we moved to the two family home that we still live in today. We had invited his mother and younger brother to the wedding. We think he got our phone number from the shower invitation. At least, we believe it was him on the other end of the phone, calling us every single Saturday night at the stroke of midnight for about two years. It was always the same. If we didn’t answer, it would ring until we did. If we answered, there would be silence in response to our hello. We got into the habit of picking up the handset and just placing it on a table and leaving it there until morning. One Sunday morning around six o’clock, I picked it up and put it back in its cradle and it rang instantly. My heart nearly stopped. Had he been trying it all night, or was this just a coincidence? I picked it up and said “Hello?” There was silence on the other end. I exploded in a rage. I let loose with a barrage of curses and insults that you would not believe. I told him that he was incredibly pathetic and needed to get himself a life. I hung up, and disconnected the phone from the jack. The next morning I called the phone company and changed our phone number. The old number was private and unlisted, which was why I suspected that he had gotten it from the invitation. If it was him, he’d have no way to get this new number. We never had a prank phone call again after that.
What makes certain people become obsessed with others they don’t even know? Even stranger, how does the object of their affection become the object of their homicidal rage? How do they make the leap from being an adoring fan to becoming a crazed, would-be murderer? Is it some hidden mechanism of a diseased brain, or a symptom of possession by some unspeakable evil? For the life of me, I have no clue.