Shame

It is an immeasurable shame to have been branded with something so public, from which you cannot escape.

***

I wake to a pounding at my bedroom door and my father’s booming voice: “Tell that mother fucker if he wants to show his face around here again I’ll fucking kill him.” I never heard my dad say fuck before. He leads me to the front door, where my mother’s dark red paint has been decorated in messy permanent marker. “Fuck Lucy.” There’s an immediate panic, exhibiting itself in what seems to be my entire throat closing up, and my stomach crawls up my esophagus into my throat. I return to my bedroom; my tears are immediately interrupted by my father busting through the door again. “He got the garage doors too.”

I rush out of the front door to the side of the house, where the garage doors announce much larger versions of “Fuck Lucy”—along with a few extras: “you’re a cunt” and “nigger lover.” I run right past the artwork on the front siding. Three sides of my house have been marked with sexist and racist slurs. Right next to my bedroom window—which I never open after dark—my phone number, in large, blocky numbers. It’s captioned with “Slut’s House,” to make sure anyone who drives by both knows I am a slut and how to contact me should they ever be in need of a slut. On the siding of the adjacent wall, an illegible paragraph ends with “this is all your fault ha ha ha.”

***

I’m entering into a class of around one hundred fifty freshmen, slightly smaller than the average freshman class for my eight hundred-student high school. My cousin, Elizabeth, is a senior. No, she might be the senior. She is everything a teen beauty in a southern state small-town should be, apart from her detest for all things small-town, the one thing we share. She is blonde, skinny, and athletic, with huge blue eyes. Hopefully, by latching onto her, I’ll rid myself of my quirky-awkward-smart-girl status, although I am entirely unused to positive attention from people other than my few fellow oddities, and can only just claim having hit puberty. I’ve never even kissed a boy before. “What if Liz doesn’t want to claim me?” I think, as her red Honda civic pulls around the corner. Her excited grin greets me, and she hands me a McDonald’s breakfast.

“So, I know this guy who thinks you’re cute,” Liz tells me one morning as she picks me up from school. “He’s a junior. His name is Connor.” I immediately feel the red wash over my face. I’d gotten an entirety of two boys to like me in the past three years, and now one of the most popular juniors in our small town thinks I’m cute?

Connor and I date for the next three months. He dumps me one day at lunch. He comes up to me, in front of all my friends, and announces that he heard I kissed someone else, and we’re done until he knows what happened. He’s right. I kissed Bradley, a sophomore who’s on the basketball team with Connor, but only after finding out that—the day after we started dating and about an hour before giving me my first kiss—he fucked some girl in my freshman class.

***

Connor, I have found, is a much more tortured individual than I could have imagined. Since our breaking up about a year ago, his attempts at reconciliation have been continuous. I tell him, “My parents just won’t let us see each other anymore. I’m sorry, Connor.” I’m not sure how sorry I truly am, but I think I sound sincere enough. He’d confided in me his fear for his own life, when he is driving his late father’s car and hears his dad’s voice, telling him to run off the road. He’d told me that sometimes he wanted to, but he would think about me and that would stop him. Essentially, I am trapped. It seems clear to my sixteen-year-old brain that I am morally obligated—destined, even—to save the life of this broken person. But, damn, it’s hard to sleep at night.

We haven’t been off the phone for ten minutes before I hear a sort of scratch-on-metal sound. My phone begins to ring, but I decline it immediately, because the scratching won’t go away; it’s growing louder and more intense, but then ceases to be a scratching noise at all. I hear a warped noise, like something being moved violently.

You know that feeling when you turn around and someone is standing super close behind you, but you had no idea they were there, so when you turn around you nearly jump out of your skin? That’s how I feel, when I draw the curtain and see the pair of eyes staring into my lit room from the darkness outside. I crack open the glass pane; “I rode my bike over here. I had to talk to you in person.”

“Well you scared the shit out of me,” I tell Connor through the metal screen on my window. I silently thank my precautious parents for putting it there in the first place.

“Can you take this screen off and let me in?”

“No.” I answer, immediately and definitely.

“Alright, I’ll just stay out here then. Lucy, I love you, and I’m not leavin’ here until you say you love me too.” Conviction is sometimes lost in his hillbilly drawl, but here he is all too definite.

I can’t really argue with that, considering all I want is for him to be gone. I know I’m too young to actually love anybody, but I’ve been helping this kid through suicidal thoughts for a year. That’s some form of love, right? “I love you, too.”

I guess, now that he’s done it once, Connor thinks it’s acceptable to make a habit of coming to my window at night. Sometimes, he’ll call or text and tell me he’s out there. But sometimes he surprises me, and sometimes I see him there, even when he isn’t. I don’t tell anyone except Beth, my best friend, who is sometimes there for his surprise visits. Liz is in college now, or I’d tell her. I know this isn’t normal.

***

I stand in front of my house, looking on the ravaged siding, tears leaving clean stripes on my grimy, freshly woken face. My sister, Lily, stands next to me, her tiny arms wrapped around my hips. I cry more when she insists that the things he’s written are not true. She assures me she doesn’t believe I am any of the things Connor wrote on our house; her ten-year-old brain, however advanced, was unaware of the severity of calling someone a “piece of shit, slut, cunt, whore” on their house, but she had a decent idea.

I know I should’ve seen this coming. He showed all the signs, gave me all the hints that this would end badly for me. When I first met Connor, nearly two years ago now, he seemed so incredibly average, the kind of average that constructs a small town heartthrob: blue eyes, blonde, tall and skinny—lanky even—but the kind of average that is partially masked by the defined, pubescent pectoral and abdominal muscles, and the dozen or so hairs that grow there. The crazy emanated later. It grew out of him gradually and steadily, my boredom with it all acting only as fertilizer every time it became apparent to him. The voices, the depression, the late-night visits to my window for the past two years should’ve been some sort of indication that something worse was going to happen.

I know my parents are angry, and I know they should be angry with me. They asked me not to talk to him. They asked me to tell them if he tried to contact me. I realize suddenly they have no idea about the window. It feels so regular, so habitual to battle this window on my own. I have secured this window, watched it, closed it in the dark, and feared it for so long by myself, that to tell my parents is to allow them into a secret, dark place in my life. I fear their judgment more than anything: a stupid young girl who allows herself to be manipulated. For two years, I have made decisions that have led me here: standing in front of my vandalized house, believing every word it says.

***

1 in 19 men have experienced stalking in his lifetime, according to the CDC’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS). 1 in 6 women made the same report. Almost half –46%—of these of these individuals reported having experienced fear of what may happen next. It’s surprising, though, that only 3 in 10 reported being emotionally or psychologically injured from being stalked. These statistics do not seem linear to one another.

The fear of not knowing still brings me—in a different town, in a different house, with a different window—to shut my blinds every night before dark. The fear of his unpredictable reactions haunts my current relationships, leaving me always looking for some emotion to repair. The blame I projected onto myself throughout the entirety of this toxic relationship leaves me still trying to make up for it. Guilt in such quantities, when thrust upon you, is incredibly difficult to shake. The fear of not knowing directly influences my emotional stability. It’s been five years since it started.

Connor still tries to contact me. He’s clever about it; he makes anonymous phone calls and creates new, unblocked social media accounts. Each attempt—however  distant and ignored—strikes a fresh beam of fear straight into my gut.

My parents are not angry with me over this, nor were they ever, despite my expectations; to be a victim and blame oneself is to expect everyone else to do the same. Yet I continue to keep them in the dark. The scattered attempts and the fear they strike within me are still shameful, and the guilt still fresh, however long ago I accepted I was not at fault.