Category Archives: Personal

My First Cyber Stalker

I was cyber stalked my freshman year of college.

It was 2004 and I’d just started engineering school at the University of Michigan. I’ve never been limited by social conventions in terms of who I befriend, and I would go out to parties, flirt with guys, and carry on. It was the first time in life I had a chance to date, since I wasn’t allowed to growing up with my mom, and it was the first time I had my own computer and free reign over the internet, since I wasn’t allowed to use it outside of school research all through high school. It was my first taste of freedom.

So when I walked into the first day of biomedical engineering class and saw Andy, my little heart went aflutter. He was everything I ever wanted in a guy. He had spiky black hair and facial hair and was wearing a t-shirt featuring some band I’d never heard of. And he spoke, the first day of class. He answered a question that our professor, the ever-intimidating inventor of the multi-channel MRI RF coil and the corresponding fast imaging SENSE algorithm, asked us all, and he got it right. I was in awe.

Then one day, I was smoking a cigarette after a chemistry exam, and I struck up a conversation with these two guys, bonding over the intensity of it all. We all lived on North Campus, where the university exiles the engineers to slave away in silence, so we rode the bus back together, discussing the exam. I had never taken a harder exam, but they weren’t even doubtful. They were perfect study buddies, I decided, and the deal was sealed when I ran into them smoking outside the cafeteria a few days later. From then on Billy, Aman and I were friends.

Much to my surprise did I discover that Aman shared a room with Andy, and Billy lived across the hall. It was the trifecta of intense boys. I would go over to do homework with Billy and Aman, or pretend to do homework and drink Johnny Walker and play video games instead. We got to be rivalrous comrades, especially when Kelley, an emerging feminist from Bangkok who listened to hardcore music and lived upstairs, was involved in the discussions. But Andy remained a mysterious wall. I would try to make conversation, and he would shy away from me in a polite but gruff manner and go off to study alone. For someone so manly-looking and smart, I was baffled to find he was a total introvert outside of class. Combined with how nervous and awkward I probably acted around him, Andy and I were always outside of the realm of meaningful communication.

Once we may have connected over politics though. He was a total lefty and was always watching the Daily Show with John Stewart. In November, we all gathered there to watch the election that sealed another four years of this country’s decline. We were all devastated after, Andy the most, I think. I remember him going on a rant afterwards about how the government would drill all of the oil out of Alaska leaving a big hole, then take all the minorities in the country, push them in, bury them, and put an American flag on top. This was more than I’d ever heard him say. I was in a state of repulsed shock as well, which probably enabled me to snap out of my Andy-fog and say something intelligent around him for a change. I went home and furiously wrote in my journal about all the signs I thought I could tell he might be giving me, and how in love with him I was.

The next day, I got an instant message from someone with the screen name HowCouldBushWin. It was the point in history when AIM was just about to cease being the go-to service for instant messaging, before g-talk came along. If you had your screenname posted on MySpace, you might occasionally get random IMs from lonely guys in their parents basements, who you could quickly weed out. But the facebook had just launched that summer, providing new access for college students curious about their peers.

HowCouldBushWin began chatting me up about the election, and what bullshit it was. I responded at first, waiting for them to reveal who they were. I asked, and they asked me back another question, changing the subject and engaging me. Drawing me into conversation. Whatever, I have to go, I typed, and went on with my plans that night.

That evening when I came back online, I had a message waiting. A link to a funny picture. I smiled and went to sleep.

The next day after class, another message. I replied, assuming it was one of my friends, Billy or Aman, or maybe both, assuming they would reveal their identity momentarily. But the conversation drew on and on. He flattered me with attention asking me endless questions and attempting to intellectually engage me. It was obviously someone who wanted to know me more, who was too shy to approach me in real life. Or maybe they did approach me, daily even, but wanted to know a different side of me. I liked the attention.

I tried to get him to tell me where he knew me from, but he would evade everything while comforting me at the same time. I could tell he was having fun as I made gambles about who it was. Really funny, Billy. Are we still studying later? He let me believe I’d solved the mystery as I went through the list of likely pranksters, but only momentarily. Then he’d taunt me while, at the same time, flattering me with more attention and assurance that I’d be happy when I found out.

