A few years ago, I posted a roommate request on Craigslist. I received a handful of responses, and after weeding out the crazies, I invited a few people to come see the apartment. One afternoon, a girl I had contacted stopped by with her boyfriend. She seemed nice, respectful and she really liked the place. I remember her boyfriend walked around the whole time with a look of delight on his face, as if to say, “Wow, you could actually live here!” Shortly after meeting them, I told the girl she could have the place. This is how Tam and Fred* came into my life.
At first things went really well. Tam was a very sweet person and a considerate roommate. Fred spent a lot of time at our apartment, but he was so friendly I didn’t mind his presence. He would go out of his way to talk to me when he was over and to see how I was doing. If Tam was busy, he would watch TV with me and talk. During these conversations, I learned something important about Fred: he was an idiot.To illustrate the immense stupidity of Fred, consider this story. One evening I was watching the film version of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (the one with Kevin Kline and Michelle Pfeiffer) when Fred walked in.
“What are you watching?” He asked.
“A Midsummer’s Night Dream.”
“Are you kidding?”
“You know, the Shakespeare play?”
“Oh. Well, I know about Shakespeare plays. What’s this one about?”
I briefly explained the story to him. His face lit up.
“Oh, yeah! I think I’ve seen this. Is this the one where the guy has a skull?”
As a drama nerd, I was completely aghast, but I tried to be polite.
“There may be a skull in there somewhere, but I think you’re thinking of ‘Hamlet.’”
Fred looked thoughtful.
“Right. Huh. I know I’ve seen a Shakespeare movie, though.”
He left the room and I went back to my movie. A few minutes later, he returned with a triumphant look on his face.
“I know what it is!” He snapped his fingers to make his point, “Shakespeare in Love.”
Lord, what fools these models be.
The bon mots continued to flow from Fred, (“I loved Mike Meyers in ‘Austin Powers’ and ‘Halloween: H20.’”) and we all lived in harmony for a while. Then one day everything changed for the much, much worse.
I had had a particularly rough day at work and I was looking forward to a quiet night at home. As I walked up to my stoop, I saw Fred skulking around outside. He was wearing a trench coat and a scowl. He smoked a cigarette furiously.
“Hey Fred, what’s up?”
“Will you ask Tam to come out here?”
“Uh, suuuure,” I said, with no intention of doing so.
When I went inside I found a very flustered Tam. I asked her what had happened and she told me she and Fred had had a fight and now he refused to leave. Just then, her cell phone started ringing. She answered the phone, it was Fred. I could hear him yelling at her from outside. Tam told him to go away and she hung up. A few seconds later, her phone rang again. It was Fred. Tam yelled at him and hung up. This cycle repeated at least 20 more times.
Finally, I suggested that we turn off the lights in the apartment. Maybe Fred would think we’d gone to bed and he’d go away? We switched everything off, went into my room and looked out the window at Fred, who had moved to the back alley behind our apartment. He called Tam again and I told her not to answer. After several rings, Fred snapped his phone shut and screamed with hellish fury, “Fucking bitch!!” I rapidly called 911.
By the time the cops arrived on the scene, Fred had wandered off and they could do nothing but tell us to call again if he returned. At this point, I sat Tam down and got the full story out of her.
She told me Fred had come over for dinner. Afterwards he had wanted to fool around, but Tam wasn’t in the mood. He didn’t take her rejection that well. By that I mean he started throwing things. Tam panicked and ran out of the apartment and he chased her down the street. She hid behind a car and snuck back into the apartment. This is when I entered the scene. After she finished this tale of terror, my jaw was hanging so low it had become unhinged. (Just like Fred!)
Tam shook her head and said, “I just keep thinking this is my fault. I shouldn’t have been so mean to him.”
“What did you do that was mean?”
“Well, I yelled at him when he wouldn’t leave. That probably got him worked up.”
“Tam, he was yelling obscenities at you for the whole neighborhood to hear. Do you think you deserved that?”
“Well, I guess not.” She said with a hint of doubt in her voice.
After that night, Fred began stalking Tam. He would wait outside our apartment and follow her to the subway, haranguing her the entire way. She would tell him to go away and he’d insist on walking with her because she was still his girlfriend. He would even demand that she hold his hand when they walked and Tam would do it.
Late one evening, I was fast asleep when a voice perforated my dreaming. I opened my eyes and sleepily took in the information my senses were giving me. My brain told me, “There is a loud noise. There is a loud noise coming from outside your window. That noise is a voice screaming. It is a male voice. It is Fred’s voice. Fred is shouting outside your window. Fred is shouting … poetry … outside your window?” There he was, the psychotic Cyrano, standing in the alley, reading a poem he’d written for Tam.
“I realize now that I was a fool for giving my heart away.
You treated it like garbage, and maybe I am garbage!
Maybe I shouldn’t live another day.
I am weak and cannot go on …”
And so on …
I ran into Tam’s room, but she wasn’t there! Was I going to have to go down and talk to this nutty numbskull in my old lady pajamas? Luckily, Tam was in the living room, already on the phone with the police. She would later tell me that was the second time she had called them that night. Of course, Fred was long gone before the fuzz ever showed. (If I am ever murdered, it is a relief to know that the boys in blue will show up on the scene in just under two hours.)
