If you missed part one, you’re missing half of the story. If you’ve already read it, continue reading (below) for the conclusion of the story: “I can’t be friends with you, because you might kill me.”
I kept my word.
I deliberated at first, of course; I could hardly fall asleep the night before our scheduled meeting at Saturn. I laid in bed, my eyes fixated on the ceiling, and spent a good hour imagining a few scenarios where the cops got there in time and a much larger number of scenarios where they didn’t.
But I woke up at 6 and thought to myself: If I don’t go, I’m going to hate myself, because he honestly might just be a lonely guy who wants – or desperately needs – a friend.
Even with this intention set, I still had my safety to consider, so I formulated a plan. This is what it looked like.
And the plan – in illustrated form – doesn’t really explain much, so let me: Abraham (the maybe serial killer) said that he’d be meeting me at 12, right? Well, my common sense told me that I shouldn’t plan on walking into Saturn around precisely 11:55, because he could be lurking around outside of the building, waiting to kidnap me. No — I should get there early, I thought to myself; much earlier than how early he would get there if he ALSO planned on getting there early. So I got there two hours early, laptop and library book in tow.
But you’re likely wondering, why does the plan end at 2? What special thing happens then? Excellent question. Charlie, my roommate/bestie combo, was scheduled to get off of work at 1:30 that day, and I asked him to please come join me at the cafe and then watch me bike ride back to the park, following Abraham and I’s visit. Brilliant plan, right? Abraham gets there and I’m already in the building; I go to leave and Charlie’s with me. The 4-hour plan; 100% safe and secure.. totally impenetrable.
So I walked into Saturn at 10:00, exactly as planned. Plopped down onto my favorite couch, plugged in my laptop, and then checked my phone; I had a few missed messages, one of them from a friend who was asking what my plans were for the day. I responded that I had just settled in at Saturn; they had just grabbed a coffee at Starbucks but wanted to come join me.
Perfect, I celebrated inwardly. I might even have someone here to protect me DURING Abraham and I’s visit!
My friend arrived fifteen minutes later and we had a nice time together, sitting and chatting over coffees (hers, warm; mine, iced). She ordered a pastry that was too sticky (I could tell by the way that she was examining her fingers), so I got up to grab napkins for her. She left around 11:40 and I thought to myself, with a heavy and icy surge of anxiety, 20 more minutes. 20 more minutes until I find out whether I am to live or die.
I busied myself with reading and, the next time I looked at the clock, it was 11:59. I couldn’t believe how quickly the morning had passed.
12:00 struck; I stared at the door. He wasn’t there.
The clock ticked onward to 12:01 and I relaxed in my seat a little, considering – perhaps for the first time – the idea that he might not show up at all. Now, at the thought of this, my nerves finally started to relax, but just as they did, I heard the glass door creak open again and couldn’t help but turn my head to look in its direction, cringing and tensing up and holding my breath.
My eyes widened, and I let all of my breath escape in a single, self-eclipsing laugh: RYDER?!!!
Ryder moved slowly from the door to the front counter; lowering his eyes to look at me, winking once, and tapping his nose twice, conspiratorially. Of course Ryder had come.
If you missed the story about Ryder — well, it’s one of my absolute favorites to tell, and I share the story with every single new hire class. In a nutshell: I had an anonymous “blog stalker” for three years; we met up at a Waffle House one Sunday morning and well.. now, he’s one of my very best friends.
And he showed up — bucket hat, beard and all — to save the day.
I glanced down at my phone to text Charlie the great news: “Guess who the hell just walked in the door? My hero. Ryder.”
Once Ryder finished ordering his latte + single shot of espresso, I watched him turn around and begin scanning the room (clearly for a good location to “spy” from). I waved my hands, caught his attention, and motioned for him to come join me. He seemed surprised.
“Hey,” I said, “this guy’s just lucky that I showed up. He’ll have to be fine with getting to know me AND one of my friends.”
