I have a stalker. Last night he proposed.
My stalker has proposed marriage many times before this. But, each time, he announces it as his new idea, and he expects me to embrace it with gratitude and with all the enthusiasm due novelty. “No one ever wanted to marry you before this, did they? Well, I want to marry you!”
As usual, he proposed on a voice mail. I love my smart phone. It’s wise enough to send Stalker’s calls directly to voice mail. I used to make do with his unique ringtone (Bold as Love, do you know it?), back when I still would decide to answer his calls if he sounded reasonably sober. Now, all calls go directly to voice mail, and I have voice mail notifications set to silent. This is a big plus because his favorite time to call me is 3 a.m.
Stalker insisted he was proposing sober, so I should take him seriously. “I only had half a pint of vodka. For me to get drunk, I need many, many pints at this stage of my career.”
I knew he couldn’t be too drunk. After a fifth, he tends to threaten my blood relatives with bodily harm to punish me for . . . well, that’s the back story. We’ll get to that.
Hear Stalker’s song— Bold As Love
* * *
You have a stalker? Get rid of him! Block him! Change your phone number!
Gee. Wish I had thought of that.
The last time I blocked him on my cell phone, he called me at my office! And no, we cannot block numbers there. And all he would have to do, if he were pissed off enough, is hit that “zero” for receptionist, tear through the company and embarrass me in front of all those co-workers!
Yes, I know he would. He knows I know. But, one day I will retire from the day job. Then I will block my cell phone. Then I will be free.
Don’t you worry about him showing up, following you?
No. He lives 3,000 miles away from, in New York City. Over the decades, he has become the quintessential New Yorker, not venturing much beyond Westchester to the north, New Jersey to the west. Have you seen the widely distributed cover of a 1976 New Yorker magazine issue, depicting the world view of a New Yorker? Not much exists for them west of New Jersey. It is true. There the dragons lay. These days, since he transformed from the strong, brave, alpha man to the agoraphobe holed up in the Bronx, I don’t believe in much chance of him showing up at my door in Portland, Oregon.
See the cover, The World From Ninth Avenue
A restraining order? For someone making threatening phone calls 3,000 miles away? No, his precinct says to call my precinct. My precinct says to call his precinct. Not much of imminent threat of harm.
His weapon of choice is the damn phone. And he is so so good with it. He seduces with it, he controls with it, he becomes the bigger-than-life Wizard of Oz projected on a giant screen with it. I only got to see the exposed, broken man from behind the curtain after months of a long-distance relationship, marathon sessions on the phone, on Facebook, on YouTube. Hours of laughing and giddiness and storytelling on the phone. Then, the phone was our friend.
Did I mention he was a disc jockey? He was Howard Stern before Howard Stern. I hate Howard Stern. But I love guts. I love a man who talks and talks and talks. Who will sing to me, with me, tell me marathon stories through the night. It’s trite but true. I love a man who makes me laugh.
So, I don’t change my phone number. Reduces the risk of him calling my co-workers, calling my friends, calling my relatives. Scaring them and making them pity me. I don’t block his any longer than it takes for him to prove, yes, I block him, he find another phone number.
But, perhaps, at least, if I won’t block — I could stop listening to the voice mails?
What would be the harm in that? Why haven’t I done that already? What am I waiting for? For Mr. Hyde to disappear behind the curtain of a 12-step program, leaving Dr. Jekyll behind? For a cure to be found? He will tell you, he has nothing that needs a cure. He does not have a problem that my cooperation will not fix. And only my cooperation. It’s your fault, you know.
I do not listen to all the voice mails anymore. But, I do sample them. Because, I want my Dr. Jekyll back. I sample the temperature of the messages — is the man I knew and loved back? He used to resurface once in a while. It could happen again. Maybe.
I haven’t been able to give up hope. I have tried, tried, and tried. Now I must get off the holding pattern. I am going to find the cure. I’m going to get the Incredible Hulk back into the bottle and I’m going to get my man back. And I’ll start with the very next call.
* * *
You know you’re in trouble when your friends (usually so respectful of your personal choices and wise decisions; friends who look to you for counsel in their own moments of confusion and dilemma ), when your friends are “concerned.”
“Concerned.” Euphemism for you are frightening me. You are in danger, girl. You make no sense, you are taking unnecessary risks, you are not protecting yourself, you are being stupid and you are frightening me, so stop it already.
I reassure them. It’s not that bad. I know what I’m doing. I have it under control. He wouldn’t really do anything.
Hell, even I don’t believe it anymore. But, sometimes safety is not the highest priority. So, I don’t tell them as much as I used to.
An abuser will isolate you. If nothing else, your embarrassment will isolate you all on its own.
But they weren’t there! In our summer of love. They weren’t there!
He wasn’t always named Stalker. In high school, our crowd called him, “The Barbarian.” His second girlfriend called him a monster.
His first love – his only love — his lover ended their relationship, and his tenuous hold on sanity, with a single gunshot to her chest.
“She was a physician. She knew how to do it.”
She did what??
Summer, 2009. Stalker spent weeks gearing up to tell me the story. One night, after feeding me intimations and innuendos for weeks, he finally he drew a deep breath. It was 5:00 am in New York, on his end of the phone. And he had enough vodka to be morose but not enough to be belligerent.