More than anything, the part that upset me the most about these events was Tam’s attitude. She seemed to really believe everything that was happening was her fault. She also saw Fred as a victim. “You don’t understand the stuff he’s had to go through,” she’d tell me. I finally got so frustrated that I made her take an “Are You Abused” quiz on a website for domestic violence. Much to no one’s surprise, the quiz confirmed my hypothesis. But even then, I could tell she didn’t believe it. In her mind Fred needed her, and she was letting him down.
I told my concerns to a friend who worked with battered women and she told me, “What I’d really be worried about is you.”
“Stalking has a high fatality probability.”
My heart stopped.
“What does that mean?”
“Well, stalkers have already crossed several lines of sanity. He’s proven he’s obsessive and not overly concerned with breaking laws. Stalkers don’t plan to murder people, but they get angry and ithappens — they push someone down the stairs or against a cabinet or whatever.”
“So what you’re saying is, I could be collateral damage.”
“I’m saying, I’d steer clear of this guy if I were you. He may be an idiot, but he’s not a harmless idiot.”
Thanksgiving came and I went home for the holiday. At dinner I regaled my family with stories about Fred and it started to seem like things weren’t so bad. How could this dum dum do any harm? Then I received a call from my landlord. He told me a pair of detectives had come by that day looking for Fred. I called the detective and he told me they wanted Fred because he broke a window in a Whole Foods during an argument with Tam. The best part? This happened a month before she broke up with him.
I called Tam, but she didn’t answer her phone. My blood froze. Did he finally do it? Was my roommate lying dead at the bottom of a flight of stairs? After a few hours, and lots of panic on my part, I finally got in touch with Tam and told her the story. Her response? “Whatever.”
How was this possible? Did she not understand how dangerous Fred was? Did she not get that landlords don’t enjoy it when the police come knocking on their tenants’ doors? Or that Whole Foods does not like it when someone breaks their windows?
Then, one Saturday night, I was getting ready for bed when I heard the unmistakable sound of a couple arguing getting closer to my window. Of course it was Tam and Fred. The door to our apartment banged open and Tam rushed in, slamming it behind her.
“Lauren, call the cops! Fred followed me home and he’s screaming at me.”
I dialed the police faster than you can say, “Mark Wahlberg in Fear.”
As I waited for the cops to arrive, I sat in my darkened apartment and listened to Tam and Fred shouting at each other. I couldn’t believe this was my life. And then it hit me: I felt like I was taking his abuse now, too.
Miraculously, the police arrived while Fred was still there. They told him that he had to leave or they would arrest him for trespassing. Fred being Fred, he refused to go. So they handcuffed him and threw him in the back of their squad car. Tam came into the apartment and told me they were taking him downtown and she was going to go with them to file a report. I told her I wanted her to get a restraining order against him (something I had asked her to do before). She said she would. Then I asked her if they were going to hold Fred over night. Tam blanched, “I hope not! He has a gig in the morning!”
“I think you should probably worry more about your safety than his gig, Tam.”
She rolled her eyes. “Whatever.”
I swear I am not making any of this up. I have comprehensive blog posts chronicling all of this batshit insanity.
Fred was taken to jail and then transferred to a psych ward for a few days. While he was there, he would get other inmates to call Tam, pretending they were doctors: “Do you know what you’re doing to this poor man’s sanity? (the muffled sound of Fred feeding the inmate his next line) He is only here because you put him here.”
They released Fred after a week. And then things got strangely quiet. Tam stopped talking to me about Fred. I didn’t see him around our apartment. I asked Tam for an update and she said she didn’t know what was going on. After a pause, she said, “I miss him.”
“Tam,” I said, feeling my grip on reality slipping, “Do what you want. Get back together with him or don’t. But Fred is never allowed back in this apartment.”
“Of course,” Tam said, “I understand.”
A few months later, I went away for a long weekend. When I came back, I found a bottle of sparkling burgundy in our recycling. This was weird as Tam didn’t drink and she never had friends over to party. (I didn’t even know if she had friends.) Then I went into the bathroom and discovered several long, curly hairs on the bathroom floor. Fred’s hair. Fred had used my bathroom. Fred had drunken a cheap bottle of god-awful wine in my living room. Fred had been in my apartment.
That was it. When Tam got back I told her in the most polite manner I could manage to get the fuck out of my apartment. And I didn’t regret my decision.
Tam moved out without any drama. I got a nice, new roommate who didn’t have a psycho boyfriend and things calmed down. But I never felt safe in my apartment again after that. I worried that Tam and Fred would break up again, and Tam would tell Fred I had told her to leave him, and that I was right about him. And then he would come for me.
When I would leave for work, I would find cigarette butts on my stoop and worry that Fred had been there at night, smoking in the dark, looking in my windows. I would lie awake in bed and listen for noises, irrationally convinced that if I let my guard down, Fred would break into the place while I was sleeping. It took years to get over. Part of me still expects to see him one day, charging towards me in that awful trench coat with a dark look in his eyes. Thank God for Xanax.
*Not their real names. I’m not stupid.
Find out more information about stalking and other domestic abuse at LoveIsRespect.org.