He seemed satisfied with this and began settling down onto the couch beside mine. I shook my head at him, still surprised. “I just can’t believe that you actually came!” I exclaimed. “I was secretly hoping, yesterday, that you might read the post and decide to swing by. I knew that, if ANYONE was going to be here, it would be you.”
He smiled. “If anybody’s ever going to kidnap you, you know who it’s going to be.”
We had a great time chatting and catching up and, before we both knew it, it was 12:30.
“I guess he really isn’t coming,” I announced. I was relieved, mostly, but in another sense, I was very disappointed; NOT because I had wanted to see him, but because I had hoped to have my serial killer fantasies destroyed with knowledge that this Abraham guy was actually a normal and nice human being. Now, I still didn’t know.
I returned to conversing with Ryder and my phone rang. I glanced down at it, saw it was an unknown number, and swiped my finger to the right (ignoring the call). Twenty seconds later, my phone rang again.
I looked up at Ryder, puzzled and apologizing. “I’m sorry — I don’t know who this is, but they’ve called twice..”
And my first thought, of course, was wondering has so-and-so been in a car accident? Are they using their last breath to whisper my phone number into the ear of a stranger who is bending over them on the side of the road?
“Hello?” I ventured, hesitantly, into the receiver.
There was a pause.
It was Abraham’s voice; distinct, unmistakable.
“Oh — hi, Abraham! Are you here at Saturn?”
Another pause. I couldn’t make out everything that he said, but I thought I’d heard that he couldn’t find the place, so I repeated this back to him, for confirmation.
“So you couldn’t find the place?”
“I’m sorry that I missed seeing you! I’m actually here with my friend, Ryder,” I continued, looking over at Ryder, “so I’m going to stay here with him, but I hope that you have a wonderful week!”
There was a long pause; I was ending the conversation abruptly and Abraham and I both knew it.
“….oh-kay,” he stammered.
“Take care, Abraham!” Click.
And then I blocked the phone number.
When I looked over at Ryder again, he was squinting his eyes at me.
“So that was Abraham,” he stated, factually.
“On the phone,” he elaborated.
“But I thought that he didn’t HAVE a phone?”
I sighed. “He doesn’t — or didn’t — but there’s one thing that I didn’t include in the blog, because it was a little weird and I just didn’t know how to relay it. But,” I continued, leaning in a little closer, “AFTER I asked Abraham for his phone number — you remember that part, right?”
“Right; well, he said that he was ‘without phone,’ and at that point, I didn’t know what to do, but before I could suggest something else, he asked me for MY phone number.” I paused. “And I said to him, ‘But Abraham, you don’t have a phone,’ and he didn’t remark on that. He just asked for my phone number again.” I shook my head, like what do you do?
“I didn’t WANT to give it to him, but I was on the spot. I did notice, however, that he clearly didn’t have anything to write the number down on; he asked me if I had a pen — I guess he was going to just write it on his hand — and while I have about five thousand things in my backpack, I wasn’t POSITIVE that I had a pen in there, so I was able to honestly answer that I didn’t think I had a pen.” I stopped and looked over at Ryder.
“And I thought it – the interaction – would end there. I hoped it would. But then he said, ‘Say your number out loud and I will memorize it.’ This, to me, seemed a little pathetic, and super weird, but again.. how do you say no? So I said it out loud for him, twice, and then he nodded and walked away.”
Ryder was quiet.
“I cannot believe that he actually memorized my number,” I murmured, shaking my head.
“So whose phone did he call you from?” Ryder asked.
“Good question,” I answered. “Maybe he DOES have a phone. Or maybe he borrowed a friend’s phone or a co-worker’s phone.. who knows. But, whatever the case, I’ve blocked the number, and I feel good about doing that; I didn’t know him, but I still showed up today and he didn’t. I was willing to give him a chance, and I did. I tried to do the right thing, the kind thing, and now, I feel peace about parting ways with the guy.”
