The first thing you should know about me is that I’m an extremely anal packer. I spent the better part of a day planning and organizing and neatly folding my clothes so that I could travel light, with just my small pink carry on. Two people at the airport, upon discovering I was going to New York for eight days commented on how light I packed and the compliments filled me with satisfaction. (For the record, I know this makes me a very boring person).
The second thing you should know about me is that when I’m in a hotel room, I slide that little metal lock over 100% of the time I’m in the room. The one that makes it impossible for anyone on the outside to get in unless you remove it from the inside. I do this even though the doors always automatically lock when you shut them, it just makes me feel safe.
The corporate apartment I was staying in had this same kind of door. It’s a small studio where you can see everything immediately when you walk in. There are two closets and a bathroom. I looked in both closets when I was unpacking. I even looked behind the shower curtain. I thought I was so paranoid of something bad happening to me that it never actually would.
Maybe you should also know that I’m a bad sleeper, especially when I travel. I come prepared. That night I slid a few dropper fulls of liquid melatonin under my tongue. I was also just tired, so I was unusually out of it as I slept.
The man who entered my apartment that night wasn’t subtle. He could have just moved a few things, I would have noticed. I would have been uneasy and paranoid. I guess he wanted more than that, hence the overkill.
When I woke up there were clothes everywhere, piles of it like I was living in a dirty college dorm. I was confused. I thought maybe I was sleepwalking or there’d been an earthquake or something. How and why had my suitcase been upended everywhere? Then I saw the note.
It was a folded sheet of lined notebook paper addressed to me in chicken scrawl and sitting on top of a pile of clothes. When I picked it up I discovered a used condom and wrapper underneath. The inside of the note said “I enjoyed our time together again. xx”
I think I went into shock. There was a manic feeling to the way I raced into the hallway, sobbing and hysterical in my night dress. I was laughing too. I didn’t believe this was real. I went up and down the hallway looking for someone to talk to while going through my phone and trying to get anyone whose opinion I trusted to pick up. It was 3:30 a.m. and no one answered. I knew my mom would pick up but I didn’t want to tell her about the condom and I needed someone I could tell the whole story too. I thought a lot about calling the police but a voice in my head told me I was being dramatic, is this the kind of thing you’re supposed to call the police for? I thought about seeing a news article about a hysterical entitled woman who called the police because her apartment was messy.
I gathered my thoughts: what actions did I need to take so that I could be safe and feel better?
There was no one in the hallway. I went back to the apartment. I checked all the closets. There was a door I didn’t notice before, locked from the other side. I felt agitated every moment I was in the apartment, I was too closed in, easy bait.
I thought about sending a middle of the night email to my coworker Robbie who was also visiting New York this week, since there were two of us Robbie was staying in a hotel while I used the apartment. I wanted to switch. I didn’t feel safe, what if this guy came back?
But the apartment wasn’t clean, I thought about the dishes from my dinner in the sink, my clothes everywhere, and — sickeningly, the used condom I discovered. I felt disgusting, I couldn’t ask Robbie to sleep in that bed after what happened. I’d never been raped before. No one told me how dirty it would make me feel when I didn’t feel like sex was ‘dirty’ to begin with. It felt unfair that this was my problem to deal with now.
I felt the way this guy, whoever had come while I was asleep, wanted me to feel: violated, at his mercy.
I finally called 911, they put me on hold and eventually disconnected me. It didn’t occur to me that it was an accident, or that the cell signal was being interfered with. This call confirmed my fear, they did think I was hysterical.
I sat on my bed freaking out for an hour and a half. At 5 a.m. I got dressed and went to a coffee shop two blocks away and made a plan. The man would come back tonight, this I knew for certain. He knew who I was and how to get to me and he wanted to terrorize me. There was no “who” who popped up in my head. No man I knew to be crazy or angry who had some reason to want to make me feel this way. No unrequited lover who would want to rape me in the night, to take something I wouldn’t give to him. Usually my relationships worked the other way around.
I’d go to work. I’d ask my boss about the door that locked from the other side. He wasn’t in early, but my co-worker I trusted the most was. I confided in her everything that happened. We walked back to the apartment. I showed her the mess, I showed her the locked door, but when I went to show her the note and the condom (I could really trust her) I found them missing.
A month earlier I’d told this coworker about having a panic attack so bad I ended up in the emergency room. I’ve had anxiety all my life but it had never been this bad. I was taking new medication. I was sharing with her my ups and downs and now I realized what a mistake this had been. The story I told her was strange enough to hear from a normal person, but I was mentally ill and she knew it. As common as anxiety is, there’s still a stigma, especially when it’s so bad you have panic attacks that make you go to the hospital where they shoot you up so you can relax and put a bracelet on your wrist that announces how ill you are. I had a baggie full of pills on the counter. She’s an understanding person, but I didn’t blame her for the way she looked at me when I couldn’t find the note, the way something subtle changed in her expression.
I wondered briefly if I should tell her I was crazy. Maybe I’d feel safer in a mental ward.