This was stupid, I decided. I didn’t have time for it, I had to study. In what I hoped was a last ditch effort, I bargained with him that I would invite him to my birthday party if he would come and reveal himself. I went to my party that night hoping to meet the man of my dreams, who was smart and political and shy despite a tough exterior. And most of all, I was hoping it would be Andy.

Andy never came, and nobody ever revealed themselves to me. But the next afternoon as soon as I got online, an IM window popped up. It was HowCouldBushWin telling me how great I looked at the party last night. I told him he was lying, that he didn’t go, and that he was nobody I knew — that he was probably just some internet weirdo who found me on MySpace and didn’t even really know me.

Then how could I know what you were wearing last night?  he asked. It was like that scene in Scream where Drew Barrymore thinks the phone stalker is fucking around, but then he says he’s on her front porch and the screen pans out around her shocked face.

I told him to go away, that I was hoping it was someone who I wanted it to be, and it clearly wasn’t, so I was done with this game. No wait, I’ll tell you who I am, he pleaded. That’s what drove everything that happened subsequently. I needed to know. The promise of finding out if I just engaged in conversation for a little bit longer outweighed the logic telling me to sign off.

And I didn’t want to sign off. It was my internet. My playground and work space. I needed to be on there. But every time I signed on, he would message me, saying he was finally ready to tell me who he was.

Eventually he let a detail escape him that allowed me to conclude that he was in Engineering school with me. He told me he liked my Radiohead shirt, but it was a shirt I borrowed from my roommate and only wore to class once, no where else.

In lectures, I examined every male skeptically. I tried to concentrate while I was discretely surveying the room, watching to catch anyone who stared at me a bit too long or looked at me funny. HowCouldBushWin told me he was going to give me a signal in class that day, so I would know for sure. Of course, I never saw a signal, and I was left feeling frustrated and unnerved that someone was watching me and I had no idea who. Later, he told me he did it when he thought I was looking. It was right in front of my face, and I must not have seen him.

I blocked HowCouldBushWin. I’d had enough. Game over. I was able to feel relief for a night, thinking that I could start putting this behind me, accepting that I may never know.

The next night, HowDidBushWin messaged me.

HowDidBushWin: TALK TO ME AND I’LL TELL YOU WHO I AM

Me: ok

HowDidBushWin: SEE I KNEW I COULD GET YOU TO TALK TO ME

Me: who are you?

HowDidBushWin: IT DOESN’T COME THAT SIMPLE

The conversation went on for hours and involved me breaking down into desperation. Eventually I blocked that screen name too. He made more.

HowdBushyDoIt

Blocked.

Conan4Pres

Andy liked Conan. Was there any way? No. I had to ignore his bait. He was feeding me hope that he was the person I wanted him to be, because he wanted to be someone I wanted.

It wasn’t, but it had to be someone I knew. Was it the man trifecta’s guy groupie who I didn’t get along with? The acid head serial gamer next door who was always playing an MMORPG with massive headphones? Their other roommate, the famously cool midget who rode around campus on a scooter? The senior in CS downstairs who taught me the meaning of trolling and tried to get me into S&M porn? The super shy, geeky guy in my chemistry class who kept inviting me to participate in clubs and stuff but I never went? The guy I met at a Halloween party and had a moment with who now was trying to date me?

It could have been any of them. Or, it could have been a completely random person who I’d never even spoken with before, who found my screen name on the facebook. I had no way of knowing for sure. Meanwhile, my stalker did not relent.

icanmakemoreforu: You’ll be sad that you never know who I am

Blocked.

talktomearikia: Please. Come on, I’ll be nice.

Blocked.

pleasearikia: I’d give you what you wanted eventually.

pleasearikia: talk to me :(

pleasearikia: I’ll write you a haiku, about you, if you talk.

pleasearikia: I’ll do anything. Right now. One time offer. 5 mins.

pleasearikia: you’re making me crazy

pleasearikia: i’m spazzing out

pleasearikia: are you happy now?