Ryder and I spent another three hours there at the cafe, talking in-between comfortable spaces of quiet; Charlie joined us at 2 (as planned) and we both caught him up to speed on the situation. With my two friends sitting there, one on either side of me, I gave my verdict of the situation:
“This was a good learning experience,” I began. “A stranger said they wanted to be friends with me and asked for my phone number, and I didn’t know how to say no to either request. But now, I do: you just say no. It’s okay to tell somebody, you seem like a nice person, but I’m not ready to form new friendships right now — or, frankly, I’m not comfortable giving you my phone number; I don’t know you!” I shook my head as I said it out loud; it’s so simple to understand and say these things now — why did I feel so cornered yesterday?
“So, in summary,” I continued, “I don’t think that it’s unkind to establish boundaries and enforce them. I want to be there for people, but I also don’t want to put my safety at risk.”
Ryder and Charlie both seemed relieved to hear this.
And it would have been nice if it could have ended there. But I still had more to learn.
That evening, I was brushing my teeth with my left hand and hooking my phone up to its charger with my right hand when the phone started ringing; an unknown number. It seemed strange, but I let it go to voicemail, basically unbothered. I walked away, finished brushing my teeth, and – when I returned to my room and to my phone – I saw that I had a total of three missed calls. Whoever it was had just called me three times in a two-minute time span. My heart dropped.
“Oh god. Charlie..”
Charlie appeared in my doorway.
“He’s calling again.”
“ABRAHAM,” I exclaimed, irritated because I was frightened. “If he calls again, will you please answer?”
And sure enough, fifteen minutes later, he did.
“When I answer the phone, what do you want me to say?” Charlie had asked me, ahead of time.
I thought on it. I’m big on honesty, so I didn’t want to ask Charlie to lie by saying that it was his phone and his phone number.
“Just.. just say, ‘This is Charlie,’ and see what he infers from that and says from there. If he asks for me, just repeat yourself — ‘This is Charlie; who is THIS?’ — something like that.”
When he called, Charlie did as I’d asked. I could hear Abraham’s raised voice on the other end of the line; I was startled to hear that he sounded angry. He hung up on Charlie after asking Charlie where he was (and after Charlie had answered ‘Birmingham’).
Charlie handed my phone back to me and neither of us said anything. A few minutes later, Charlie asked if I was okay.
“No,” I answered simply. “I’m not. I’m scared.”
So I blocked the second phone number he’d called me from.
I fell asleep and woke up and went to work. It’s easy to forget about scary things when you’re busy and it’s bright outside. But evening crept along and, as it did, my productivity tapered off and darkness fell. Abraham’s silhouette and the sound of his voice played in my mind again. Maybe, after hearing a guy answer the phone last night, he won’t call back again — maybe he’ll think that Charlie’s my boyfriend, or think that he wasn’t recalling the number he’d memorized correctly.
It was comforting to think this.
But at 9:00, I received another phone call from another unknown number. I was too afraid to answer it, but I called out for Charlie right after the ringing stopped.
“Will you please call this number back,” I asked him, holding my phone out, “and see if it’s him?”
He paused. “I can..”
I was offended by his hesitation. “If you don’t want to, you don’t have to–”
“No,” he waved his arms emphatically, “it’s not that I don’t want to help and that I don’t want to protect you — of course I do.. I just think that, if you called him back, it would be more.. effective.”
I was still bothered by what I considered his lack of caring, but someone needed to do SOMETHING, so I did as Charlie had suggested; without thinking about what I was going to say or crafting some kind of carefully-written script for my nervous self to follow, I dialed the number and waited for him to answer.
I was surprised. A jubilant-sounding country boy had answered the phone, and background noise suggested that he was at some kind of party.
“Ummmm — hi. I just missed a call from this number?”
