Have You Met Hank Ziatee?

Although I have contemplated it profoundly, I am too afraid to tell those around me that a Hank Ziatee has been following me for the last few months. When I was in high school, I told my parents that a strange boy wouldn’t stop stalking me around campus. They laughed and told me it wasn’t a big deal. It wasn’t until the boy passed a classmate a note that said he wanted to kidnap me in a suitcase and collected bottles I threw away in the trash that talk of filing a restraining order finally arose. Those subsequent events led me to internalize the misfortune of a societal-engineered normative: “Don’t tell people about problems they haven’t experienced for themselves; no one will take you seriously.”

Hank Ziatee seemed to have materialized out of thin air. I spent hours, days, weeks — just trying to understand why out of all the people on this God forsaken earth he had chosen me to stalk. There was nothing that tied us together and nothing that I could have done to make him hate me. It was as if I was being punished simply for being alive. His presence was closer than my own shadow. I would see him staring straight at me wherever I went. On lucky days, I would be too preoccupied to check for his presence, or he wouldn’t be there at all. But I always knew to expect him. When I got too comfortable, he always came back.

I didn’t want my parents to worry about Hank, so I couldn’t tell them. I didn’t trust anyone around me to help me in such an alarming situation, so I couldn’t tell friends or acquaintances either. So one day, I decided to confront Hank myself.

Please stop, please stop, please stop.

How else could I lament how asphyxiated I felt in more than just those two words? Somewhere along the line, begging turned into screaming, screaming turned into throwing, throwing turned into rocking back and forth. Back and forth. Back and forth. He would not leave me alone. When I walked faster, he did too. When I fumbled for my keys and slammed the door shut behind me, I could hear him lovingly scratching through the nearby window. On particularly rough days when I felt like suffocating, Hank handed me knives. If acquaintances whispered to each other, Hank whispered in my ear: “They said they wish you’d leave already.” That day, I decided if I couldn’t force Hank to leave me alone, then I would allow his obscurity to become more of an expected constant. I gave him permission because I could not win. Instead of pushing him away when he put knives in my hands, I pretended they were pencils — and my flesh, the canvas. When he told me things I did not want to hear, Hank convinced me that it was him and me against everyone else in the world. I could trust no one. I could love no one. I was not allowed. This was the core of our interactions, and although I was conscious of the truth that he was dragging me down a deep and venomous pit, at least I was not in that pit alone.

Eventually, Hank and I fought again. I desperately missed my old life and my old friends; there was no more time to waste in conceding to his dark antics. The night before I left him, the news channel had predicted warm and sunny weather the next morning. Typical California. If Hank Ziatee left, I thought the hole that was left would be filled with peace. Instead, it was filled with blackness — a nothingness so vast it feels like you’re in a pitch black room that never ends.

On the day of my leaving Hank, it rained.

He came back the next month: wanted to see me again and play the games we used to. It had gone on for too long, I couldn’t, I just couldn’t -

Back and forth.

Today, he is here again.

The night sky envelopes around the outline of the space my body takes up in this portion of the universe. And I run. Back and forth. He is coming for me, help. I try to tell someone, anyone, what is happening and that I am scared and I don’t want this to happen again. No matter who I run to, they ask what’s wrong, faces riddled with a gaping type of blank confusion. They ask me who I am running from. “You look like a fine young lady, what could be troubling you?”

In my confusion, the uneven pavement forces an embrace with my knees, bloodied and shot with the dirty pebbles on the sidewalk. I cry. He is coming — but no one could see Hank Ziatee. No one could see him but me.

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.