I got sucked into the debate once again. He told me now after how inappropriate his messaging had been, he was afraid to tell me because I would hate him forever, whereas if he didn’t tell me, he might be able to still interact with me in person without me knowing. I tried to convince him otherwise, because I needed to know. But he didn’t give in, so I blocked him again.

My class attendance declined. I couldn’t concentrate, so there was no point.

By that time I’d told some of my friends about it. Some were concerned, and tried IMing the stalker themselves to pull his identity out of him. It didn’t work, and he just got mad at me. He began to become verbally abusive in his messages. Following it up with an apology, and please don’t block me again, I’ll tell you. I would try new tactics of interrogation with him. Everything I could think of. I offered to meet him anywhere. He entertained the idea but refused. So I blocked him again, but he would spawn back up with a new screen name the next day.

stalkerdearest: why did you ignore me and make me go through all those names?

He told me what kind of late night sandwich I would always order.

That’s when I went to the police. I printed out all the conversations I’d been saving since my Drew Barrymore moment, took them to campus security, and told them I was being harassed and to do something to make it stop. I think they thought it was funny. Since he hadn’t actually threatened to physically harm me, they couldn’t do anything. They certainly couldn’t track his IP, though they said it was because they didn’t know how, which I believed.

I couldn’t sign online without a new message box popping up. I was furious. I needed to be there. I needed to talk to my friends and to virtually study. I was becoming a nervous wreck. I hadn’t been to class in weeks because I would distract myself by going out drinking with friends, to escape my computer and my stalker.

My friends were worried. I stopped entertaining the idea of dating, because I was skeptical that anyone who wanted to get to know me was this person.

My stalker told me he would admit it was him if I asked him in person. So I confronted people who I thought it might be, which is of course a really offensive thing to be confronted with. “Am I cyber stalking you? Are you serious?” Desperate to cover all bases and resolve the mystery for good, I  asked Andy about it after class one day. I explained what had been going on. “That sucks,” he said sympathetically. Finally I blurted out that if it was him, he could tell me, because I understood why he would do that. He practically laughed in my face. No, of course it wasn’t him. Then I backpedaled by saying I thought it might be his roommate, the midget, and he got really pissed off that I would think that. That was me officially blowing it with him. It was probably the most embarrassment I’d ever felt in my life at the time.

I went home to another message from a new user on my screen.

The stalker wanted to make a deal. If I told him who I thought he was, he would tell me who he was. I wouldn’t. You’re just being stubborn because you’re afraid of being wrong, he accused.

Blocked.

onemorestubborn

Blocked.

In the end he made 18 total screen names and I blocked them all. I changed the settings on my AIM account so that nobody who wasn’t pre-approved on my list could contact me. I felt defeated. I hated it that I had to sacrifice potential approaches from decent human beings and close myself off online because some lame guy couldn’t control his impulses online.

I eventually ended up dropping out of engineering school and matriculating to the Literature, Science & Arts college. It wasn’t just because of the stalker, but that happened so early in my college career that it set the tone for my whole experience there, and the tone of my GPA. I was in the 20% female minority there, surrounded by guys who were always giving me unwanted attention. I was skeptical of them all. Then I got it from one of my professors too, and I just decided that engineering wasn’t where I wanted to be. I didn’t want to be in an environment where the few women were objectified by the sex-starved majority of men. And all that locking myself away studying wasn’t really my thing anyway. I’m a social animal.

I never found out who it was, but I still idly run the possibilities in my head sometimes, coming up with nothing again every time.

It was like being mentally raped. It marred the start of my college experience. I bounced back, obviously. Because that’s what I do. But even now, when someone contacts me anonymously and carries the joke on for longer than a minute, I start to panic.

That’s why when someone messaged me anonymously four days ago by posting this via formspring, I felt like Julie in I Know What You Did Last Summer when she got that note. Mine read:

I think you were in love with me, but never admitted it for obvious reasons – the first being that I had a girlfriend. But, I’m single now.

I initially got the same hopeful excitement that I did with my first college stalker. I wanted badly for it to be someone who I did fall in love with. I’ve been lonely lately, and I’ve encountered some people along my post-college journey that I’ve been holding out hope for. At the same time I worried it would be another stalker who would never admit his identity, especially after a few exchanges that were unsuccessful in figuring it out. I decided I wasn’t going to make the same mistake in confronting people who I thought it was. I entertained this person’s anonymous messages strategically for four days. I was going to smoke this person out by being smarter this time.

