EDITOR’S NOTE: The author requested that her name not be included on this article.
Iwas browsing one evening in Barnes and Noble. Customers were few. I glanced over my left shoulder and
caught a man looking at me. He quickly turned away.
“What does your tummy tell you?” a friend of mine often said to me; then, she’d giggle. My tummy was telling me, this isn’t good.
I’m addicted to Regency romances, so I went down that aisle. Someone came and stood behind me for a moment, then left. There it was again: that sick feeling.
I abandoned that more isolated area for the bargain books. But I moved, and he moved.
Novels, there he was. Spiritual books, there he was. He carried a book.
By this time, my woman’s intuition was going off like a disaster alarm. I quickly left the store and got into my car.
As I was buckling up, he came out as well, half running to his own vehicle. I was now pretty scared. I pulled out of the parking lot, deciding to go right rather than left at the light so that I didn’t have to wait for the green. Unfortunately, I had to stop for the red on 24th Street West at Applebee’s. And there he was. He pulled up beside me, his door parallel to mine, his face toward mine, just staring.
All those talks that women and girls hear over the years came to mind. Go to the police station. Go to a lighted area with people. I again had to stop at 24th Street and King Avenue. And there he was, right beside me, looking.
Costco was about to close. Shopko was open. I crossed King and pulled into the left turn lane. He whipped in behind me.
One of the slogans from my Twelve Step group kicked in. “Think Think Think.” Then, “Do the next right thing.” As if I had intended to shop, I signaled, turned and parked by the east doors of the discount store. My stalker drove past to Costco and swerved in behind a couple of parked cars.
I slowly got out, taking time to lock the door.
I walked slowly into Shopko and went to the service desk where I asked the clerk to call the manager. A few minutes later, while I was waiting, the stalker came in that same door and immediately headed down the main front aisle, striding briskly. He was now wearing a white baseball cap. The better to avoid the surveillance cameras?
“That’s him,” I said to the manager. My heart was pounding. She asked me if I wanted to step into the back, did I want her to call the police? No shit, Sherlock. YES!
In the meantime, a young male employee who was about to clock out asked me if I wanted him to follow the mystery man. Yes again. He tailed the man and also watched him exit the store.
The employee then stepped outside the west door.
In the midst of all this, two police officers arrived.
“How tall was he?”
Medium height. On the heavy side. White.
Middle aged. Dark hair.
Nondescript. Colorless. Just the white baseball hat.
Meanwhile, the employee watched him drive off, too far away to get a license number but able to say it was a white, late model Chrysler sedan. A third officer confirmed that.
“He turned into Walmart,” he said. From the Walmart lot, the stalker had several ways to exit.
God bless the BPD. One of them, a rover for the night, followed me home. I sent a thank-you note to Chief Rich St. John. Maybe I should bake some cookies.
How far would this creep have gone? If I’d really been shopping, would he have escalated the intimidation? Muttered obscenities, exposed himself, or worse?
This was one of those times when it didn’t pay to be creative. Still, the evil skit ran through my brain several times over the next few days.
It was obvious to me that my stalker had done this before. When I returned to Shopko later in the week to thank them for their excellent help, the manager on duty said that they’d had a similar incident in the past two weeks.
That woman had been targeted while shopping in Costco and been followed to her car. The police were not called.
Why me? I asked myself. As my younger daughter says, “You’re older than dirt, Mom.” Indeed.
I’m several years over 60, overweight. No femme fatale. But also, no wedding rings. Or was it just that the bookstore was so empty that the guy had just one choice, me?
Men like this have pathologic issues with women. I was, at the very least, supposed to be frightened. Well, by writing this, I’m taking back my power. Of course, I was frightened, but I’m no victim, and other women don’t need to be, either.
Was the man in question actually committing a crime, since I didn’t know him? Maybe not. But I was very grateful for the police. They didn’t question what I said, just helped. A friend said that if they had gotten the license plate number, perhaps they could have run a computer check for other incidents.
My most obvious mistake: I’m not glued to my cell phone. It was home on my desk. I now have a 3-by-5 card taped to my front door: “Got phone?”
A final thought. If it could happen to me, it can happen to you. Here’s a quick safety review.
1. Always lock your car. Also your doors at home.
2. Criminals of all kinds prefer the dark. Park under lights. Park close to the door if possible. I always leave a light on in my home. There’s always a light on over my front door.
3. Be aware of those around you, as well as your surroundings. We women are noted for our intuition. If you have that sick feeling in your stomach, trust it. Ask for help. I wish I hadn’t left Barnes and Noble, but had gone instead and talked to one of my friends who work there. I would have saved myself a lot of grief.
4. If you think you’re being followed while driving, go to the nearest place with lights and cars. If it’s late at night, go to the police station and either sound your horn until someone comes out or call 911 on your cell phone.
5. Don’t think that offenders come from one racial, ethnic or economic group. Richard Covington was white, good looking and charming. He committed three murders here in Billings as well as a rape and assault.
6. A gun? Maybe. Not for me. My friends tell me that I’d probably be shot with my own weapon. I’m getting one of those small pepper sprays that attach to the key ring. In my home I have wasp spray. It will shoot several feet. Go for the eyes.
And finally, use the power generated by your unease and fear to your benefit, not the offender’s. Take action. I did. Oh, and thanks to my guardian angel.