My Stalker and the Bird – Annie Cooperstone

        One day, feeling generous and tired, I made eye contact with my stalker and motioned for him to come talk. 
        It was night time. He was slinking behind the rattling metal trash cans. I could smell the spilled banana peels and leaking dairy and rotting food scraps. I tried to maintain a neutral expression so he could see I was not a snitch or a narc. He dodged my gaze. I persisted. Come on. Come here. Seriously, come here. 
        My stalker emerged reluctantly, tentative and hunched like a primitive wolf child coaxed into civilization by well-meaning psychopharmaceutical reps in white coats and gloves. He seemed uncomfortable with the full stretch of his body, like perhaps he preferred the contortionism required by hiding spots. Come up to my apartment, I said, and with a slight wince he accepted. He crept slowly after me, the stairwell creaking in syncopated double. I felt his presence behind me as if I were encased inside a long shadow. 

        For three months my stalker had been following me while I feigned obliviousness. The first time I spotted him he was hiding inside a bank vestibule, causing traffic by the ATMs. Next he was in the church by the school I worked at, kneeling in the pews. Third he was looking at jars of pickles at the farmer’s market while I sniffed vegetables at a neighboring stall. 
        At first the suspicion that someone was stalking me seemed a catastrophic anxiety borne out of narcissism. How could I be so sure it was me he was following? We were all anguished by the threat of observation. Besides, I was unused to—even against—seeing meaning in signs. But after a while there was no mistaking it. He was perusing newspapers at the bodega on my corner. He was riding around my block in a fire truck with his head stuck out the window like a dog. He was twelve people behind me in an impromptu conga line. He popped up on street corners and in subway stations like a city-wide whack-a-mole.
        It was disconcerting. I lived half outside of myself, watching my life through his eyes from some distance away. I felt a vague sense of dread every time I saw the top of his head. Yet I did nothing to put a stop to it. I imagined it would all be much worse with him gone.


        In the yellow light of my kitchen I said, so, what is it exactly about me? I don’t know what you mean, he said. Come on, I said, blushing. I can tell this isn’t you. I can tell you were a normal guy. What was it about me that turned you into this?
        He looked down into his tea. My heart sputtered waiting for his reply. I was fishing for something, anyway. A compliment? A revelation? After a minute which took the full length of its sixty beats, he looked up. His direct gaze sent a shock right through me. He said, when sand is struck by lightning, it’s not like the sand knows why it turns to glass. But it still turns to glass.


        Then, as if answering the call for a freak accident such as lightning striking sand, a bird flew through the open window and beheaded itself in my cylindrical humidifier. Upon impact, it let out a short terrible squawk. I didn’t get a close enough look at the bird to know what kind it was but I think its feathers were a deep blue, or a light orange, or some mixture of both; the colors found at dawn on reflective surfaces such as car windshields, storefronts, puddles, pools, and lakes. 
        Distraught and ill, I ran into my bedroom. While I cowered under the covers, my stalker collected the dead bird—the decapitated head and the small pear shaped rest—and put it, along with the ruined humidifier, down the trash chute. 


        It was quiet once he was done cleaning. After a minute or two the mattress depressed with his weight. He stretched out next to me, horizontal, like a snake measuring to see if it could fit my body in his long slippery canal. The duvet was thick between us. We laid there for a while, him on top of the covers, me underneath, breathing in the residual aroma of cleaning products on his hands. 
        On a whim I motioned for him to come under, not caring that he wore his street clothes, even knowing as well as I did how much time he spent in gutters, sewers, and dumpsters, debasing himself in crawl spaces and alleyways. He accepted my invitation and lowered himself into bed next to me, the denim of his jeans scraping the sheets. There was something about all of this, the stalking, the tea, the bird, the jeans, the acquiescence, that seemed done before. The deja vu struck not as a memory of the moment itself but as a memory of a premonition. 
        He made confessions in the dark. He once followed me all the way down the 14th street-6ave tunnel while I was nodding my head to music. He hacked my email and stole my packages from my building. He entered the school through the side door and hid in a stall, listening for hours to the torpid piss of little boys. He spit in my drink when I left it on the pool table to go to the bathroom. He snuck inside my apartment, this very one, and cleaned my kitchen sink. He stole nudes off my iCloud and jacked off to them in the bathroom at Barnes and Noble. He commented anonymously on my Rate My Teachers page. 
        His voice was thick with shame, and on its edges, pleasure. Some part of me thought I should have reacted to these confessions with fear and disgust. But the only thing I felt was flattery. I told him I don’t remember half of that stuff, anyway, that tunnel is a hell hole with or without a stalker, someone is always spitting in my drink. He stared at me in disbelief. But I did this, he said. I did that. I know, I know. Why hadn’t I stopped him or cared? It was nice to be at the center of something. And, anyway, didn’t we all dream of this? Didn’t we all want to haunt someone until they in turn haunted us? Isn’t our collective fear of observation in actuality desire?