And I did. And it turned out to be a really sick joke.

I hope who did that realizes how hurtful what they did was to me, and that anyone else who may be reading this thinks twice about engaging in anonymous stalking behaviors.

Thoughts on predatory males and safety in the ‘hood

I’ve been thinking a lot about what happened Monday night (when a psychotic man tried to follow me home). The encounter really shook me to the core of my being. I’ve also been thinking a lot about how I handled the situation, and how other women could diffuse a potentially violent encounter.

I think one of the reasons the situation didn’t escalate to anything physical is because I did this:

When I turned around and fiercely asked “Are you following me?” instead of looking afraid and continuing to walk forward, it no doubt threw him off-guard and caused him to re-think his initial plan of simply tailing me. He was way bigger than me, and my doing that was the equivalent of what the little puffer fish puffing up to say, “Don’t even TRY to eat me or I will fuck your day up.”

Some other examples of this in nature are:

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An ode to Myiopsitta monachus

I used to have a quaker parrot named Kiwi and he was my best friend. He flew away four years ago and I still stay up some nights thinking about what may have happened to him and how I could have prevented his departure. I miss him dearly. Once you’ve known the joys of parrot ownership, I don’t think life can ever be quite the same without one.

My baby, telling me all about his day.

My baby, telling me all about his day.

Sometimes I wonder if he’s still out there somewhere. Every now and then I will scour the web with keywords like the date he flew away, city, state, description, and the number from his ID bracelet, hoping that someone posted a clue or a Found ad that I missed, or that Google has gotten better. But nothing ever turns up. So I hit up YouTube, and watch videos of the other little green clowns in the world.

Here are some of my favorites:

I love the “YAAAY” at the end.

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R.I.P. Zanzibar

I am in serious mourning right now. Earlier tonight, one of my best friends from college (you might call him my partner in crime) sent me a g-talk message to deliver “urgent, terrible news.” It is with great sadness and regret I must announce, that Zanzibar, the pan South American bistro in Ann Arbor that hosts my absolute, #1, hands-down FAVORITE happy hour in the entire world is CLOSING — for EVER!!!!!

TO which I responded,

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!

You will always be open for happy hour in my heart, Zanzibar.

You will always be open for happy hour in my heart, Zanzibar.

You see, Zanzibar is where I developed my refined palate for fine cocktails. Every Tuesday and Thursday at 4:00 after my Philosophy of Science course, I would walk from down State Street, my mind spiraling with thoughts on demarcation criteria and evidence and predictive power, and I would collapse into my favorite booth, ready for one hour of beverage bliss. Never fail, my partner in crime would saunter in five minutes later with an expression of bored pretension and sit down across from me, ready to gossip about the dramatics of being editors at our college newspaper.

And then Julie would walk up and smile at me. She was tall and sultry with a no-nonsense attitude, and she took every one of my classic cocktail v-cards. She was my first gin martini, up, with blue cheese olives; my first side car with finely-ground cane sugar on the rim, of which I would lick every particle while my friend grimaced and told me I needed to get laid; my first Caipirinha, Manhattan, Brooklyn Bridge and Smoky Martini – which will kick your ass and make you feel like you could breath fire if you had a match. And best of all, Julie made me dozens of the most amazing mojitos in the world. They were swampy with mint, pieces of which I would carefully extract with two straws as if they were chopsticks and eat. No bartender in New York City has ever even come close to replicating Julie’s mojito to my liking but I present an open challange if any would like to try ;)

But the most amazing thing about Zanzibar’s happy hour was that ALL of the drinks on the menu were half off. It was none of this $15 a cocktail bullshit. They were $4 a piece, max. I can honestly say that if it was not for Zanzibar, I would probably still be drinking Vodka Redbull and Sex on the Beach.

After happy hour, my friend would stumble off to his 5:30 English course to critique documentaries and I would head to Edit Board and deliver choice opinionated remarks that would eventually be transformed into “The voice of the Daily”. Zanzibar was a place that transformed inspiration into influence. We always planned to go back there when we were in our ’30s and reminisce, but now we never will.

