I was Stalked in High School

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By Amber Drea

I grew up in Eastern Connecticut and spent my teenage years in a small, working-class, rural town. In junior high, I got straight A’s, sang in chorus and played electric guitar in the school rock band. My first kiss occurred during a game of Truth or Dare—a horrifying experience that put me off swapping spit for years to come—and there was a mutual lack of attraction between me and most of the boys in town. I pined solely for popular guys, knowing they’d never go for a nerdy, brown-skinned Filipino girl.
By the time high school rolled around, I was pretty naive in the realm of romance.

About halfway through freshman year, I noticed this dude staring at me from a few tables away in the lunchroom. He was overweight, wore glasses and had curly black hair. I finished eating my sandwich and glanced back a few minutes later. He was still staring. I pointed him out to my friends, and one of them said, “Oh, that’s Mark Perez*. He’s Mary’s older brother.” Mary Perez was girl in our grade.

“Well, he’s being a creep.” I could feel his gaze boring a hole into my head.

Mark kept staring at me during lunch over the next few months. It wasn’t constant, but every once in a while, I’d randomly look over at his table and our eyes would lock. “He’s staring again,” I’d announce and slump down in my chair. I started sitting in different spots at my table so that something—a garbage can, a wall, a friend’s head—would block his view.

One day in Spanish class, Rob Turner walked over to my desk. “You know my cousin Mark?” he asked. “He’s a junior?”

I assumed he meant my lunchroom suitor. “Yeah. What about him?”

“He wants me to ask you to go out with him.”

“No thanks.”

“Why not?”

“Because he stares at me at lunch every day.”

“But he’s really nice—he’s just shy. Come on, give him a chance.”

“Yeah, Amber, just go out with him,” Aaron Ferrera chimed in. “It’s not like you could do any better.”

I may have had low self-esteem and zero romantic prospects, but I would rather have been single forever than date someone I didn’t like.

Later that week, I got off the bus after school and noticed a red Ford Escort drive slowly by my house as I walked up the driveway. Then I saw it again from my living room window. The red Escort continued to make an appearance almost every day around the time I arrived home from school. I couldn’t see the driver, but I had a feeling it was Mark Perez.

When summer vacation began, I looked forward to months of Mark-free bliss. Unfortunately, he drove by my house almost daily. One day, my next-door neighbor Cheryl and I walked to the library, which was a mile or so down the road from our houses. We were about halfway there when the familiar red Escort pulled up alongside us. The passenger window was down, and Mark peered through.

“Hi, Amber,” he said.

Those were the first words he’d spoken to me in the five months since I’d become aware of his existence.
I glanced at Cheryl, and we started walking faster. She knew about Mark, but had never seen him up close. The red escort crept slowly to our left. “I have a gift for you,” Mark said, holding up a large, padded manila envelope.

“I can’t accept a gift from you,” I said, picking up the pace. The neighborhood was deserted. There seemed to be no one else around on that sunny, weekday afternoon.

“Please, just take it,” Mark said. The car alternately jerked forward and stopped abruptly, as he tried to maintain walking speed.

“I don’t want it!” I shouted, almost breaking into a run. Cheryl lagged behind.

“Fine, here!” he yelled, throwing the envelope out the passenger window and sped away.

“What is it?” Cheryl asked when she caught up to me.

I didn’t want to touch the package, but I was curious. I picked it up and tore off the end. Inside was a small jewelry box containing a 14-karat gold-plated necklace with an amethyst pendant and a hand-written note. Amethyst is my birthstone, so he must’ve asked around to find out what I would like.

“Oh, that’s pretty,” Cheryl said. “Are you going to keep it?”

Mark had included the receipt so I could exchange or return the necklace, which cost $50. I imagined briefly what I would do with the cash and immediately felt guilty for even considering it.

“No, I’m going to send it back to him,” I said. Cheryl looked disappointed.

In the letter, Mark wrote that he thought I was the perfect girl for him because I was smart and sweet and pretty, but he knew he needed to lose weight, get better clothes and start wearing contacts. “Maybe then I will be good enough for you,” he scrawled.

It made me sad that Mark thought changing his looks would win me over, as if his appearance was the problem and not the fact that he was stalking me.

I put the necklace in an envelope addressed to him and enclosed a letter explaining why I couldn’t keep it. “Perhaps if you had actually talked to me instead of staring at me and driving by my house every day, things might be different,” I wrote. I knew that wasn’t true, but I thought giving him some constructive feedback would get him to leave me alone and might even help him with girls in the future. I was wrong.

When school started in the fall, Mark and I had different lunch periods and many of the sophomore classes were on the second floor, so there fewer chances for us to run into each other. About a month into the semester, I stayed after school for a music lesson, and a senior girl named Kara came up to me at my locker.

