Even now, I adjust the image in my head, the term. Not stalked. Researched, I preferred to say. I knew where she lived and how many children she had.When she got a divorce, and the kids’ names and ages appeared in the court records, I felt a tingle of glee, just for knowing, which made me feel a little sick. My heart sped up as I scrolled through those records or ones from the county recorder’s office online. Available for anyone to see, I told myself. Public records.
I was seeing Dr. Smith—Karen, I called her, later—because I had bipolar disorder, she claimed, and maybe something more drastic and dark, like a smidge of a personality disorder. Mental illness tended to run in my family in the way kudzu covered everything south of the freeze line. I wondered if I had some illness: anything to explain my way of existing in the world. But that was later. For now, I was sick and in need of care.
According to Robert Muller, PhD, professor of psychology at York University, and the author of Trauma and the Avoidant Client, there are five kinds of stalkers. They are overwhelmingly male, lack skills to negotiate basic social interaction, and frequently stalk their victims as an act of revenge. The victims are overwhelmingly female, like my psychiatrist.
The types include, in order of ascending creepy magnitude: rejected suitors, intimacy seekers, socially incompetent stalkers, resentful or revenge seekers, and predatory stalkers. Most stalker fantasies include intimacy or violence. They’re mostly of average to above average intelligence, tend to be well-educated, and just over a fifth of them stalk due to mental illness or related factors; the rest do it for anger, retaliation, or control, and they are incredibly good at rationalizing away inappropriate behaviors.
Women are far less likely to stalk; when they do, it’s with the hope of increased intimacy, erotomania, or a hope for friendship. Maybe that one was me.
I was 18 when I first started seeing Dr. Smith. A junior in college due to early admission and community-college credits, I attended a huge state school many miles from home, and felt lonely in an intense and overwhelming way. I took graduate coursework in one program where I referred to everyone in my class as “30 and had visited Tibet,” and worked in a lab for another department where I was one of four or five native English speakers.
At departmental meetings, which I somehow attended, I stuck out with my brown hair and Irish freckles in a sea of Chinese faces, the only undergraduate who worked in the department at all.
Karen was tall and beautiful and thin in a way that would suggest future osteoporosis, with blonde hair that reached her shoulders.* She wore bright colors with sandals whenever possible, and for the most part, seemed strong and practical, and stubborn—a firstborn child, like me, but with a silly streak, as evidenced in toes dabbed with pink or blue or green nail polish. Most strangely of all, she seemed to like me. Here, she said, offering me a prescription, then sent me to book an appointment with a therapist.
I’m not sure where it started. The furnace. The dishwasher in its final cycle. The TV turned down so you couldn’t make out the words people were saying. The guy on the radio, with a lisp. I had seen a number of mental-health professionals over the years, starting at three when I banged my head against the floor for hours at a time.
My mom thought I was either brain-damaged or on my way, so she took me to the pediatrician, and then to a children’s social worker, who said I was encountering difficulty adjusting to the birth of my brother. Then I was too “odd” for elementary school, then secondary school. I preferred books as company to the companionship of people, wore comfortable clothes instead of what everyone else was wearing, found eye contact invasive at best. I slept with stuffed animals, struggled with waking up, with transitions of any kind.
My mom dressed me every morning until fourth grade, when I changed schools again, and school started late enough I could mostly get myself together on time. I had always been different somehow. When I did connect with someone, it was usually an adult several times my age. Karen seemed to get me right away.
She had an abrasive sense of humor. When I asked for side effects of one of the many medications I would come to take, she said, “You know, the usual. Coma, death, developing the head of a Golden Retriever, sausage fingers …”
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