There amongst the bills and junk mail were three postcards from Kmart. They were addressed to people who did not live in my home--two to some guy named Steve, and the third to a woman whose last name was not the same as Steve’s--and they came from three different Kmart stores, two in my state and one in a neighboring state. Since they were postcards, I was able to see that they were acknowledgments of items that had been returned for cash refunds.
Never one to let things go, I trotted those three postcards around the corner and presented them to the manager at Kmart, fully expecting him to thank me for bringing him this lead. A day earlier, the news reported that someone was stealing merchandise from my Kmart so I was certain the postcards meant the robbers were now returning stolen merchandise to other stores for cash. The manager did not come to the same conclusion. He suggested I dispose of the cards if they had been delivered to the wrong address. I explained that the address was correct but those people did not live there. He was too busy to deal with me and my postcards so he gave me the royal brushoff and I took the cards home with me.
More cards arrived over the next few days, all addressed to Steve, originating from different Kmart locations in the same two states. I delivered my postcards to the police, positive they would come to the same conclusion that I had even if the manager thought I was crazy. Nope. They suggested I return the cards to the postman and tell him not to deliver this man’s mail to my address.
“The mail doesn’t bother me,” I explained. “I just thought you might want to consider the possibility that this might be related to the stolen merchandise that was reported on the news.” Silly me. That consideration was the last thing they were willing to entertain.
I spoke with neighbors who had been around before I bought the house. Nobody had any idea who Steve was or why he would use my address.
More cards trickled in over the next few weeks. I collected them on my desk. Then, the postman delivered seven letters to Steve one day, all of them from different attorneys. These were sealed envelopes so I could not read them to see why seven attorneys would contact Steve on the same day at the wrong address so I called the office of one attorney. The girl who answered the phone told me to, “Just throw it away.” Steve had been arrested and listed no attorney, so they were solicitation letters.
Curiosity drove me. “Can you tell me if he was arrested for robbing Kmart?” I asked, and explained what was going on. She connected me with the attorney who told me no, Steve was arrested on drug charges – serious drug charges which was bad news since he had only recently been released from prison. Did I know him? Did he have representation? I explained that I did not know this man and was concerned that he was using my address. What should I do?
The attorney looked up Steve’s court date and advised me to appear and tell the judge that he was using my address. He stressed the importance of detaching my address from a known criminal.
I showed up for Steve’s court date but he didn’t. The judge issued a bench warrant. He was wanted on felony drug charges and for parole violation. I had heard horror stories about what the police do when looking for people like this so I feared what might happen to my front door, or to my daughter. But this judge wasn’t interested in hearing from me when I approached.
I went to the court clerk to see how I could stop Steve from using my address. Her first answer was that there was nothing I could do but she learned quickly that I don’t take no for an answer. Finally, when I explained that I had no idea who Steve was, what he looked like, or why he had chosen my address, she sympathized. I told her about the horror stories and that I had a daughter at home so I needed to know if the police department would repair my door and protect us if they came looking for Steve. She gave me the name of someone to see at the jail.
After going through my story again, the woman at the jail pulled his file and peeked inside. The look on her face did not comfort me. “Please,” I asked. “Can you just show me what this man looks like? He could be lurking around and I’d never know.” She slid his mug shot across the counter looking as frazzled as I felt.
This guy made Manson look clean cut and sane. “Let me copy this so you can show it to your daughter,” she said. “Be alert. His record is ugly.”
I shushed the friend on the other end of the phone when I heard noises. “Guess it’s nothing,” I decided. “The security system would have let me know if anyone is down there.” A chill went up my spine as I noticed I had not set the security system. Warning my friend to hang up and call the police if anything happened, I went to press in the code. Immediately after doing so, the alarm blared. The keypad verified that the motion sensors in the front room downstairs had activated. By the time the police arrived, the door on the back of the house had also activated. I’m positively convinced that someone was in the front room when I set the alarm and that person exited through the back door. The police decided the wind must have blown the door open. “But there were postcards from Kmart and letters from attorneys,” I tried to explain – to four faces that said they clearly thought I was insane even though they offered comforting words.
Another time, I returned from a funeral to find a huge hole in the drywall in my hall. The security system had been activated and did not trigger while I was away. This seemed impossible – to the police and to me. Even if I had failed to activate the system, though, someone came into my home and put a hole in my wall. But there was nothing they could do, even if they had believed me.
The doorbell was next. This did little to clear up those suspicions about my sanity. The doorbell rang one time – ding dong. I went to the door, noticing that the porch was dark. No one should have been able to get to my porch without activating the motion-detector lights. I flipped on the porch light and saw no one. I called out but no one answered. I checked the security panel and the system was activated. Still, I did not open the door. Anyone who knew me would have been standing on the porch, looking through the side window. Something was wrong with the doorbell.
I turned out the light, returned to the couch, and as soon as I sat the doorbell rang again, twice this time – ding dong, ding dong. Everything was the same as before – no light, no person, and no response. This continued for hours, each time ringing once more than the last. Ding dong, ding dong, ding dong, ding dong, ding dong, ding dong . . . no lights, no people, waning patience and increasing fear. When I saw the first light come on across the street, I called my neighbor and asked her to look over and see if there was someone on my porch, or lurking behind the shrubs. She heard my doorbell through the phone but saw no one.
The police had no explanation. “Maybe your doorbell has a short,” one officer suggested. None of them had any idea how it could short in sequential order that way, though. And they didn’t know if someone could ring my doorbell by remote. I’m pretty sure they considered the question too stupid to waste much time on. They did, however, tell me not to hesitate to call them if it happened again.
It did happen again, many nights. I called, they came immediately, and they noticed that the motion-activated lights did not come on until they pulled into the drive, and when they arrived the lights never failed to come on. They also hung around indoors, waiting for the doorbell to short. It never happened. But it did ring, in the next sequence, as soon as they were out of sight. I tore the doorbell off the front door with my bare hands – maybe to prove I was insane. I cut the wires, removed the bell part from the wall inside. If anyone wanted me after that they would have to knock.
And then I nearly crumbled when I remembered there was a button on the back door. But, surely, I would have noticed if lights had come on out back since no one ever came to that door.
Phone wires were next. Not only were they cut on the outside of the house, my white phone suddenly, without explanation, sported a black cord. Be warned: Going to the police department with a black phone cord will not win you any respect or sympathy. Nor will reporting a pile of empty soda cans under your deck. No one cares much if someone comes into your yard, turns on the hose, and leaves it running – repeatedly – even if they leave big shoe prints in the mud, leading right over to the spot in the fence that is bent down when the police come into the yard to check out another insane report about someone living under the deck and terrorizing your house.
Five years later, I received a much needed apology from the police department. I spread my postcards, attorney letters, telephone cords, empty cans, water bills, etc. across the table and offered them the line they needed. “Each of these events taken individually looks petty. The collection is a much different story.” They jumped on it. It isn’t easy to get a stalking charge in this state but I definitely had one and they were very sorry it had taken so long.
And this is why I am finding it so very difficult to hear people talk about the Republican Party’s ‘War on Women’ [update 10/2/14, or whatever is the distraction issue of the day]. They are doing to this country what Steve did to me. Until we call it what it is, we are going to exhaust ourselves fighting individual events that seem petty, get buried when the next one comes along, or make us look insane for complaining about each ridiculous incident. What they are doing is nothing short of terrorizing this country with sequential ding dongs that will drive us insane if not stopped. We need to address ONE problem – they want to destroy this country. Keep it honest and make it simple.
(I am relieved to report that Steve is dead now and not at all sorry to say that I hope the same is true for the Republican Party soon.)