You: except it’s me, it’s 2004, and the stalker is real

Even individually, we continue to give more power to psychos.

When I was 19, I started talking to some guy from an AOL Instant Messenger chatroom. I had zero intention of ever actually meeting this person. I told him all about myself: favorite food, favorite movies, everything. I shared intimate details about my past. What I didn’t know? This person had every intention of meeting me, and he’d do what it took to do so.

Related image
Still from the series You. Courtesy of Lifetime.

I had never really had many close friends, or friends at all, and the internet felt like the place where I could learn to form relationships I hadn’t had before then. I thrived on spaces like LiveJournal — I was compelled to finally connect with people who were like me. For the first time, people wanted to be associated with me, and it didn’t seem like I was meant to be a secret.

I left little to the imagination when it came to my online friendships and blogging— I could be authentically, and unapologetically, myself. That seeped naively into my posts on every platform where I shared everything about my life, both online and off.

I think the worst part of this for me is that this isn’t the first time I’d given someone way too much information about me online and ended up having a complete stranger figure out where I live.

The first time was when I was 15. I’d met him on EverQuest, and truly thought I’d met my soulmate. He showed up at my house after I’d told him where I went to school and followed my bus home. The guy was clearly anxious (and clearly not 15 years old). I was lucky that he didn’t have the nerve to knock on my door, or worse. He ended up leaving when I didn’t come back outside after claiming I was getting my stuff to go with him. I never heard from him again.

It’s clear that this experience didn’t teach me much of a lesson, as here I was, four years later, thinking this was just a cool dude online to chat with. We had basically nothing in common, but he gave me a lot of attention, and constantly told me how cool I was and how much more beautiful and interesting I was than other girls our age.

I soaked up his (and others’) adoration like any other form of internet clout points and continued to divulge my own history and plans for life.

A few months after I began talking to Natedawg99, some guy I met at a gas station near my house and I kept running into each other. After the third or fourth week of this, the guy started asking me out literally every time I saw him in all these random places. The grocery store, Guitar Center, the salon where I had just started working, the bank — I finally just caved because it was exhausting.

Ironically, I didn’t really like attention in person. Not at all. I guess part of me was still unsure of any guy’s interest in me based entirely off of my appearance, and it made me uneasy to imagine putting myself back in the same self-esteem trap I’d been in since I was a little girl.

I wasn’t attracted to this guy, but I figured he must live nearby so unless I wanted to move, I should just get on with it. At the very least, at least if he was just like the guys I’d been involved with in the past, could really make me feel worse about myself? I agreed to go out with him and gave him my number.

He called me within 10 minutes and asked if I wanted to go to a Thai restaurant near the mall north of us, or if I’d rather get Mexican food. He, of course, knew a great Mexican place in Seattle — Gordito’s — which just happened to be my favorite restaurant in the city (thanks to some questionably spent lunch periods in high school). And, as fate would have it, at the time, my favorite cuisines were Mexican and Thai! (I had only had real sushi once at this point, so it hadn’t gotten its spot over Thai.)

I didn’t feel comfortable having this guy take me to Seattle. Even though Alderwood mall was probably just as far away, going to Seattle felt a little blackbox to me. The streets can be pretty confusing if you don’t know one-way layouts very well, and I was sure I’d end up getting lost. I thought that if I went to a spot near the mall, I’d have no problem getting myself out of a scary situation.

I met him at the restaurant, and it was immediately awkward. Nearly everything that came out of his mouth felt forced and scripted, like “I love [the band] Tool, what about you?” “I love Baseball, but I’m a Red Sox fan over the Mariners. Unless the M’s are playing against the Yankees!” I felt increasingly uneasy as everything he brought up was somehow something we had in common.

The creepiest part, the thing that felt eerie and off, was that he continued every few sentences to steer the conversation toward Tool. He mentioned how they don’t tour very much, but he’d been to their show in 2002 at Key Arena.

Of course, I’d been to this show, too. I had gone with some older friends and lied about where I was to my mother. The experience was full of anxiety, and I couldn’t enjoy myself because I was being pressured non-stop for sex by the 20 year old guy I had gone there with.

The guy was really only into gangster rap (I’m talking actual gang members like Brotha Lynch Hung and company), and our mutual friends had encouraged him to come since he wanted to nail me. I ended up having sex with him outside of his beat-up, rusty car, on the gravel, in the parking lot.

It was an awful experience, and I had been trying desperately since returning from my time at ASU not to put myself into those types of situations ever again. I wanted to move past it, and I did not want to reveal this type of information to this guy. He was just another awkward guy I never wanted to see again.

The last thing I wanted was to give him some reason to feel like we were bonding over this awkward dinner.

I ended up just telling him that I hoped I would get to see them live someday. Clearly agitated, he snapped back he swore he’d recognized me the “first” time he saw me [at the gas station], and he was certain it was from the Tool concert. He kept pushing, saying he remembered I looked uncomfortable the whole time, and wishing he had asked then if I was okay. The mood got increasingly tense as he wouldn’t stop pushing that I was hiding that I’d attended, so I told him was leaving.

He instantaneously got angry and called me a “stuck up bitch”. He said I thought too highly of myself, and that I clearly just wanted a free meal. He said I was vapid and shallow, just like every other girl he knew. I was stunned. I didn’t say another word to him. I blinked, stared at him, stood up, walked over to our server and asked how much the bill was, paid it all myself and left.

In the months following that, Nathan was calling me so much that eventually I just left my phone at home whenever I left the house. I was so exhausted with telling this guy to leave me alone and that I wasn’t interested in seeing him again. I was fighting with my mom a lot, going out partying a lot, and didn’t really get on AIM very much. I was in the midst of planning a way to move out of my mother’s house again.

