BY SID CARLISLE
Trigger warning: mention of stalking
A chill runs up my spine, stopping me in my tracks. It’s the feeling any woman is familiar with when walking home alone at dusk — I’m being followed. I start to walk faster and don’t dare turn around out of risk of letting whoever — or whatever — catch up to me.
Just a few blocks from home, my follower decides to speak to me: “Hey Sid!”
I don’t need to look to know who it is. That voice is all too familiar to me. I want to face him, but my feet are stuck in the sidewalk as I slowly sink in. With tears streaming down my face, I cry out, “I thought you weren’t coming back to campus this semester.”
When he starts to laugh, I don’t need to look to picture the stupid smile on his face. “No, who told you that?” He asks in a mocking tone, knowing he’s lying and knowing I won’t call him out for it.
That’s when I jolt awake. It takes me a moment to assess my surroundings and bring me back to the present. It was just another dream. He’s not here. You don’t have to see him. You’re safe. But normally the dreams aren’t that vivid. Normally when I wake up, I can just remember I saw his face. Or not even that, a cold sweat at 4 a.m. tells me everything I need to know if I don’t remember the dream.
The next morning, I have to walk past his favorite study spot to get to class. I try to avoid it, but I’m running late and don’t have time to take the long route. I keep my head down and walk straight ahead, not daring to look anyone in the eye. With each booth I pass, my heart rate quickens. With each chair that swivels as I pass by, my breathing becomes shallower. The hallway is a battlefield and I barely make it out alive. I’m a survivor.
Knowing he’s a thousand miles away gives some assurance to know that he can’t hurt me anymore. I don’t have to see him and relive the last three years of my life every single day. But no time or distance removed from him can take me back to how I was before.
Once I get to class, I sit as far away from the door as possible. Maybe he knows I’m in here. Maybe he’ll want to just visit the professor. The distance between me and the entrance assures that if he’s really here, I can duck under the desk and go unnoticed.
Avoiding someone you want to avoid is hard. Every man wearing a baseball cap has his face, and I run the other way before checking to confirm. Every door opening has him on the other side of it. Every text I receive is him using a fake number to try to contact me. Every stranger I meet is someone he knows trying to get information about me.
Walking back home, I see a shadow of him in the snow, putting a snowball together. As he forms the ball with his red, frozen fingers, he echoes the same story about his sister that he did in this spot two years ago. Knowing what happens next, I flinch, as the imaginary snowball hits my shoulder and falls to the flurry-covered pavement. I bend down and begin to form my own in the grass, but when I look back up, he’s gone.
Bringing myself back to the present moment, I put my headphones in and focus on the feel of my shoes against the pavement, ignoring the ever-present feeling of being followed.
Sid Carlisle is a senior Newspaper and Online Journalism major. She is a staff writer for the OutCrowd and has a deep passion for personal storytelling.