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Brave New World

karinapauletti_online

He persisted, even after I had said “no” multiple times. I was just 17 and he was well into his 30s, perhaps early 40s. A part-time job I enjoyed going to turned into a horror film whenever he turned up. “Your chest looks nice in that shirt,” he said to me one night as I was wearing my oversized work shirt buttoned to the very top. I maintained my silence and these one-sided conversations gradually got more suggestive, probably because I did not say anything in response to his advances or compliments.

It was the end of a late-night shift. Headed home, I walked across the shopping mall’s parking garage and noticed the co-worker sitting in his car, watching me. As I pulled out of the parking lot, I looked in the rearview mirror and realized that he was right behind me. I made several turns to see if he would follow, and he stayed right on me. I sped and hid away in a different town to make sure I had lost him. I could not stop looking into our driveway to make sure he wasn’t there before leaving my car. It took me two hours to get home that night. My heart felt like it was going through my chest when I finally made it home.

The very next day, I messaged this co-worker and asked him to speak with me after work to discuss what he did. He agreed to speak with me but not without sending me 26 texts about how good of a friend I was to him. This was inappropriate considering we had met just a week prior.

I told him that his attempt to follow me home was entirely unacceptable, to which he answered, “I’ll make it up to you over dinner,” with a smirk. If he was truly listening to what I had to say, dating would have been the last thing on his mind. I had said no to his invitation at least 10 times before he finally relented and uttered under his halitosis, “fuck you, you’re a fat ugly slut.” He had a way with words.

I was not angry. I was more upset with the realization that my agency meant nothing in that moment. As a young woman, he viewed me as a being born into the world with the sole purpose of getting him off. When I didn’t fulfill that role, he tried to throw me away, relegating me to the status of a “fat ugly slut” because I meant nothing more. He definitely didn’t care about how good of a friend I was in that instant.

Soon after, the stalking entered the digital world. At work, he would merely glare at me, breathing through his mouth with his eyes fixed right at me. I thought that conversation would be the end of it until he sent me a friend request on Facebook. Nausea came over me when I saw him on the site. As I blocked one profile, he would immediately make another one. Annoying Facebook requests turned into unwanted phone calls, emails and text messages. I was not truly shaken until I noticed that he had somehow discovered my Playstation gamertag, a piece of information that no one outside of my closest friends know.

The messages across these platforms were harmless, initially. As his voicemails and phone calls went unanswered, his tone became more aggressive. The majority of the comments he was leaving behind were about my appearance, ranging from calling me “disgusting” to saying that I was the girl of his dreams because we liked the same books. One evening, he tried sending me pornographic videos about 75 times through iMessage.

I did not fully understand that he was stalking me until years after I left that job and the harassment subsided. That constant feeling of my stomach being in free fall when I saw his messages was not normal by any standard. When I discuss this with others, the experience sounds far from normal. In those moments, however, it was my reality, and by ignoring his messages, I did not truly register how dangerous this situation was. I was afraid to ask for help and admit that I was being harassed digitally. I would understand much later that stalking online can have as great a reach as stalking in the real world.

Seeing his expressionless face in the rearview mirror as I sped across the freeway was the stuff of nightmares. I was fortunately able to create a distance between him and myself when I came home and locked myself in. He was able to close that distance with cyberstalking. Through instant messages, he could enter my thoughts without physically being there. This frightening prospect is the reason why I am cautious when posting online today.

As for this co-worker, I am not sure what he is doing or where he is. I am not too concerned with finding out. I will not let him dictate my worth, my agency or the ideas I wish to express, especially if he’s far away in a digital sea.

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