“You’re Amber, right?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said nervously. She had a reputation for starting fights, so I braced myself for a slap or punch in the face.

“I want to talk to you about my friend Mark,” she said.

A lump of anxiety formed in my chest. “What about him?” I said, pulling books out of my locker and stuffing them in my backpack.

“He really likes you, and I think you should go out with him.”

At this point, I didn’t care how many girls she’d beat up. “I already told him that I’m not interested.”

“I think you would like him if you got to know him,” she insisted.

“Well, I don’t think I would,” I said, slamming my locker door. “Please don’t ask me again.” I spun around and headed for the stairwell, almost tripping as I dashed down the stairs, my heart throbbing with anger and fear. Why couldn’t Mark get it through his head that I didn’t want to date him? And why were his friends so concerned with getting him a girlfriend? Maybe they felt sorry for Mark and thought that if they could convince someone to go out with him, it would boost his confidence. Perhaps they saw me as easy prey because I seemed quiet and inexperienced.

That year on my birthday, I received a card from a family member that read, “Sweet 16 and never been kissed.” There was more truth in those words than I cared to admit. When I blew out the candles on my cake, I wished for a boy I liked to like me back.

One Saturday in the late spring, a detective showed up on the doorstep of my house. “I need to talk to you about Mark Perez,” she said.

We sat on the couch, and my dad joined us. “I’m not sure if you’re aware, but Mark Perez is in jail for sexually assaulting someone,” she said.

I was shocked. He was creepy, but I didn’t think he was violent.

“While in jail, he talked to a therapist about some of the other girls he’s been obsessed with, and your name came up a few times,” the detective continued. “It’s my duty to inform you that he’s getting out in a few weeks and his probation stipulates that he’s not allowed to enter Plainfield or its surrounding towns. So if you see him, please call me right away.”

She handed me her card and stood up.

“We will,” my dad said, putting his arm around me. When she left, my dad asked, “Did he ever hurt you?”  I shook my head. It was scary to imagine what he might have done.

“Well, I want you to lock all the doors when you come home from school,” he said.

That was the extent of our increased security. I hoped it would be enough.

In school the following week, Mary Perez approached me in the lunchroom. “Can we talk?” she asked.

I wasn’t in the mood to discuss her brother, but she looked depressed and I didn’t want to be rude. We stepped outside and sat at a picnic table far away from the other kids.

“You heard about Mark, right?” Mary asked.

I nodded.

“Do you know what he did?”

“Not exactly.” I wasn’t sure I wanted to find out.

“He raped someone.”

I stared at her, speechless.

Mary’s large, brown eyes moistened. She blinked away the tears and took a deep breath. “The person he raped was me.”

It was so much worse than I had imagined.

Mary told me that the week before Christmas, the two of them were home alone and he forced her to have sex with him. “My family has disowned me, and I had to move in with my boyfriend,” she said. “My parents blame me for what happened and they’re angry that Mark can’t come home when he gets out of jail.”

I felt sick to my stomach. Even when the detective told me that he’d gone to jail, I hadn’t really been worried about my safety until now. What if Mark violated parole and came after me?

I kept the detective’s card on me at all times and tried to never go anywhere by myself. I spent more time at Cheryl’s and sometimes hung out with our other neighbor Patricia to avoid being alone. When I got home from school, I would double check that the doors and windows were locked. I didn’t answer the phone unless I heard my dad’s voice on the answering machine.

I never saw or heard from Mark Perez again and I eventually stopped taking extra precautions. I got an after-school job, and my dad bought me an old clunker to drive around. I started going to see bands with my friends in cities like Providence, Hartford and New London, and I even began dating. When I got my own phone line during my junior year, I received a few random late-night phone calls with what sounded like heavy breathing on the other end, but nothing else happened and they tapered off after a few weeks, so I assumed it was just some jerk pranking me.

A decade later, I’d nearly forgotten about Mark Perez. Then a friend request from Mary (Perez) Matthews popped up on Facebook. A familiar feeling of fear and disgust flooded over me as I remembered that horrible time in my life. Why would Mary reach out to me after all these years? I was surprised that she’d want to be friends with someone who shared her dark secret. I certainly didn’t.

I clicked on the profile pic and saw Mary with her two young children, smiling brightly. She looked happy. I denied her request. Some connections are better left in the past.

*All names have been changed.

Amber Drea head shotAmber Drea is a writer, editor and storyteller living in Brooklyn, New York. Her work has been published by McSweeney’s Internet TendencyThe Northville ReviewAnother Chicago MagazineThe 2nd Hand and the Chicago Reader, among others. She can be found at amberdrea.com.

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