‘I didn’t mean to be rude’: my first encounters with my stalker | Australian books

lI’m walking through a park on my way home, I just dropped my son off at school. Or at least not quite ‘normal’. Dropped off my son and went to the little cafe by the school where the coffee is good and the windows open to a quiet, leafy street and a woman with two sausage dogs is reading the morning paper while her dogs wait patiently by her seat. I drank my latte and answered emails and rewrote a poem, then I gathered my things and walked back past the school, leaf shadows dancing beneath my feet.

When I walk into the park, someone calls my name.

I turn around and it’s a man on a bicycle, with black jeans, black jacket, black bicycle helmet. It forms a silhouette like a shadow against the pink background of the rose beds. He cycles to me. Hellohe says. You are not on your bike today

Suddenly the wind picks up and brushes my hair over my face. I scrape my locks from my eyes and look around the park, but there’s no one else here. It’s just me and this man.

Something dark and lumpy bubbles up inside me, but I resist the urge to bend over and puke on the flower beds. Instead, I smile back at the man. New, I say, I had to walk today.

It is true that normally I would be on my bike. Normally my son and I cycle to school together. I drop it off, have a coffee, write something and then cycle home. And this man isn’t a complete stranger – he’s someone I’ve met and talked to a few times – but it’s odd that he knows anything about my usual routine.

He gets off his bike. Are you on your way home? he asks. Then, without waiting for an answer, I’m walking with you.

And so here we walk along the avenue of cherry trees that leads to the other side of the park. The blossoms float down and linger in my hair. Little pebbles of panic rattle in my ribcage as we leave the park and cross the road onto a wide, empty suburban street.

It’s funny that I meet you like thissays the man.

I saw you across the park. I recognized your pants.

I look at my pants. I bought them last weekend. I haven’t seen this man since I bought them, I don’t understand how he can recognize them as mine. I’m considering saying, I’m sorry, I forgot something, and turn around, go back to the safer, busier road where the daily traffic is. But I don’t say this, I keep going, caught between the horror of walking beside him and the fear of angering him by turning back. As we walk he asks me questions and tells me things about himself and I answer politely, thinking that from the outside we probably look like two people who are friends, not one person who may be psychotic and another who is fighting to stand. keep the wild panic within herself, trying not to ruin the chocolate box beauty of this affluent suburb by spraying the sidewalks with thick, dark vomit, with thin bitter bile, with fear and anger and disgust.

Ellis Gunn in red coat
“I couldn’t quite convince myself that I was just imagining things,” Gunn says of her early encounters with a stalker. Photo: Sarah Wilson

Something felt strange

I first met The Man in the park at an auction house. I had become a regular there, looking for furniture for our new house. This time, a large honey-colored chest of drawers with inlaid mother-of-pearl knobs and ball feet caught my eye. A middle-aged man, tall and thin in dark jeans and a Ralph Lauren V-neckline, also stopped to take a look. That’s a nice piecehe said.

Yes, I answered. And then, because it seemed rude to stop there, I like the handles.

They are sweet, aren’t they? Are you thinking of bidding on it? he asked.

Depends on the priceI said

Ah, he replied, you must be a dealer

My goodness, noAlthough I may have to start. I’m here often enough. I ran my hand over the worn patina of the pine box as we chatted. Usually it was he who asked questions, I answered. He asked me what I did for a living and said he thought I looked artsy. I told him that I wrote poetry, but I certainly couldn’t make a living from it.

What’s your name, if you don’t mind me asking? he said. I’d like to visit you. Can I read something from you online?

Em, maybeI said. Not that I’m famous or anything. But maybe there’s something† I started to feel a little uncomfortable, although I couldn’t really put my finger on why. I think the conversation just felt a little intense for a chance meeting at an auction house. I told him my name anyway. It never occurred to me to lie about it. What I really wanted to do was walk away, but I felt like that would be too rude, especially since he was still talking.

Look, I’m not trying to find out where you live or anything, he was saying, but which neighborhood is it? I’ve only recently moved to Adelaide and wonder if it’s one I know of.

I think that’s what upset me the most: I’m not trying to find out where you live or anything. Why would anyone say that?

It’s prospectI said hesitantly, I didn’t really want to give him this information, but again, not smart enough to lie about it, too busy trying to figure out how to politely free myself.

