It’s been a little over a year and I still feel the pang of anxiety every time I go there. It’s something I need to get over. You’re not going to run into him I tell myself. And if you do, you can be strong and firmly tell him to not talk to you. Yet every time I think I might see him, I feel my heart speed up and the feelings of an anxiety attack overcome me.
In January 2017, I went through one of the most terrifying experiences I have ever gone through. A man came into my workplace one afternoon. Something seemed a little off about him, so my coworker and I made sure to stay together while presenting our merchandise. He said he had come into the store looking for a ring for his girlfriend of several years. I eventually left to help another customer and my assistant manager went over to help. After the man left, we all agreed something seemed off. That evening, he came back and kept insisting he speak to me. He mentioned he broke up with his girlfriend because she had “lied” to him. While reluctant at first, my coworker let him talk to me.
And then it all happened.
He started asking me extremely personal questions about me and my relationship. He asked whether my boyfriend treated me right or cheated on me. I said no to these things. He continued, saying I was very pretty. I was able to wedge in that I was only 19, which caught him off guard. He himself was in his mid-30s. He then proceeded to say he’d be watching me and checking in on me. He said he would get a job at the Kroger I worked at to keep an eye on me. He asked if there would ever be a chance if my boyfriend and I broke up. I told him no, shaking my head, yet smiling because he was a customer and I didn’t feel like I could truly stand up for myself in that moment.
I stood there, shaking, my heart pounding in my ears, unwanted tears creeping up behind my eyes. Yet smiling and speaking politely when he asked for answers. But for the most part I was silent.
I was silent as he made stalker-level comments. I was silent as I looked over at my coworker, who I desperately needed by my side. I was silent as I stood there, as the man tried to flirt with me, even though he knew I was in a relationship.
As a woman, I have been taught by society that I should be silent during such encounters. I have been told to accept behavior like this as complimentary. As a saleswoman, I was told to just nod and listen to my customers. And although my manager and assistant manager told me after it happened I could deny service, I still felt like I should sit there and take it. Because I’m a woman. And even though it’s the 21st century, we still have it ingrained in our heads that it’s best if we’re silent.
He showed up once or twice more at my store, but thankfully he never asked for me again. We would learn he had some mental problems, but it still wasn’t an excuse. I hope to never see him again. I hope that if he ever approaches me again, I’ll find the courage within myself to say no. And above all else, I hope to teach my future daughters to not let this happen to them.