In the end, I checked myself into a hotel room on my own dime. I couldn’t really afford it but I didn’t have a choice. There were no doors in this hotel room besides the front one, which I promptly locked with the big lock, no one behind the shower curtain, no one under the bed. I laid on the bed and opened my Macbook and did the rest of my work for the day. I ordered room service so I didn’t have to leave. I lied and told everyone I knew that I was still at the apartment, the truth was that I didn’t want anyone to know where I was. There was someone I couldn’t trust and I didn’t know who.
I felt a new jolt of adrenaline when it got dark. I feel safer in hotels than almost anywhere else. They’re so sanitized and full of people. There’s a great big lock on a big, strong door. There was no other way in. I took three droppers full of melatonin this time, I knew there was no other way I’d sleep. The liquid felt sticky and sweet under my tongue. My head hit the pillow and I was out.
When I woke I knew someone was in the room.
I stayed still and let my eyes adjust. I breathed as deep as I could so that I still sounded asleep. I saw an outline on the floor. Someone crawling, a big man, trying to be quiet. I thought about how people said the original nightstalker used to do that. I heard him crawl to the door, I heard him let himself out. When I got up to look at the door, the metal lock was in place.
I turned the light on and looked around the room. There was a note on the desk, another piece of folded, lined paper ripped from a notebook.
You look so troubled when You sleep.
Try not to worry so much.
I’m here with you always.
I’m going to be honest about a gross thing here. The note made me feel special. I was terrified and repulsed and all of that. My hands were shaking as I read it and I got into the fetal position on the bed and cried afterwards. But there was a little spark of warmth there, too. Someone wanted me so much they were doing all this crazy, primal stuff. I was like the heroine in a horror movie.
Maybe I could write him back and win him over. If I could play his game for a bit, would he calm down?
On the other hand, I could just leave New York. Maybe I’d get fired for being a complete crazy person and leaving the city after two days when I was supposed to be meeting with people and working in the office for the whole week. I could make up an emergency but I’d already told a coworker what happened and it would be too big of a coincidence. Word would get out.
I went to the front desk and asked to switch rooms. The front desk lady was young and friendly enough that I pretended to level with her. I told her I was trying to get away from my ex-boyfriend and asked if I could put the reservation under someone else’s name. She said I couldn’t but she could make a note in the system not to give out my room number or name to anyone, which no one is supposed to do anyway but happens occasionally, when someone says it’s an emergency or acts sufficiently frazzled and unassuming.
I took four droppers of melatonin. Whatever was going to happen was going to happen and I at least wanted to be unconscious for it.
The next morning I woke up to bouquets of roses. The air in the room was perfumed with them. I had dreamed of being in someone’s warm embrace. Of feeling safe in a country house somewhere with the windows open with someone who loved me. There was a simple note, “For my love, you deserve the best, xx”.
It was strange. There was a sense of trepidation when I woke up to the flowers, when I glanced at the door and still saw it locked. But I didn’t feel afraid anymore. My shoulders relaxed. Whoever this man was, he wasn’t going to hurt me. He could sneak into locked apartments and secure hotel rooms. He was strong (I’d seen his frame in the dark). I was watched over, and it made me feel weary but it also made me feel comfort.
I didn’t change rooms that night but I repeated the four droppers of liquid melatonin. I awoke to more roses. I smiled when I saw them.
They say that Stockholm Syndrome happens because there is an innate human desire for consensus building. We are desperate to get along. We feel unease with conflict. There’s an intimacy in a hostage situation that causes a hostage to bond with their captor. I personally feel like that’s a pretty vulgar way to describe a very special kind of relationship, but I guess I understand that’s how it seems to the outside world.
I just don’t really think it’s that complicated. He made me feel terrified. He made me feel like no one believed me because I was a crazy girl. Then he was there to take me in his arms and make me feels safe. He became the entirety of my sense of safety. Holding me every night, which I gradually began to notice as I lessened my melatonin usage and resumed my lighter sleep patterns. There were flowers every morning. Fresh, expensive flowers and notes and letters about how much he cared for me.
I know what he did is bad. But he’s not a bad person. It’s romantic if you think about it, the lengths he went to to show me how much I need him, how unsafe I am without him. He saw in me the person I am at my core, someone who needs protecting. I am a garden who needs someone to build a wall around me so that I can flourish, so that I can do the work of growing something beautiful without worry or fear or distraction.
Every girl says they want the fairy tale but not a lot of women want to go through what it takes to have the fairy tale. It’s a kind of hero’s journey. There’s a darkness before the dawn and the hero is flawed. The hero slays the dragon to save the princess. There aren’t dragons around anymore, but the hero still has to defeat something. There has to be a conflict. If you just meet and fall in love, I mean, that’s fine, but it’s by definition not a fairy tale romance.
We began talking at night. He told me he’s killed before. None of those women understood him the way I do. I rubbed his shoulders while he told me about them. I felt jealous that his attention had ever been consumed by anyone but me. I felt bad that those women had died. I wish he would have found me first.
I never did go back home. It didn’t feel like home anymore. Home was where he was.