In her normal routine Clare came to work, clocked in, checked with management to see what was on the docket for the day, greeted her store friends as she saw them and kept walking to the front of the store to retrieve items returned by customers to be placed back on the shelves. Clare had been off of her work at the store for a few months on medical leave. Now that her knee got the all clear from her orthopedic specialist she got back to work. This is when her normal routine took a turn.
She grabbed a cart from the row on her way near the check out lane to gather those items when she spotted him. He was a bit taller than when she last saw him, his pale skin and white blonde hair snapped her eyes even wider as her breath caught in her chest. All the sounds and light around her formed a tunnel as she summoned all her wits about her to greet him with a dead and almost inaudible , “Hello.” He responded the same.
Clare didn’t skip a beat, wheeling the cart around past this new specter who now was a cashier at this very store that she had worked at for nearly 5 years. Her mind spinning and her shoulders rising to meet her ears, she put the items in her cart from the bins sectioned off for returns to her department and drove that cart to the back of the store, through the open office door and right into the weekly meeting of her store managers.
They looked up at Clare to see that she was shaken and listened to her say, “You hired him?” Clearly they had no idea who she was referring to and sat stunned to see someone who was usually in their estimation, unfrazzled, nearly fall apart. She went on to try to make them see who it was that they had apparently hired in her absence. Her voice shook, her composure gone, her eyes refusing to cry, and her breath uneven as she tried to keep from having a total panic attack right there.
Two of the managers were new and the one that Clare knew the most had to be reminded about the stalker. The manager had never seen him when he had come to the store in the past and just remembered the problems that she had heard about between Clare and this new hire. Clare went to the break room to compose herself. Here is the backstory. The names have been changed for this story.
For more than 20 years Clare had taught in a school in this city and had more than her share of wonderful experiences, but there were a few instances in her career that made it very easy to do something else and this new hire was one of them.
His name is Shawn. When his mother enrolled him he had been to several different schools. She had him in both public and private schools as well as unsuccessfully trying to home school him. She told us that he was a constant target of bullying and had a hard time navigating any school that he had been in. Now he was in 5th Grade. He lacked companionship from his peers and his mother seemed to be his constant companion. His brothers and sisters were quite a bit older than he was and were not playmates for him. She was worried sick about him and wanted, like every parent, to have her child be in a safe nurturing space free from taunts and tears, somewhere to be accepted and to make friends. It hadn’t happened in any school, any group that she had him belong to or within his neighborhood peers and was hoping for a fix at the school Clare was teaching in. They welcomed him and paired him up to different people. The other students were open to making another friend too.
Clare was also the aftercare caregiver when school let out and Shawn’s mother had him in that program as well, assuming that this would be another avenue for him to make friends. He would be at that program every day after school for about 3 more hours. When she picked up Shawn the grandpa would sometimes come along. This family was always hugging most people they greeted and Clare was not excluded from their many hugs. It was too huggy. It was surely uncomfortable for Clare when Shawn would seek out hugs from her and the principal whenever he could get one. Clare is available to give children hugs when needed to comfort students when they initiate it, but it seemed as though Shawn lacked a sense of boundaries for when hugs were appropriate. When the grandpa would come along with the mother to pick up Shawn he would also want to hug Clare. She was uncomfortable with that and soon took up holding a clipboard to her chest with her arms folded across to try to stave away this unwanted greeting. She ended up doing that with everyone in the family. She would rather greet them with a smile and wave. As time went on the vibe for not hugging was made clear to the grandpa and he became cool. Clare was relieved. Trying to break Shawn of it was harder and the principal and Clare worked on tactics to reroute Shawn for always going in for the big hug to giving him a shoulder or back pat coming in from the side. It was a sticky time as they could feel Shawn thought they were not as loving. They even had to educate him on boundaries and it seemed as though his family had not achieved that skill either.
Shawn didn’t fit into the groove despite everyone’s best efforts. He would try to fit in by learning things about others and using it against them in gossip. He would make up drama and manipulate stories to get sympathy from teachers, peers and his mother. Clare had heard that he spent a lot of time on the phone with other students talking between one another causing sides to be taken in childhood events. He didn’t enjoy many of the activities of boys his age and in the aftercare program made up games with others that were inappropriate as children do from time to time. When Clare discovered them and let the parents of the children know how they were involved, Shawn’s mother denied that her child would be involved and accused Clare of picking on her son and causing trouble.
Shawn’s mom would make excuses why Shawn’s work was sub-par, not completed at all and required no responsibility from him for this action or inaction. In her mind it was due to his feelings of inadequacy and other children not treating him well. As a class, Clare worked on team building, accepting and cherishing differences in others and love. She made contracts for work to be done, bargained and made adjustments to assignments so success in that area could be achieved.
