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There’s No Such Thing As “Nice” Stalking

, , , | Right | July 19, 2022

I got a stalker at work. If I had to wager a guess, I would say that he had a learning or cognitive deficit of some kind that made normal social interaction difficult. As an anxious, neurodivergent teenager myself, I could relate to him on that level — which might be why he started following me around.

Literally.

I met him while manning the tobacco register when he came in for his smokes. I smiled at him, made small talk, and was generally my quiet, nervous, customer-service-style-of-kind self. For some reason, he took a shine to that and made an effort to seek out my register whenever I was on shift. Though he was easily in his late forties and liked to make flirtatious comments now and then, he seemed nice and harmless enough, so I let it slide.

Then, one shift, as I was doing take-backs, he found me in the aisles and walked up to me. Surprised to see him, I asked if he needed anything.

Customer: “I’ve already found it. You.”

Okay, a little creepy, but he was smiling and pleasant at the time, and I was busy with a cart load of take-backs, so I got back to work… and he followed me for over an hour, through cosmetics and pharmacy, into clothes and jewelry, and then to toys and seasonal, reaching into my cart and occasionally tucking an item I missed back on the shelf in its proper place.

Every time I moved to a new section to work, he followed close behind, chatting about his “well-paying job” (he made $10 an hour as a night-shift janitor), how he was “looking for love” (by following me around a supercenter? I guess?), and anything else that came to mind — all of which I answered with noncommittal nods and, “Oh, really?”

A few times, a coworker or manager would approach me to ask a question, but even though I tried to wave them over to rescue me from his nice-but-increasingly-invasive questions, all they saw was a dutiful associate assisting a customer, and they left again just as quickly.

Finally, I managed to wrestle free from his watchful gaze when it was time for my break. I returned the now-empty take-back cart to the front of the store and hightailed it to the break room. By the time I came out, he was gone again.

But he would be back.

I don’t remember the specific order of conversations or events here, but I do remember a pattern of escalation every time he visited. No matter where I was, he would find me and “help.”

Sometimes, this was something as harmless — albeit increasingly concerning and annoying — as him helping me put items away. During this time, he would make conversation about how lonely he was, how his ex-wife had left him, and how much he wanted to find someone new to settle down and share his life with him. Many times, he not-so-subtly hinted that he thought I was cute and would make a great addition to his life. Though I mentioned my concerns to management, they never seemed to catch him in the act. It got to the point where I would stop doing put-backs and return to the register anytime I saw him approach.

Other times, this meant pushing carts with me. When I told him that was a work hazard and I had a special rope and training (not necessarily true; I just wanted to do my job in peace), he would seek out the solo stray carts in the lot to be helpful because he “didn’t want to get me in trouble.” When I brought this up to management, they effectively told me that they couldn’t stop a customer from returning a couple of carts to the store so long as I was getting my work done and he wasn’t a threat to me.

My final straw — and my employers’ — with this stalker came when, one evening shift when we were slow, he came through my line and made his normal small talk. I nodded, took his payment, and wished him well. But he stayed to talk… and talk… and talk… and when the next customer came up, he moved out of the way just enough to start bagging their groceries as I scanned them.

At that point, my manager intervened before I could call her over, as she was counting out drawers nearby and had seen everything. She told him nicely, but in no uncertain terms, that he needed to leave me alone to do my job. I watched him walk away with an audible sigh of relief.

Although he came back through my line a few times after that, he never again followed me around the store or into the parking lot (that I knew of).

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