I Didn't Take It Seriously, I Was Wrong and Now I'm Different
Every move you make, every step you take, I'll be watching you. - The Police, 1983.
I've been called many things in my life, some complimentary, some not so much. But there are 2 things I had never been called, dishonest or afraid. In fact, I prided myself on being neither of those things.
I enjoyed being the one person in people's lives that would forge ahead into the unknown, the person who stared adversity square in the face and said, "whaddaya got?" I survived an abusive relationship, a stalker, raised 3 kids on my own and went from coffee shop supervisor to nighttime call centre employee to the holder of a Bachelors degree to a holder of a Law degree to a successful lawyer all within the space of 10 years. There was nothing in this world that could break me and I loved feeling 6 feet tall and bulletproof! I was THE SHIT, for real!
I also enjoyed being the one person in people's lives that would give them the straight goods, the unvarnished truth. It was, and is, my firm belief that if you're not dealing with the facts, you're not going to accomplish much.
When it came time to end my marriage of 12 years in early 2014, I figured those 2 qualities, honesty and fearlessness, would hold me in good stead. Rather than do what a good friend suggested (and had done when he ended his relationship some months earlier) and disappear while my then-husband was at work, leaving only a note, I chose to face the matter head-on. I sat him down. I told him, to his face, that I had been unhappy for quite some time, that certain things he had done were drop-dead deal breakers and I was leaving. I was 43, he was 54, we were adults and I chose to handle the matter in what I thought was an adult fashion. Besides, he couldn't have been surprised; I'd been expressing my dissatisfaction and trying to make things better for well over a year to no avail.
The first few weeks after I moved out, things were fine. He was heartbroken, of course, and he tried numerous times to get me back, but things were civil. We agreed to remain friends. It seemed a reasonable thing to do. We had shared over a decade together.
Then, I met someone. We'll call him "C". Well, I didn't so much meet him as I did reconnect with him. After over 20 years apart, I stumbled upon and started dating my high school sweetheart and everything changed.
First came the phone calls and Facebook messages, from both my ex and my new partner's ex. Some were from their own personal accounts, others were from a wide variety of personas they had created to harass and annoy us. It was clear they had banded together in their efforts.
It would have been almost amusing, entertaining, at that point, if it hadn't been so pathetic. A grown man and woman carrying on as if they were jilted 12-year-olds. And when it wasn't those 2 playing social media games, my ex's family saw fit to hurl abuse at me for daring to leave their precious brother, son, etc. Every day brought dozens of ridiculous accusations, insults, lies and just plain foolishness. We giggled and moved on. I had no time for childish people or their childish games. I didn't take it seriously.
Then, my ex extricated himself from his partnership with C's ex. He apologized profusely for his actions, explaining the shock of seeing me with someone else had caused him to behave poorly. I accepted his apology and we remained friendly, or friendly-ish.
He became clingy, offering to take me shopping, demanding I stop by his house for coffee before work, buying me presents I didn't ask for and didn't want. If I acquiesced to his requests, he was overly sweet, weepy, apologetic. He begged me to come back. He offered to give up his family and everything he held dear. He even offered to let me continue seeing my current partner on the side. Anything! Anything, if I would just come back. I didn't take it seriously.
When the nice approach didn't produce the desired result, he'd turn, first on himself, then on me. He threatened to take his own life. It didn't scare me. I don't mean to sound callous, but he tried the same thing with his first ex-wife. He made the threat a few times, each time I called the police to conduct a welfare check. Other than that, I didn't take it seriously.
It sounds strange to say now, but I continued to check on him, to feel sorry for him. Actually, it was more than that, I felt responsible for his pain and his odd behaviour. It was me who left him, who broke his heart and seemingly broke him, it was me that had to lessen the damage as much as I could.
In hindsight, I did exactly the wrong thing. He started showing up everywhere I was. EVERY. FREAKING. WHERE. He waited inside the parking garage outside my office. He creeped around the courthouse. He parked on my street. If I went to get gas at 5 am, he was there. If I went shopping, he was there. He was everywhere. It was creepy. It was weird, but I wasn't scared. I was pissed off, embarrassed and pissed off!