“I’ll tell you. But I’ve never told anyone the whole story.” Tell me.
“It was 35 years ago. March 21. 35 years ago.”
He had been 22, a college student. She was a friend of his brother’s. She was a 30-year-old doctor, finishing up her residency at the university hospital. She was a doctor. She knew how to do it with one bullet. The gun only had one bullet. “She knew what I would have done if there was a second one.”
“One day I will save her. She is waiting for me, in the seventh circle of hell. I killed her, and I will save her.”
You killed her?
“I will start at the beginning so you will understand. I will tell you everything, and then you will understand.”
* * *
“I killed two, maybe three, souls. The state of Virginia will not convict me. But there will be no place in heaven for me. If you will love me, you must know the truth.”
Stalker had never told anyone the whole story. For 35 years, he carried the pain of the guilt. His voice carried a note of fresh pain, as though it had happened yesterday. Perhaps if I listened carefully and with an open heart, he could start a journey.
I feared what I might hear. Would I still love him when I heard the full story? I pulled the covers over me. It was 2:00 AM, and we had been on the phone seven hours. Stalker in his Bronx apartment. A humid, August New York night, that was just turning to morning. Me, in the close, cool darkness of the still-dark night in my Portland, Oregon home. I turned out the light by my bedside, held the cell phone closer. Realized I had been holding my breath. The birds were starting to call to each other on his end of the phone.
“Tell me, Stalker. Tell me now.” Confess to me, I thought.
“There is a waterfall in the Blue Ridge Mountains,” he began. A waterfall nestled in the lush green mountains where Deborah and I visited one hot summer day in Virginia, 1971. As we started down the hilly path, a heavy rain began. Other hikers, tourists, passed us as they ran up the path to their cars for shelter. We didn’t care. The rain drenched us; Deborah’s tee-shirt was soaked. No one else seemed to notice. When we reached the pool at the bottom, the sky cleared and we swam naked by the waterfall. We played and grabbed and laughed. The best ten minutes of my lifetime. If only I could go back to the waterfall. Promise me, Baby. Promise me when I die, you will take my ashes to the waterfall.
She was beautiful. Deborah Richard Dubois. So slender. Her hair was soft, silky brown to her shoulders. She stood a couple of inches shorter than an average woman, and she looked almost like a tall child, she was so slight. Her family lived in Virginia for many generations. Her father owned a large farm; she grew up hunting and rugged and knowing the things I thought only men knew. She was brilliant, she was gorgeous. She didn’t need to work, but she wanted to heal people. She was a doctor. She was the most eligible bachelorette in Virginia. And somehow she wanted me.
When I first saw you, Deborah said to Stalker, it was the sun coming out.
I was 19 when we met, Deborah was 27. My brother brought her to the Bronx one break from the Medical College of Virginia, in Richmond. They studied together. I looked at her across from my family’s kitchen table. She looked out of place in our small apartment near Kingsbridge Road. She might have been the only Baptist girl my Irish Catholic mother Mary ever allowed in her kitchen. But she wasn’t a girl. A woman. And just a friend — they were just friends. And Deborah needed a place to go for the break, to get away. Far away.
She looked old and tired across the table. But her eyes said she needed me. We laughed and tickled each other and cuddled the rest of the night. In the morning she said, “Don’t let them see my shoes by your bed. What would they say?”
I went into action. I had to be with her. The next day I made some announcements.
* * *
“Deborah returned to Richmond,” said Stalker. “And I went into action.”
First, I announced to my mother Mary and my sisters that I was moving my bed from the living room of our apartment. I was taking one of the bedrooms for myself. They would have to double-up more. They obeyed. After all, I helped Mary with the rent.
And the phone company was coming out to put a phone into my bedroom, with its own number. I would pay for it myself.
Remember, these were the days when the phone was permanently attached to the wall. Yes, it was a long time ago! And you paid for each minute of a long distance call. You paid a lot. But remember, I was working at the post office while taking classes at City College, going to school for free — with money left over — on a state Regents scholarship.
“Yes, Baby. Once upon a time Stalker had extra cash in his pocket. And now I knew what to do with it.”
On Friday, every two weeks, I went directly from work to the airport to spend two days with Deborah in Richmond. Otherwise, we spent each evening on the phone for hours. All hours. What did we talk about? It didn’t matter. We were together, that was all. When you are in love, that is how it is. And I was in love for the first time.
I was in love for the only time. Until now, with you, Baby. It took 40 years to find love again.
“Deborah,” I said, “I can’t afford the phone bills anymore! I am coming to you.”
I moved to Richmond. Off the Bronx streets where I had taken those beatings as a boy. Every day after class, the bullies were waiting for me, I was the smallest of the class — until one day I grew strong enough and pushed them back. Moved away from the men, was as boys watched the nuns beat me. “The sister hates us all, but has a special spot of hatred in her heart just for you,” my buddy said. I moved to the South. I switched my major from acting to pre-med.
I moved to Richmond. Anything to be with Sugar.
A year of heaven.
Then I did something stupid.
* * *
Also see Stalker, the Music
© Barbara E. Berger, 2011, all rights reserved. “Stalker” is a work of fiction.