Two hours later and the situation was still thrumming in my mind.
“I was doing so good with this anxiety thing,” I whined. “It caught me completely off guard and now I can’t seem to calm down. It was as if my fight or flight switch got tripped and I freaked out and ran away.”
“Were you in imminent danger?” my therapist probed.
Well, no. Not in that moment,” I admitted. “I panicked and ran away.” Literally.
The first time I realized he was following me I was alert, but I kept extra distance between us and didn’t overthink it. I had an exit strategy and I assumed it was an isolated event so I kept my eyes peeled and brushed it aside. I didn’t even mention it to anyone. I didn’t know anything about him.
The very next day, though, when I was thoroughly focused on my work and I turned around to find him right. there. in my personal space I felt my heart jump. Where was my manager when I needed him.
He said “hi.” I said “hi” on autopilot. He took a step closer. I dashed off to page the manager. He said he would take care of it. Phew.
The manager said that the guy was just a kid. That he doesn’t speak much English. And that he’s pretty sure he’s not all “there” in the head. He has an obsession with women’s underwear and staring at women. He used words like “harmless” and “in an unfortunate situation”. Was this supposed to make me feel more comfortable about having an unwanted shadow? I didn’t care who he was or where he came from I did not want him following me or standing close to me. I just wanted him to leave me alone.
My manager said he would take care of the situation so I headed back to my post and started working again. Seconds later I look up and he’s back. This time he states that he “needs to talk to me”. Heck no. Without even a word I bailed and fast walked my way to the front of the store where there were people and windows and co-workers and exits.
Finally my manager saunters up the the kid and starts a conversation with him. When my manager talks to the kid he maintains a 6 foot distance and won’t make eye-contact. When he talks to me he’s close enough to touch me and won’t break eye-contact. Unnerving.
He may be a kid, but for some reason my body panicked the moment I turned around and found him next to me. My heart was pounding and my legs started to shake. For some reason I felt pinned even though he wasn’t touching me. I stayed up front while the manager talked to him and prayed that the creepy teen didn’t notice how upset I was.
Minutes later my manager strolled up to where I was standing at the front counter. He leaned on the counter and gave me his usual “so what” look accompanied by a dismissive hand gesture. I expressed breathless and pink-faced that I was uncomfortable with him being in the store while I worked. He then launched into a more detailed dismissive spiel which included phrases such as “he’s harmless” “he just has a crush on you” “have you talked to him?” “have you tried just being nice to him” “he’s not right in the head, do you really want me to call the police” “do you really want to arrest someone who’s mentally unwell and poor?” “what are going to do when I’m not here?” “what do you want me to do, huh?”
What I wanted was to feel safe at work. What I wanted was to not feel like the prey of a mentally unstable teenage boy. If he even is a teenager.
What I got was a dismissal from my manager. The man supposedly protecting me at work. I also got the impression that he shifted the blame and responsibility to me for – I don’t know – not having compassion? For getting upset over nothing? For being female?
This was a complete 360 change from the manager that I had confided in that very morning when I admitted that someone followed me out when I got off work the previous afternoon. At that time he said he wanted to call the police to find out more about him. Was he really just a teen? Was he really still in school? Was he mentally stable or not? These are the questions he claimed he wanted answers to until that afternoon when the situation presented itself again.
“Do you really want me to call the police”. He had said it with a stance and a smirk so mocking that my lips started to quiver with anger. Why I got so rattled I’m still not quite sure. Maybe it’s because I’ve had mentally challenged men/boys try things on me. Maybe it’s because as an early teen a stranger at a restaurant pressed his hand to my boob and I watched silently as he did the same thing to my sister. I don’t know. But in that moment I was ready to quit my job if something wasn’t done right then and there.
I asked my manager to tell the guy to leave and to not come back ever again. He walked away and my female co-work (who witnessed the entire exchange) turned to me with shock on her face. “What the ****” she exhaled. “I can’t believe he just treated you like that after everything he said he was going to do to protect us this morning”.
“I know” I fumed. I couldn’t believe it either, but I pushed my frustration down into my favorite storage room for my unwanted emotions and kept working. I only had half and hour left in my shift. Night shift would be coming in at any moment to take our places.
15 minutes later I hear another female co-worked breathlessly exclaim to the manager “You will NEVER believe what just happened to me in the parking lot!!!”
Turns out said “harmless teen” had waited for her to park her car. And then cornered her as she tried to walk away demanding a hug. “Just one hug!” he kept saying as she refused and backed away quickly. He tried to block her in but she swung wide and ran inside.
Turns out he didn’t leave when the manager said he did.
Turns out he wasn’t so “harmless” after all.
I heard from the (male) night manager the next day that he was waiting out back later that evening and that they had to run him off.
Finally the store manager called the police.
It took one of his female employees being ambushed in the parking lot for him to finally step up and do something about it.
Ridiculous. Is this why stuff happens to women and they don’t get believed? Because people in power – people who are supposed to act as protectors – write people and situations off as no big deal? Because men don’t know what it’s like to be preyed upon. Do men think about what it’s like to be female? Heaven help that kid if I ever come upon him again. He won’t get a chance to speak before his entire face is on fire with mace.
By the way, the police said there is nothing they can do legally since he’s presumed to be underage. Yay us. I feel so much safer now. And without an official ID (which is unlikely as a refugee) it will be difficult to find out much about him. If he’s spotted on the premises we can call 911 and have him picked up, but they said the most they can do is cuff him for trespassing and take him back to wherever he deems to be “home”. They said there is a high likelihood that his parents/guardians speak even less english than he does. They also said that CPS (Child Protective Services) will do nothing either because they are “overwhelmed” cases and as long as he is clothed and not in imminent danger of abuse or sex trafficking then they don’t really care. There is such a large number of refugees in this town that’s it’s impossible for them to keep track of everyone. At least, that is the excuse given by the police.
Frustrating. Thankfully I got the chance to unload on my therapist’s couch that night because I was beginning to imagine him coming up to me with a knife next time. I’m not sure if I and my female coworkers are in any danger or not. How can one know? Maybe he is just a weird kid. But two thing I know for sure is: for whatever reason that situation scared me and some men just don’t get it.