It became quite clear there was nothing I could do to protect myself from my stalker, AKA Gooseberry. I’d moved, gotten an alarm, installed flood lights, and changed the locks three times. It didn’t matter. All he’d done was use these things against me. I felt incredibly powerless– like no matter what I did or where I went, he’d never leave me alone. The only option was to change the game. If he wanted to stake me out, learn my patterns, and hit me when I least expected it, the least I could do was make it frustrating for him.
I bid adieu to Sars, packed my belongings, and stowed them in a storage unit. I kept a small stack of books, two pair of pants, two pair of shoes, six tank-tops, and a jacket—all of which fit perfectly well in the backseat of my Honda Civic. Which is where I lived. Technically.
Most of the time, I slept on couches: Family couches, campus couches, friend couches.
It was about this time that I ventured away from home for the first time, roadtripping to NYC with my friend, L. I vividly recall the way it felt to emerge from the subway, walk a few blocks, and stand next to a row of benches in Central Park. I looked at the sky, trying to reconcile the distance between me and my hometown, and all I could think was, “I feel safe here.”
I rocked the vagabond lifestyle for the better part of a year, during which Sars was studying abroad. As Christmas approached, I knew I needed to find somewhere to hide away and not interact with anyone. I didn’t want to be with my family—I was a bitter 20 year old who just wanted to embrace my personal sense of tragedy. So I texted my friend Peeves, who lived in a tiny house near campus.
“Hey, are you guys going home for Christmas? Could I crash at your place for a couple nights?”
She had three other roommates and quickly answered yes to both questions.
When I showed up at her house, she led me to her room and pointed at a spare mattress on the floor, wedged between a desk and a closet.
“This is where you live now.”
I laughed and reminded her I’d be gone after the holiday, but she was insistent. When the rest of the roommates joined her campaign to house me, I eventually gave in. I never had a key and I never paid rent, but I kept a stack of clothes at the foot of my bed and a small plastic box of food in the fridge. Everyday, I ate the same thing– cheese cut into squares, slices of ham, wheat thins, and water. I was like my very own prisoner of war but the enemy was one I hadn’t quite figured out.
After a year of white-collar homelessness– and no sign of Gooseberry– I decided to take a chance on signing a lease. Sars was returning from a year abroad and I’d done as much as possible to convince myself Gooseberry was just a figment of my imagination, a summation of weird coincidences and bad luck.
Just to be safe, I decided to get a dog. It was the next best thing, since I wasn’t old enough to buy a gun. An online quiz assured me Rhodesian Ridgebacks were ferocious but cuddly, so Sars and I took a long drive and spent four times my monthly rent to purchase Zola.
For all we could tell, Gooseberry was gone. Every so often, something weird would happen with Zola, but we’d brush it off. I kept her leash hanging on a hook by the front door and when it disappeared without a trace, we decided to act like it hadn’t happened and bought a new one. When I came home to find my clean laundry– still folded– sitting inside Zola’s locked kennel, I told myself this wasn’t Gooseberry’s way of mocking me, but some sort of statistical anomaly/communication from aliens.
At the end of that year, Sars made a bizarre proposal. Her parents still owned the house where we’d lived before– with the alarms and the break-ins-– and would let us move back in so Zola could have a yard. Any reasonable person would know better than to return to the scene of so much horror, but we all know I make terrible decisions on the regular. By the following semester we’d moved back and gained three new roommates, one of which was Shleisel, who eventually lived with me at The Hovel— a land of dashed hopes and unplanned pregnancy.
Less than a month passed before Gooseberry reappeared. We’d come home to find the front door unlocked and propped open at different hours of the day. I’d receive frightened texts and phone calls from our hapless roommates who thought we’d been burglarized because– like thoughtless beasts– we hadn’t bothered to tell them about our peculiar stalker history. Now we had to, because I was done with sitting around and waiting for his next move. When I’d crouched in the dark in my bathroom, holding a knife, something inside of me had changed. My decision in that moment wasn’t one that faded when the danger passed, but a resolve that has never left me. If one of us had to die, it would not be me.
I’d had enough of being afraid, and the police were obviously no help. I got in my car, drove to another city, and bought a 12-gauge Benelli shotgun. I was finally old enough to make this dubious purchase, and it was the sexiest thing I’d ever owned. I named her Angelina. As in Jolie.
When I got home, I paraded it across my front yard like some frightening redneck. I could only hope Gooseberry was watching. Just to be sure, I set the empty shotgun box in a prominent place on the front porch.
My older brothers took me to a gun range and taught me how to shoot it. My youngest cop brother came over and taught me how to clear the house, sweeping from one room to the next. I had a family-style meeting with the roommates where we ate snacks and discussed the logistics of what to do if the alarm ever went off while they were home. “Stay in your room—get as far away from the door as possible.”
I finally felt ready for him. Zola was nearly full size, and I had my sweet sexy Angelina propped up next to my bed. I needed this story to have an ending, and I needed to know who was doing this, and why he’d chosen me. At the very least, I thought I deserved that much.
Next Thursday we’ll finally get down to that burning question: WHO IS GOOSEBERRY?
What are your thoughts on personal gun ownership? Have you ever been “homeless” by any definition? Has something strange ever happened in your house that you were unable to explain?
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