        Amidst the slight unease of our circumstance, we fell in love. We had a bliss stricken few months. We reached the threshold of what he knew about me and I could finally tell him something new. And he was, of course, a well of discovery. Everything was exciting enough to qualify as an adventure, errands and the mundane meanderings of late night chatter, the luxurious drag from forehead to toes, the whole of his body, and the whole of mine. It used to be that things were locked inside my head. Everything I felt and saw stayed there. I was like a black hole sucking life in, or something less dramatic—greyscale. Now, suddenly, having fallen in love, the entire world blazed brightly anew. 
        Suddenly it didn’t matter who I was. That was what felt so good. Who I was didn’t matter. It was that I was me at all.


        In regards to the stalking, I did my best to nurse him back to normalcy. Right away I told him, I can’t have a stalker as a boyfriend. But he was stubborn.
        One time, when he thought I was in the bathroom, I caught him with his eyes pressed up against its vent. Once during sex, he panted, I’m coming, I’m coming for you, I’m coming for you, I’m coming after you, I’m behind you. 
        Don’t you ever miss it? He would say. And I would pretend I couldn’t hear him or that the “it” wasn’t clear. Just let me follow you home for old time’s sake, he begged. And though it made me burn with embarrassment and frustration, I let him. 
        Walking as though alone with the groceries clutched in my arms, my head spun with insecurities. Have I done something to beget this distance? What’s so wrong with me up close? Now that he had won me, was his desire gone? What if I was only the structure of his desire instead of desire itself? 
        But by the time he sprinted after me giggling up the stairwell, I forgot all about the discomfort; by the time we had unloaded the groceries and were back in bed and I was reading to him aloud—by that time I was so enchanted by the sound of my own voice and his enchantment with it, too, that I forgot all about how dirty I felt in those old roles.


        Then the questioning began. It wasn’t his own behavior that bothered him so much as my acceptance of it. How could he trust someone with such poor judgement?
        Loving him as I did, that he used to be my stalker seemed beside the point. What of a beginning? Time sifts through us all. Why must we split hairs? And love! Love is everything. Love is lightning turning sand to glass. Love is a stalker. Love is the dead bird at the bottom of the trash chute. He of all people should be able to understand that. It was like he wanted to be reviled and my failure to revile him was another condemnation entirely, and a worse one. He could hardly look at me for the things he had done. 


        Then one day he up and left. He couldn’t take it. The door slammed in my face and I cried and cried. It seemed confirmation of the way things would go for me, no matter how or where they started. There is only one direction water can flow on a downward slope. 
        My heart burst in two because of him and because of the bird, who only now seemed to take on significance. In the light of our relationship’s failure, its death seemed violent and arbitrary. Its small grisly end entirely in vain. 
        Sobbing on the floor, I asked myself, how did we not spend more time mourning? I was under no false illusion that the bird was somehow sacred. Nor does death make a creature sublime. But if we witness something die, is it not our duty to mourn it? We couldn’t even be bothered to bury it. By the smell that had started wafting up through the trash chute and into the hallway, the bird stayed there in that cold metal compartment for at least several days.


        A year passed, or more, of cold lonely winter. And then I realized it. Then a rustle in the bushes. A loose nail on the mail slot. He was still there. I never did see him or find any proof, but there was no mistaking the familiar heat of his eyes, the bristling of my spine. It was this confirmation that even I could not change him that allowed me to move on. 


        Sometimes when no one else is looking, and I feel him there, I’ll put one hand on top of the other and make them flap like little wings on a bird. That way he knows I know he’s there. That way he knows I believe in him.