So you see what a true tragedy this is.

Rest in peace, Zanzibar. Every time I think of you, it will be happy hour in my heart.

In which The Millikan will journey to meet her maker

In grade school, when we had activities where we had to draw or describe our families, I only had two people to draw: my mom and me. I would finish first and get creative, including my parakeets and fire-bellied newt, but I remember feeling a sense of lacking when the other kids’ pictures were filled with people and I had to clarify that that black and red blob’s name was Scooter and he was part of my family, too. No siblings, no father — just us two ladies holding down the Millikan household.

All my life I’ve identified as an only child. So you can bet I was surprised when two months ago, I got an email from my sister. I scanned past it in my inbox at first. I get a lot of newsletters and notifications and stuff and might not have even recognized it as important with the subject “It’s about time we meet.” But I did a double take when I recognized the last name as my father’s.

I guess you know you’re really living in the Internet Age when the sister you didn’t know existed finds you on the Facebook and contacts you.

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The kindness of strangers

Time and time again, I’ve pondered the Internet behavior in which one sends a message out into the aether in response to an interaction that occurred in real life. This usually manifests as a Craigslist “Missed Connection” and is prompted by some kind of heavy eye contact in a crowded venue, a collision on the sidewalk, or a shared subway car. I’ve never understood why people do this — especially in New York City — when, taking into account the likelihood that the person with whom the connection was missed a) noticed,  b) reciprocated the sentiments, and c) reciprocated them enough to wade through the pile of Missed Connections — is slim to none.

What about this act provides a sense of personal satisfaction? Is it that sending the message prevents the “if I had only” feeling that can live in the back of one’s mind as regret for years? Does it immediately reward the message-sender in the way that completing any task does? Is it because it’s easier than actually trying to track a person down but you still feel like you’ve done something?

Perhaps we’ll never know, but I’m going to try it now and see what happens, because the kindness of strangers I’ve seen lately has gone a long way in convincing me that we aren’t all just selfish bastards.

We all need a little help sometimes.

We all need a little help sometimes.

So, to the strangers who will probably never see this…

To the woman who picked me up off the curb where I was crying and told me to move so a car wouldn’t hit me, and asked me what was wrong. She asked how old I am and laughed in my sad face when I told her that I am 22. She told me that it would be OK because I’m young and I’ve got a long way to go, and that she knows a lot of people in my industry and to call her because she could help me. I got very drunk that night and have no idea what I did with your information, but thank you.

To the homeless man pushing a walker on the subway who informed me that it was the last stop, and somehow knew when he saw my face that I was the most recent victim of the desolate economy. “Don’t worry darlin’, pretty girls don’t starve,” he told me with confidence. Sir, that statement was both comforting and disturbing, and I will remember it for the rest of my life. Thank you… and I hope you don’t starve either.

To the innocent guy in the subway who I snapped at because he was looking at me, “Do you think it won’t happen to you too?” To which he smiled at me and responded, “I got laid off 3 months ago, unemployment benefits are pretty nice” and made me feel sheepish, yet comforted.

To the bartender who provided me the tools for efficient memory erasure (Side Cars and chocolate cake shots) and didn’t charge me anything……. yeah, you probably shouldn’t have done that, but thanks.

And to the waiter at the fancy French restaurant where my roommate works who gave me his employee dinner credit when I hadn’t eaten all day and couldn’t access any of my funds. Thank you very much, it was delicious, and you have validated the homeless guy’s statement! And… I’m sorry that the mussels you shared with my roommate gave you both food poisoning.

Well, I’ve reached the end and I still don’t know why I am writing this Missed Connection, but I do feel pretty good about it. Perhaps there’s a similarity between the impulse to send a message out there into the Internets, not knowing what — if anything — will come of it, and that which inspires strangers to help people they’ve never met before and will probably never see again in order to claim their thank-you prize. I thought I had this shit all figured out when I was a cynical undergrad in philosophy class and argued the “ethical egoist” perspective until I was blue in the face. But in light of this new evidence, perhaps a revision of my original stance is in order.