Something has come up that I want to bid onI said finally. I’m just moving forward

I found a chair on one of the sofas up for auction, and watched the various lots appear on the screen, but I was no longer interested in the honey-colored chest of drawers. I couldn’t explain what it was. A turn of phrase? A certain look? Something had raised the hairs on the back of my neck and I just wanted to go.

The man was standing between me and the door, so I said goodbye as I walked past. Hi, he said, can you give me your phone number or email? Maybe we can meet for a cup of coffee.

I gaped at him. I’m sorry, I don’t think that would be appropriateI muttered. I hurried outside, unlocked my bike and quickly cycled home.

A few days later I got an email.

Hi there Scottish lassie,

I’m not feeling well today, terrible cold, so I’ve been in bed reading about you. I would like to talk about your writing sometime. It would be nice to have a cup of coffee with you.

Vague sense of fear. There was nothing sinister, but the tone of the email was strangely intimate. I decided to avoid the auction house. I thought it was funny going there and I definitely didn’t want to see The Man again. But a few weeks later, something came up that I wanted to bid on. I had run out of emails and I was beginning to think I had overreacted. I’ll be fine, I thought. He probably won’t be there.

On the day of the auction, I entered the building and spent a few minutes searching the back of the room for The Man. There was no sign of him. I felt more comfortable and moved closer to the stage to watch the bidding. I stood there for less than five minutes when I felt someone’s breath, hot and moist in my ear, a raspy whisper, I know what girls like† I turned around, the hairs on the back of my neck were literally standing on end. His face was inches from mine. I stumbled back and he must have seen the horror on my face. Hi, he said, I was just referring to the title of your poetry book.

I am aware of, I said coolly, I just don’t like people sneaking up on me.

He frowned at me. I wasn’t “sneaking”“, he said. You are paranoid. And you didn’t answer my emailI have sent an email to … he took my email address … but I haven’t heard from you again.

Okay, so what I should have said was, What? Why did you email me when I told you I didn’t think it was appropriate? Or, Yes, I got that email, but I didn’t reply because I don’t want to contact you. Or, STOP sending emails and STOP whispering in my ear. In fact, you could just keep the real fuck away from me.

But I didn’t say any of those things. I didn’t mean to be rude. I didn’t want to offend or make a scene. And there was something about the way he looked at me. I could see he was angry, but that wasn’t all. A voice inside me said: Be careful. He’s dangerous. So instead I said: Oh, that’s an old email address, I don’t use it anymore.

Ah yeshe said. I thought that must be what happened. Well, this is what I said to you. He repeated the email verbatim. And I’d love to talk to you about your book. When can we meet for a cup of coffee?

I took a step back, away from him. I can’t meet youI said. I have a partner.

It’s just coffeehe said with a laugh.

That look again. Some kind of sneer. I felt pathetic, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was very wrong with all of this. I stood in silence, trying to figure out how to leave without making him more angry.

He tried to start the conversation again. I was thinking about you recentlyhe said. I was in Prospect looking at a house. Maybe you know it. It is an old stone house that someone is refurbishing. There’s a pile of rocks outside. It has very unusual ways.

Clinking stones of panic. The house he described was right in front of my house. Was he playing some kind of game? Was he trying to tell me he knew where I lived? He kept talking about the cottage, how he had talked to the owner. I didn’t pay much attention. All I could think about was how to get away from him. I pulled out my phone. I’m sorry but I have to goI said.

cover of Rattled
The cover of Rattled, by Ellis Gunn. Photo: Allen and Unwin

He did that again mockingly and looked at me through his nose. But you just got here.

I know, but I have an appointment I forgot. I just got a notification.

He stared at me. OKAY, he said, I’ll see you later† The words themselves were casual, but the tone was menacing, his mouth a thin straight line, his eyes flat and cold. I turned quickly and walked to the door.

Did I overreact?

As I cycled home, the stones still rattled inside me. I tried to convince myself that I was taking things out of proportion, brainwashed by watching too many crime shows, thinking that anyone who behaved a little strangely was a serial killer. The stone cottage was probably just a coincidence. I read too much into it. He was right, I was paranoid, overreacting to his joke and imagining the cold fury in his eyes.

And yet, and yet, and yet… there WAS something strangely possessive about the way he spoke to me. I couldn’t quite convince myself that I was just imagining things.

And as it turned out, I wasn’t.

  • Ellis Gunn (a pseudonym) is an Adelaide poet who survived several months of stalking. She describes the experience in a new memoir, Rattled, published by Allen and Unwin, out May 3, 2022.

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