I changed my phone number after I returned home after an all-day-turned-all-nighter to find 147 missed calls: all from him.

Soon after that, I noticed a car of the same color, make, and model as his sitting outside my house 2–3 times a week. I had several acquaintances who worked for Kirkland PD, so while I kind of reported the incident, they told me that unless I knew for certain it was him, and this person did something more than just parking on the street, there was nothing they could really do.

I never ultimately got up the nerve to go out there and confront him, so I honestly can’t be certain it was him. However, given the rest of his behavior, I’m pretty sure that he had followed me home at some point, and was now watching me to follow me if I left the house.

After a few weeks of this, I begged a friend of mine to ask one of his officer colleagues to do a drive-by while this car was sitting outside of my house. He agreed, and the car stopped surveilling our cul-de-sac.

During this time, the situation at home got increasingly poisonous. I had purchased a one way flight to Saint Louis, Missouri (which is another story), and got on AIM to get some much needed validation to get the mental strength to go through with the move. NateDawg99 signed in. I was relieved to see a name that I knew would be an empathetic shoulder.

He messages me, “I thought you blocked me.” I told him I just hadn’t been online much. Before I got the opportunity to complain about my personal life, he sent another message: “I’m really sorry.” I didn’t respond, sitting there confused. Another: “I hope you’ll give me another chance.” I was beyond puzzled, feeling like he must have messaged the wrong person. Another: “I know I really blew it, but you’re just so perfect, it’s hard to feel good enough. I know you’re not shallow.”

It hit me like thousands of bricks screaming, “DUH”.

Nathan was Natedawg99. Everything was so awkwardly scripted sounding because he literally knew I was already interested in all the things he was bringing up. We never disagreed over anything because he knew what I liked, how I’d respond, and what it took to make me feel comfortable.

The Tool concert? HE KNEW ABOUT IT. I was violated and betrayed. I didn’t say anything, and just as I was about to block him, he said, “I’m Nathan, the guy who took you to Talay Thai. I thought you knew it was me.”

At that point, I was infuriated. How dare this guy claim he thought I knew it was the same person. The entire time we were at dinner he acted like it was a breath of fresh air that we had so much in common, and Nathan’s personality was entirely contradictory to the Nate I knew online. Other than the seemingly obvious Nathan-Nate connection, I had no reason to suspect that they were one in the same.

“Bullshit.” I fired back, “Explain how you knew where I worked, and why you never mentioned you lived here.”

He asked if he could call and explain everything over the phone, or if he could come over and explain in person. I told him if he ever wanted to see me again, he’d start talking there, and if he showed up at my house I’d call the police. Was I ever going to see him again regardless? Hell, no. But I still wanted answers.

He proceeded to break down (I visualized him sobbing while telling me all of this) and tell me that he lived like 20 miles away, in Renton. He had seen me originally in person about a month at KFC (where I had previously worked) hanging out the drive-thru window talking to the car shop guys next door. It was right off the freeway and he was returning home from a carpentry job up north, and was looking for something to eat.

He had come through and ordered food, but claimed he didn’t have the nerve to ask for my number then, because he thought was too ugly to ever get to talk to someone like me.

He told me he was glad he didn’t ask, since he later learned I needed to be familiar with someone enough to be willing to get to know them in person.

He wasn’t wrong.

After that, he searched through all the MySpace profiles nearby until he found mine. He said I had linked to my DeadJournal account on my profile, and had posted many arguments and conversations I had had on AIM, all of which displayed my AIM screenname at the time.

He told me he never actually saw me in an AIM chatroom, but because I had talked about debating with random strangers in them in my blog posts, that he thought he could say that’s where he got my username from. He told me he didn’t really expect me to add him back, but in doing so I made him feel empowered to try to run into me in person.

This guy was actually blaming me for indulging his conversation for stalking me. I’m not even sure I disagree, but I’ve spoken with hundreds, maybe even thousands of strangers online, and the vast majority of them have not taken it upon themselves to show up at my home.

According to Natedawg99, he ran into me far less frequently than he attempted to. He said started at the KFC where I had previously worked, and once he figured out that I didn’t work there anymore, had to rely on AIM to find out where I worked. Of course I had revealed that I worked at a salon, and of course I mentioned walking to Guitar Center on my breaks, and of course I told him that it was closer to my house than KFC was. He said he felt it was fate that led him to the correct salon. Given that there really were only two salons that fit this criteria on the side of Kirkland near the KFC, it really was a coin flip that he would get it right.

At this point, I’d heard enough, and I blocked him.

Watching ‘You’ was eerily realistic to me, and I feel so lucky that nothing happened to me. I don’t know if it could have gotten as dramatic as this show did— but given that he called me thousands of times during the span of two months without a response, and resorted (probably) sitting outside of my home in his car watching me…. I’d say I’m lucky the worst encounter I had with him was being denigrated in front of a bunch of patrons at Thai restaurant in Lynnwood.

As I recall this incident, the one from when I was a teenager, and the few incidences more recently, I take a lot of pause for how my compulsion to divulge information to strangers online has only gotten more intense, more personal, and more public.

It’s commonplace now for someone to find you and reveal all of your personal details at their whim, and even after a doxxing on 4chan, here I sit, ready to spill my life out for the next degenerate — available to use it however they please.

I’m not sure if I’m happy, or even all-the-wiser, to be hyper-aware of how scary that truly is, or if I wish I was ignorant to how psychotic people were even before they had this much information at their fingertips.

Either way, apparently I’m still more than willing to put myself out here.

Are you?