Twenty-five years ago I was crying in my broken down car in the parking lot of a gas station in my small Missouri home town. I was about $10,000 in debt and barely (sometimes not) paying my bills, even though I was working 40 hours a week as a secretary for an Investment Firm where my boss lived in a small mansion, bringing in over half a million a year. I didn't know what to do. The gas station attendant offered to call a tow truck, and when I refused because I couldn't spare the cost, he had all but insisted because I was “taking up space from paying customers.” I told him (in my most confident--or to hear him tell it "bitchiest" voice) that I would get it fixed and off the property within 2 hours, and that seemed to satisfy him even though I had no idea what I was doing or how I would manage such a feat short of calling in a Criss Angel type magician to make my car simply "disappear."
So, I'm crying, right? And I guess because of that, I'm putting out that whole "damsel-in-distress" vibe that really gets certain boners going. One such boner comes up to me and starts straight off with that condescending, old-fashioned misogynistic, "Oh, sweety" this and "Baby" that and I'm getting real claustrophobic just being in my skin in the vicinity of him. In my most assertive voice I tell him to, "Back off. Thanks, but I've got it handled. Just leave me be." Well, that sets him off and he starts going off on what a bitch I am for declining his offer to help me and because I was raised the way I was raised in the community I was raised in, I start to wonder if maybe I am being a bitch for following my instincts to decline his offer to help. I'm on the verge of apologizing when this other guy, maybe early thirty's, brown wavy hair, the type to wear khaki's and a white polo shirt comes up and says, "Hey, Caroline! So sorry I'm late." And just stares at the first guy until he backs off. I look at him, my insides still shaking from the extra adrenaline, and say, "Thanks." He says, "You good here?" I say, "Yes" so fast that I immediately regret it and, still feeling guilty for potentially having been rushing a judgement on the previous guy, I say, "Actually, maybe not." He slides his khaki's across the passenger seat and reaches toward me, suddenly my hand, holding the coffee I bought inside to try to get the gas station guy off my ass, is being flung on him--like my arm is possessed. I apologize profusely. Khaki pants just looks shocked and amused, but not annoyed. "It's alright," he says. "I was just trying to use your phone. May I?" "Sure," I say handing it over to him.
Now I start getting all self-conscious that the only reason I'm letting khaki pants help me as opposed to the other guy is because this guy looks more trustworthy (his clothes are cleaner--sans the coffee I just threw on him--and he reminds me of my brother) and he doesn't speak using overly familiar "sweetheart" nicknames. I start thinking about how we're all just acting in the ways we're taught to act and I'm debating if my instincts are real or just discriminatory. Basically, I'm doing the mental gymnastics of being a woman--don't be too nice, you'll lead them on, don't be too mean, you'll get murdered, don't be judgmental and generalize that all men either want to rape or murder you, and don't flatter yourself that you think a man would even want to rape or murder you (you're not. that. special!).
I must have done a really long gymnastic routine, because by the time I come back to reality, a tow truck is pulling up next to us and khaki pants is giving them his credit card number. "No, wait!" I say jumping out of the car. In a hushed and anxious tone, I whisper to khaki pants that I can't afford to pay him back for this. He just smiles and says it's fine and not to worry about that right now. I thank him profusely and accept his offer to drive me home. As I'm getting out of his car he tells me that he put his number in my phone under "White Knight" as a joke, but that his real name is Robert. "Call anytime," he says. I say I will. I say I owe him dinner. I tell him I'll call, and I mean it.
But then, you know, life. And I'm trying to get enough money to get my car fixed. And then my cat dies. I get behind on my rent and my landlord evicts me. I stay with my 2nd cousin, Polly, for a few months even though she hates me being there--and I can't blame her--it's tight in her studio apartment with two dogs! I apologize daily for my existence. I try to keep it tidy, to help out. I promise I'll be out of her hair soon. In just two more months I'll have enough saved for a deposit on my own place.
I'm at work. It's a Tuesday afternoon and I'm bent down in the lobby cleaning up some kind of mess--I don't know why I can't remember what kind of mess it was or what happened to cause it.... maybe animal poop? The dirt of an office plant knocked over? Who knows. I'm bent down dusting it up when I feel someone kneel down beside me, I glance up and it's him. Khaki pants aka White Knight aka Robert. I smile in shock. He doesn't looks so happy. My smile fades just as he pops a smile on and jests, "Hey, you were gonna call me." "Yeah, about that... sorry." "That tow wasn't cheap you know! You owe me dinner, don't you?" His tone is a mix of joking and not-at-all-fucking joking. I'm not sure how to respond, so I just say, "I do," as I continue to sweep up the brown matter on the floor. He takes out his phone, still kneeling beside me and presses a button. The phone at the front desk rings and Samantha, my co-worker, grabs it for me, "Fidelity. This is Sam." "Hey, Sam. This is Robert. I'd like to make an appointment with..." he puts is hand over the phone, "You never did tell me your name." "Juniper," I say. He cackles softly, "Seriously?" He unclasps his hand from the phone, "I'd like to make a lunch meeting with Juniper for tomorrow at noon. At Raphael's. Her treat." I go to protest--say it's too expensive--say I'm busy, but he puts his hand up. The nerve! I'm thinking. I can't tell if I'm completely repulsed or semi-flattered, but I'm leaning toward repulsed. Sam, observing this, stutters, "Uh, we don't really make appointments for secretaries... I mean, we don't really make personal lunch meetings or you know... that's really up to her." He hangs up as if he's accomplished his goal and stands, "I'll see you tomorrow. Noon. Raphael's!" He walks off, shaking his head, giggling, "Juniper."