Here I was, a grown woman, by this time, 44 years old whose life and impending divorce had become public chatter due to my ex's antics. Here I was, a successful lawyer, who had to be escorted to her car after work every day by a male colleague due to fears for my safety. Here I was, slowly fading into myself without even knowing it. But I wasn't going down without a fight. I still didn't take it seriously.
I tried to reason with him, to explain that at least 6 months had passed and that although I was sorry for his pain, I wasn't coming back and his behaviour was making it next to impossible to remain on good terms. He denied his actions, chalking his presence everywhere I was as pure coincidence. But he agreed to move on.
He didn't. What he did was amp up his efforts. He continued to show up everywhere. He started painting pictures, thinking I'd come back if he were an artist like C. He sent me pictures of the portraits he painted of me (they weren't good). He began acting even stranger than usual. He left countless messages offering to buy my unwashed underwear for $50 each, begging me to come back for one final night of closure. He bought me an expensive teddy and my favourite wine, took pictures of them and sent them to me. I ignored it all. I didn't take any of it seriously, but I was, by this time, seriously annoyed.
Then he flipped. He was no longer the poor, sad jilted lover begging for another chance. He became something else, something sinister, something evil. I still remember the blackness in his eyes the last time we were face to face. I had gone to his house to retrieve an important piece of mail that had somehow gone there. I went to the bathroom while I was there. Before I had time to pull my pants up, he had picked the lock and cornered me. He refused to let me out and kept muttering about not allowing anyone to take what was his. I kicked him and made my escape. I didn't call the police. I still felt responsible. I never went near him after that, but I still didn't take it seriously, not as seriously as I should have.
He continued following me, surveilling me, but he added a new twist, he enlisted some helpers. Different trucks, same locations. I blocked all communication with him. For every profile I blocked, a new one would pop up. He began sending me intimate pictures of myself, suggesting he would release them to the public unless I came back to him, and his bed. Funny, it was the bed he seemed most interested in, not me.
I made the mistake of replying to one of his little blackmail messages. I told him to stop contacting me and cautioned him that pursuing such a course of action would be a bad idea. I was a lawyer after all, and extortion, as it's called in Canada, can result in significant time in jail. Bad idea, that encouraged him more than anything. I was starting to take it seriously.
I reported him to the police. He was brought in for questioning and a No-Contact Order was issued. He continued to show up everywhere. He continued to create new accounts as fast as I blocked others. I was taking it seriously, but I wasn't backing down.
Over a year passed and he continued in his efforts to terrorize me. I remember feeling myself weakening, but I refused to acknowledge it. I was tired. I hadn't slept properly in months because I knew he or one of his helpers was out there. I couldn't concentrate on my work because I was worried he'd try to hurt C. Actually, I was afraid C would hurt him, and go to jail for it. My ex is a small man, 5'7" and about 150 lbs. C stands just shy of 6' and is a solid 250 lbs. Enticing C to take a swing and then end up behind bars was something I knew was in the ex's playbook. I was losing myself, but I was too stubborn to see it. That was about to change.
Two things cleared it all up for me. The first was a series of messages I received while C and I were away, halfway across the country in Toronto, at an art show. There we were, schmoozing with the fancy artsy types, making sales and enjoying beverages, when all of a sudden, my phone dings. I had a message. It dinged again. And again. I had a few messages. I checked them in case my kids were trying to get ahold of me.
Nope. It was a series of pictures of my yard, from Him. Just a little reminder to let me know he was watching. I remember how my throat closed over, how my mouth went dry and my cheeks burned as panic welled up inside of me. I also remember how I pushed it down, pretended it was nothing more than a routine communication and continued with the business at hand. I notified the police when I returned. They went to his house and had a chat. He said he butt-dialed me. Yeah, his ass logged into Facebook, picked my name, chose pictures and sent them to me. Apparently, his butt is smarter than his mind ... well, that's not such a long shot, not really.
A month or so later, I remember, it was Victoria Day weekend in May, C and I went away. It was a mix of business and pleasure. I had an expert witness to discuss a case with, and we decided to extend the trip a couple of days to enjoy the ocean and visit my family. As I drove my 2010 Acura home, my gut felt increasingly off. The closer we got to the house, the stronger the feeling of impending doom and dread became. I didn't take it seriously.
