I’d been living alone for about three months when I finally had to acknowledge a persistent thought in the back of my mind: “I feel like I’m being watched.” I was 18 years old, out on my own for the first time and doing everything to keep people away—yet I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was under almost constant observation. It was a very subtle sort of paranoia, and one I tried to resist. It seemed far too arrogant and self-indulgent to assume anyone cared that much—yet a part of me wanted to step onto my front porch and take a deep bow.
My apartment was a one room efficiency in the back of a large colonial style house about a block from campus. I’d later discover that despite hanging curtains over the windows, there was a gap between the venetian blinds that would allow someone to stand outside and see every inch of the place, except the bathroom and walk-in closet. But why worry about something like that? Surely no one cared enough to bother looking.
The other tenants in the house were grad students, quietly tucked away in the midst of research and lesson planning. The one exception was a middle-aged man with a fake sounding name who lived in a shed just a few feet from my front porch. His “house” was a tiny pre-fab building that would normally be used to store lawn equipment. He’d built a fence around it and seemed quite content to live a cozy life of self-sufficiency. I mentally dubbed him The Shanty Man, and enjoyed his intriguing one-sentence conversations every few weeks. One night I came home at 1AM to find him standing in the walkway outside my front door, spraying a water hose into the night sky.
“I’m making it rain,” he said.
The Shanty Man didn’t own a car and only ventured out a couple times a week, traveling by bike. He didn’t seem to have a job and never had any visitors over. We were a match made in recluse heaven.
Just before my 19th birthday I went to visit my Grandparents for Spring Break. They lived several hours away in an oasis-like world that smelled of breakfast and orange trees. One entire side of the house was floor to ceiling glass that opened onto a brick terrace overlooking an endless scene of orchards. It was paradise.
I returned home at the end of the week and unlocked the front door like normal. Everything seemed just as I’d left it—slightly messy and with cobwebs in the windows—until I sat down to log onto the computer. It refused to boot up, sitting on my desk with a blank screen. Assuming the cord had come loose, I pulled the desk from the wall and got down on my knees, ready to jiggle it back to life. But it was nowhere to be found. I sifted through every other cord and wire, refusing to accept that it had vanished after months in the same position. I scoured the house, looking beneath the fridge and in the laundry basket, as though it were perfectly reasonable to assume my computer equipment had merely gone on walkabout.
Eventually, I had to accept that I wasn’t going to find it. I did the easiest thing possible and blamed myself. It was better to believe I’d somehow misplaced it than to acknowledge the creepy instinct that told me someone had been in my house, touching my things. There was nothing I could do about it, so I laid down to sleep in a house where the windows didn’t protect me from the world. I ignored the feelings you’re never supposed to ignore. I told myself it was nothing, when really it was a hell of a lot more than nothing that was about to happen.
Do you ever blame yourself for things you know aren’t your fault? What place in the world is your “paradise?” Have you ever felt like someone was watching you, even though you couldn’t prove it?
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