Shawn mentioned that he would like to be home schooled via online learning so his mom and he could go live near some of his mother’s other children in California. Clare asked him if he would miss being around people his own age and he responded that he would just want to be friends with his teacher. He would often hang back and try to be the last one out of the classroom so he could chat with Clare. Clare ended up walking and talking to him as she guided him out the door so he wouldn’t be late to something coming up causing him to have to be singled out for being behind in arrival.
Soon anything that Clare would say would be twisted by Shawn when relayed to his mom. His mom believed it all. His father, who was once again on the scene, would call other classmates to accuse them of being bullies. It was clear that all attempts by the principal and Clare would not make Shawn and his family happy and educated so Shawn’s parents decided to leave the school, blaming Clare for everything that had gone wrong. The mother demanded that Clare gather Shawn’s belongings and to have them ready in the office for her to pick up with her child ordering that Clare was not to be seen in the school office or hallway on their departure.
Clare had gotten a second job while teaching and much to Clare’s surprise the mother, older sister and Shawn would come to that store, walk up to her and in Clare’s opinion greeted her in a saccharine sweet menacing fashion. “Well, hello………Clare.” Clare would nod, grin and walk on. They seemed to make a point of finding Clare in the store for their version of a greeting.
As Clare busied herself in another area of the store he would find herself being spied on around a corner of an aisle and just within earshot hear Shawn’s voice say, “Hellooooo, Mrs. Clare.” It reminded Clare of the Silence of the Lambs. Clare would look, quickly grin and go back to her work. This became unhinging for Clare and she asked the management that when those people came in if she could do work in another non public area of the store or hide out in the office with the management. They agreed and made her feel a bit protected.
Clare became even more rattled when she was leaving her job in the summer and found Shawn astride his bike outside of the store. When Clare saw him she didn’t acknowledge him and just kept walking as fast as she could to her car. She didn’t want to give away how upset this made her as he was yelling her name over and over in a non greeting way, but a taunting way. He did that twice that summer.
Clare discussed it with her friend and she recommended that Clare should report his action to the police. Clare did not because she assumed that as a minor he would not be on anyone’s radar and he hadn’t physically hurt her.
Over time Shawn would ask Clare to be his friend on Facebook. She replied that she hoped he had a nice life. Of course she did not accept or comment on that further than a greeting. He then reported her to Facebook where a notice that said that he thought one of her profile pictures was offensive. She had already reset her privacy settings. Clare told her husband that now after the bike harassment and this Facebook event they would be extra concerned when this boy starting driving. He could easily then drive to their house and cause trouble for them. Since Clare and her husband live in a more remote area this was a concern.
Clare had joined a local historic architectural appreciation group on Facebook. She had made a comment on one of the posts about the history of a building and to her amazement there was a follow-up post right after hers liking her comment from Shawn. She could not get her mind around what interest a teenage would have in this genre. She immediately deleted her comment and left that group for good.
By then Clare had gotten out of teaching and was working at a government building in a public area. She now went to the marketing director to ask not to have pictures used of her in publications or social media. Clare talked to the hiring staff to let them know of her reservations of hiring this person or answering any personal inquiries about her from this individual. That is when Clare found out that Shawn’s mother had been hired a month after Clare was hired in another department. The mother quit after a week because she said she wasn’t aware of the publications that were loaned out that she was not politically or ethically in agreement with. Clare hadn’t notice that she had even worked there for that short time.
A few months from then Shawn once again asked Clare to accept his friendship request on Facebook using a slight variant of his name. Clare blocked both names and the bike he rode in on. He would still appear at the store with sneak attacks if she wasn’t watching for his mother, his sister and himself. He would peer around the ends of the aisle using a creepy slow hello to Clare.
Now we are up to speed on the incident that began this story. The mother called the store and requested certain provisions be made so that he was safe from Clare, that he was worried about how Clare would treat him, that they not work in the same space, be on the same breaks or find themselves working together in any way. After he was hired he asked many employees and management when Clare was to return. He seemed concerned about that.
Starting the day that Clare returned she was told by other employees how he said that Clare was responsible for making him want to kill himself when he was younger. Rumors he started flamed up and died down again just as soon when Clare wouldn’t take the bait. She told others when asked about this that if people knew her they would know the real story and that she was not going to speak out publicly against him at the store. True colors always come out.
The stalker decided to get a job at that location despite having many other options open to him. We can assume the myriad of reasons, but now he has quit. This leads Clare to wonder if he will show up again in her life in some other creepy way that will scare the stuffing out of her. She wishes the best for him, but in some place far, far, far away from her with mental health care.
Once there was a boy whose mother enrolled him in a private school. The boy was 10 and had been in a couple of different public schools and also another private school with dissatisfaction.