“Ohhhhhhhhh yeah! I was letting some guy make a call — let me see if I can find the dude..” a pause. “THERE HE IS! Hey man; your sister called you back..”
And when I heard him say that, something happened inside of me. I couldn’t yet process exactly what it was, but in a second – in a literal flash – my fear had burned down into something else, and I’ll openly admit that it was anger.
Abraham’s voice appeared on the other end of the line: “Ha-low?”
“Yeah; I’ve been receiving missed CALLS?” I said, raising the end of the sentence into a question. It had come out with a little bit of attitude, on accident, but I didn’t bother apologizing.
Abraham breathed into the phone for about three seconds and then he was gone; country boy was back on the line.
“Heyyyy — sorry about that.. looks like he called a wrong number!” His pleasant pitch and tone seemed to celebrate this fact; like he also could have been saying, “Look at that Golden Retriever fitting THREE tennis balls in its mouth!”
“That’s okay,” I responded.
And this time, I didn’t block the number.
Charlie stayed in the room with me, sitting beside me without saying anything and waiting for some kind of feedback.
It took a few minutes for me to process it, but when I did, I got it; I 100% got it.
“I’m not afraid of him anymore, Charlie,” I announced calmly.
“No, I’m not,” I reiterated. “Cause here’s the thing; I felt bad for him. I was willing to take a chance and be his friend. He didn’t show up, called me LATE AT NIGHT from THREE different phone numbers, and I tolerated all of this.. I waited, in fear, for him to call or approach me again, and wondered what I’d say, what I’d do. But then he had the audacity to lie to a stranger and tell them that I was his sister.” I paused, regaining composure.
“How dare that man call me his SISTER. I had ONE brother, and he died three years ago.” I shook my head in disbelief. “Let him call again. Let him approach me at the park. I’ve gotta tell you..” I shook my head. “It’s amazing; how anger can just completely take your fear away.”
Abraham hit a sore spot with me, and it’s exactly what I needed him to do in order for me to be able to turn my fear into something else — something more useful. Unfortunately, I have yet to hear from or see Abraham, but if and when I ever do, you better believe that I have a speech prepared for the guy.
The lesson in all of this?
- Don’t give someone your phone number unless you actually want them to have it; it’s okay to say, “I’m not comfortable giving you that information right now. Or ever.“
- Don’t agree to meet up with strangers unless you’re – again – comfortable doing so. You can say, “I have a lot going on right now — but I really appreciate the offer.”
- Don’t look to others to protect you. Yes; it was wonderful and reassuring, having Ryder and Charlie’s support through this whole ordeal.. but in the very end, I had to make the phone call, and I had to take control of my fear (which brings me to my last point):
- Don’t let yourself be afraid of people. We see, in movies and on television, and read, online and in print, how awful humans can be — about the terrible things they can and will do to us. But you shouldn’t live in fear of what might happen to you. Instead, you should feel confident and competent and capable of defending yourself — verbally and, if it ever comes to it, physically. Strike the balance between being brave and being cautious; meet new people, go on adventures! But be smart about it. For instance, I’m heading to Colorado this spring — taking a solo trip in the names of healing, discovery, and adventure — and while it’s very exciting to think about it, it’s also a little intimidating. To feel more prepared for my journey, I’m following a friend’s advice by taking a self-defense class. I’m also going to invest in a bottle of pepper spray, although there’s a much greater chance that, in a confrontation, I’d accidentally aim the bottle in my own direction instead of the evildoer’s.
I went to a bike meet recently where a fellow rider introduced himself to me. His name, I learned, was Frank; he was wearing red pants, a helmet, and donning a tiny little mustache. We rode along together and talked music for a few minutes and then, before pedaling away, he strangely offered:
“You know, you look like the kind of person who’s ready for whatever life throws at you.”
I smiled at him as I fell behind him and others in the group, traveling along at my own leisurely pace. “Thank you for the compliment.. I really appreciate you saying that.”