We arrived to find our back door kicked in. An initial look around didn't reveal anything missing. Two laptops, a big screen T.V., a stereo, a jar full of change, 2 tablets, all present and accounted for. What was missing? 14 paintings, 1 cheap printer, a handful of old vinyl records and 2 reams of legal-sized printer paper.
I knew who it was. It was pretty obvious. Follow my logic here, Carl's an artist, his paintings were stolen. I was a lawyer, a printer and legal-sized paper are tools of my trade. Whoever it was had to have a truck or a van because the paintings were large. The items taken had virtually no resale value on the street, so it likely wasn't an experienced thief or the usual band of teenage hooligans that stole change and small electronics for a quick buck. I called the police. They took a report. That's pretty much it. Nothing else happened.
The police didn't even take fingerprints. I found a size 8 footprint on my door. I called them back. Nobody I knew, aside from my ex had such a small foot. My kids' feet ranged from size 10 to 13 and C also has big feet. And I'm a size 5.
I knew who it was. I couldn't prove it, I still can't, but I knew. Who takes 14 large paintings, a printer and legal paper? He took the things that represented our livelihoods. I mean, come on, a ream of legal paper has a street value of about $2, probably not even that. This wasn't an action motivated by money. This was PERSONAL.
The idea of someone, well, Him, being in my house was more than I could take. It felt like such a violation. The place I felt safe, the place I enjoyed with Carl, the place I felt content and warm in was suddenly soiled. It was a dangerous place, a bad place now. I couldn't sleep. I couldn't breathe. I couldn't go to work. I couldn't leave the house, but I didn't want to stay there either. I was stuck, paralyzed by my own fear. I began working from home and ordering wine deliveries as terror enveloped me. Whatever adrenaline I had, whatever fight I had, was nearly gone. I couldn't pretend anymore. I took it very seriously.
I left the firm. I moved to another city. That would fix it, I thought. It didn't. A 90-minute drive was nothing for him. He was soon sitting on that street, watching me there. He walked through order after order mandating he stay away from me. He laughed in the face of them all. The police spoke to him every time, and every time not much happened.
I was encouraged, strongly, to drop my case against him. How embarrassing would it be for me, how difficult would it be to find an impartial prosecutor given I knew them all in town? Maybe it was best to let sleeping dogs lie? I gave up. Well, I think my body gave up before I did. The constant hypervigilance, the constant fear, the lack of sleep...waiting, knowing that the second I let my guard down, the second I felt even a teeny bit safe, he'd be there, it broke me.
And when it broke me, it broke me hard. It took about 4 years for me to finally crash. I spent a month in bed, hiding under the covers and I've never been the same. I gave up my career. I gave up my friends. I moved halfway across the country. I gave everything up because it all felt too dangerous. The world is a scary place for me now. Although I'm getting better, it's still not the way it was, and I doubt it ever will be. An unexpected knock on the door, something that was once routine, sends me into a panic that leads me to lock myself in the bathroom in terror. An unknown or unexpected call goes unanswered because my throat turns to parchment and closes over with fright. Crowded stores or large lines cause an irrational, anxious rage in me that forces me to abandon my errands and take to the comfort of my bed.
I'm starting to heal, slowly, but I still don't like to go anywhere alone. Karma eventually caught up with my ex, but there really is no recourse to fix how broken I am. There's no punishment that can bring back that fearless girl. She's dead and gone and he killed her. All I can do is continue to try to build myself back up.
I see danger out of the corner of my eye now. I see the signs. Like the fact that He recently sent my youngest son a friend request after his 3rd marriage failed. Of course, my son deleted the request and blocked him. But, I know what that is. I’m not impressed, not by the fact that he’s still out there, not by the fact he had the audacity to contact my son after all these years and not by the fact that I immediately went into panic mode as soon as I found out.
The new me is someone I'm still getting used to. The truth is, I miss the old fearless, fun me, but she's gone and she's not coming back, at least not anytime soon. New me is a little older, a little more afraid, but, on the positive side, she's a whole lot wiser.