My name's not Juniper. But he already knew this. He knew this because after I didn't call him, he went back to my house and went through the mail in my mailbox. He knew my name was Cait Lois Hopper. And because he also stole some of my mail, he knew where I worked, how much I made, my ATT account number, and that I, at one time (in a more financially stable place), donated to ACLU. I'd always wanted to change my name to Juniper when I was kid, I guess that's why it came out; also, because the unpredictable energy he was exuding was making me nervous in that same old claustrophobic way. The next day, when I failed to show up at Raphael's, I expected some kind of... something to happen. I watched the door like a hawk... is this the start of something awful? I would think. But nothing happened. I mean, there were more phone calls at work than usual and a lot of the time no one would be on the line--it would just be silent, but I didn't think anything of it at the time. It had happened less frequently, but still quite a bit, before so it didn't seem that unusual and certainly didn't feel connected.
What I didn't know then was that I was being surveilled 24/7. At home, at work, awake, asleep, online, and in person. What I didn't know then, was that my White Knight was stalking me and was determined to make me his, in the most possessive of terms. It was the start of something awful and that something awful lasted 25 years. 25 years of almost deadly encounters, and job losses after he started doing more than just calling and sitting silently on the line, but started harassing everyone I worked with and spreading lies about me, and waking up in the middle of the night because I felt his presence in the room only to not find him but then in the morning find a note he left behind. I moved dozens of times. I went to the police even more. I got a restraining order but could never PROVE he broke it. I tried to date, but when a boyfriend ended up waking up to his house on fire... I stopped trying. My life had been a living nightmare. I couldn't sleep, couldn't eat, couldn't be around family or friends, couldn't hold down a job, couldn't live like this anymore.
Three months earlier, I had managed to somehow successfully seem to go under his radar. I changed my identity and had moved for the umpteenth time. I don't know how it worked but it did. I felt, briefly, free. But I knew... he was coming. And suddenly, not knowing when or where or how he would emerge was worse than when I knew he was there every day. My anxiety spiked so high I ended up hospitalized for a heart attack. That's the night I decided enough was enough. It was me or him and I wasn't willing to sacrifice any more of myself for him. It had been 25 years.
I bought a gun. I stalked him. I found him. I drove to Louisville. I got a hotel room at the hotel where he was staying. I went to the bar and waited. Just after midnight we locked eyes across the room while the bartender yelled for last call.
"Hi, Robert." I said, sliding into his booth. "I hear you've been looking for me."
Robert, speechless, just stared as if I had walked into the room straight from his dreams.
"So, here's what we're going to do. You're going to take me up to your room, yes? And I'm going to order you that dinner you deserve. So sorry to have been so long in getting back to you. You know how life is. Tragic. And then, we're going to be done with all this, yes? Yes. And you're going to move on."
"Of... of course." Robert said, smiling uneasily. "You... you look just great. Red satin. Great."
Robert and I exited the booth. I held my arms open, "After you, Robert." He stared back at me, unsure, but then proceeded.
"I'm caught, uh, a little of guard here. I didn't know you were coming, so, so, so you'll have to excuse the mess. If you could just give me minute to tidy up..." Robert stuttered as we neared his door.
"Oh, I don't mind a little mess, Bobby! I thought you knew that about me." I smiled coyly as he slowly put the card key in the door, but then paused short of turning the handle.
"I really wish you would let me go in and tidy up, Cait. This is very embarrassing for me."
"Why? Do you have company?" I ask.
"No. Not, not exactly, but..."
"Well, go on then!" I say, flashing my gun.
Robert's eyes suddenly flare as if there's been an explosion. "Oh. Oh!" He turns around in place and then just stands and stares at me. "No." He says defiantly. "No."
"Really? But I wanna..." I say slowly. "Lemme see." The key still in lock, I turn the handle and kick the door open. "After you."
Robert walks backward into the room and sits in the chair. The wall behind him covered in surveillance photos of me from 5 months earlier.
I lick my lips, in dehydrated, anxious, anticipation, my heart beating so fast I'm begging it to slow down. "So, you're not going to stop, are you? Ever? And that's not okay. I can't live like this anymore, Robert. And I think you know that, don't you? You've put me through hell and so now it's time for you to go."
Robert starts to speak and I cannot let him leak one more word into my life, I shoot him in the head. Red everywhere. I'm disgusted. I scream. I'm in shock.
"Well," I say to no one.
"That's done," I say to no one.
I look down at my blood stained everything and leave the gun on the floor. I walk to the door, down the hall, and to the lobby. People stare. I go to reception. The man behind the desk is on the phone but he stops speaking when he sees me.
"Yes, hi. I'd like to report a murder. You should probably call the police. Also, I did it, but don't worry, please. I left the gun in the room and I have no intention of hurting anyone else. I'll just wait over here until they come, okay? So sorry for... all this. It must be terribly scary for you."
Duke Ellington's "Satin Doll" plays again--must be a playlist on repeat. The blood of Robert mixing with the red satin of my dress. I sit on the cozy lounge chair, even though I know I shouldn't--the mess and all. Very rude of me. But I think... it may be the last time I get to sit in a truly comfortable chair. And who knows how long the police will take--and suddenly sirens. Not long at all I suppose. They never were that quick in getting to me, ah well...
"Ah, well," I say to no one. "Done, now. Now I can sleep.”