I met Saeel* the summer before my last year in high school. My friend Emilia* (that’s two crazy guys I can blame on her) got me an interview at the pharmacy where she worked. She was visiting relatives overseas all summer, and our friend Parviz*, who also worked there, was leaving for Iran, so the store needed another cashier. I needed money, ba-da bing, ba-da boom, I got the job.
Now I can’t actually blame this one on Em. Apparently, had she or Parvin been in the country, they’d have warned me against the slightly obsessive, weird stock boy. But I’ve always been drawn to weird, and he was kind of cute, and, well, now I have this story.
What I remember most about our first interaction was his laugh. The store was dead and we were straightening up the sunglasses by the registers. They weren’t even in need of straightening up, but it made us look busy. I told him stories about my friends and our misadventures, and I made him laugh. I liked his laugh. He asked me to a movie. I was trying to get over the guy who’d broken my heart earlier that year, so I said yes.
Unlike with Sam, the date itself wasn’t that bad. At least not at first. It wasn’t good or anything, don’t get me wrong, but he didn’t instil sheer terror in me. Maybe because it was my first time interacting with a genuine nut-job, I couldn’t differentiate between eccentric and crazy yet? Anyway, we met at the mall and went up to the theatres (hah! how high school of us) and actually watched the whole movie. I remember he had his arm around me, which would have been nice had the armrest not been there, digging into my ribcage. I didn’t want to be rude, so I stayed like that a while, but once I felt my ribs separating, I pulled away. I was free from pain less than 5 minutes before he pulled me in, again. Once more, I complied, not wanting to be rude, but pulled away when I felt my lung collapsing on itself. Again, he waited under 5 minutes before pulling the same shit, even though he met resistance this time. In retrospect, I should have realised here that something was off about this dude.
Before I tell the next part, let me back-track a little. Saeel was an army cadet. What this means is he went away most weekends, sometimes for two weeks at a time, getting some kind of training. What he did there, I’ll never really know, because he’s a pathological liar and loony-toon. When he showed up at the mall that day, his hand was wrapped in gauze.
“You’re so sweet to be concerned for me, darling. I hurt myself at training. I burned my hand on a machine gun.” His explanation was more complicated than that, but my BS meter was going off, so I wasn’t really listening. He later admitted he’d lied about the whole thing, did it for sympathy and attention. He was actually proud of himself.
Anyway, after the movie I had to go home. I had a very strict 10 o’clock curfew, and this was a couple of months before I realised sneaking out of my window lead to unlimited freedom. Even though he didn’t drive, he insisted on escorting me home. Two busses and a 10 minute walk later (ah, to be 17 and without a car in the suburbs), we were at the top of my street, awkwardly facing each other, making small talk. My pager went off (yup, pager. This was 2001 you guys) and it was a voicemail, which meant my mom probably called, cleared her throat, then punched in our home phone number.
“I’d better go, that’s my mom. It is 9:57 after all…I’ll be hearing that it’s almost 11 when I walk in the door.”
“Wait, hold on…don’t go. Ah, fuck it!”
I was confused for a second, until I realised he was trying to unwrap his bandages.
I’m sure when he pictured this moment in his mind, it was all smooth and cool and badass. Unfortunately, in real life, it did not go as planned. He'd over-done the wrapping part, and was now trapped in what I have since dubbed, "the most awkward de-mummification of all time." The gauze kept getting stuck and caught, and he kept making these grunting sounds. I stood there, not sure of what to say or do, focusing all of my energy on not pointing and laughing. After a while, I could watch him struggle no longer.
“Can I help?”
“NO! I'm fine!”
The second-hand embarrassment (mortification on behalf of someone doing something they should feel stupid about) was immense. It got so painful, I actually considered turning around and running home. Then I remembered I’d have to see him at work.
Once free of his bondage, he tossed the gauze aside, grabbed my face, and kissed me in what will go down in history as the most unexpected and terrifying kiss of my life.
I don't know if he'd ever kissed a girl before. If he had, I'm sure she didn't live to tell about it. He held my face with such an intense kung-fu-like-death-grip, I was genuinely worried he’d snap my neck if I tried to pull away. I just kind of stood there, with my arms in the air, I guess ready to push him or something? I don’t fucking know. All I know is that sinking feeling in my gut was like, “NOPE. Nope, nope, nope. Nope.” It was the first time I’d ever felt it. Unfortunately, it was far from the last.
He left for his training the next day. He wrote me a four page letter about how much he missed me, how hard it was to be away from me, how he couldn’t wait to hold me again, and said his pain was made easier knowing we were looking at the same stars. He handed me the letter at work on Monday. The post doesn't run on weekends.
I decided to be honest with him and let him know I wasn’t interested. Aside from the fear he instilled in my heart, which I had since rationalised away, the guy I was trying to get over had been in town that weekend. I obviously did the smart thing and saw *cough* made out with him.
When our shift ended, I told Saeel we needed to talk. We went to the park across the street and I said the words I’d been rehearsing in my head. “You’re really nice and all, but I don’t think this is going to work. I’m just not over my ex.” I’d already told Saeel the guy had been in town and that we’d hung out. I'd, uh, skipped the part where we had locked lips. And also the part where I was going to see him again that night.
“That’s okay, you’ll learn to get over him.”
Um? “Maybe. But right now I don’t want to.”
“No trust me, you’ll be fine.”
“I am fine.”
What?! “Okay, I don’t think you understand what I'm saying. I still like my ex, I don’t want to date someone new. Can we be friends?”
And here’s where it got weird.
“You’ll get over that guy. And I will forgive you, eventually. It’s not like you kissed him or anything,” he grinned, squeezing my hand. I didn’t even realise he’d reached for it.
I came up with a few biting responses, but I figured it would be best to take the easy route. Trying to pull out of his clutch but meeting resistance, I said, “Actually, I did kiss him.”
“YOU KISSED ANOTHER GUY?!” The people walking by stopped and stared, probably under the assumption we were boyfriend and girlfriend. Or, at the very least, I'm sure they figured we knew each other's last names. He placed his head in his hands. It felt like a Spanish soap opera. He didn’t even look up from his pity party when he asked, “Did he know about me?”
I stared at him, dumbfounded. Did he know about you? What is there to know?! “Did he know I went on one date with a guy from work? Yes. He knew.”
He looked up at me, cold rage in his eyes. “I’ll kill him.”
I really can’t remember what I said after that, I just know we got into our first fight. This was before I realised you can’t talk logic to crazy folk. They compute things differently than you and I; trying to make them see things rationally is a waste of time.
Unlike Sam, Saeel didn’t go away. For one thing, I worked with him. And even after he quit because he was getting shipped off to Afghanistan (he was literally, “getting shipped off,” like, every other week), he still kept showing up. IDA was run by a bunch of shit-heads who had this real bromance going, so even though I told them he was stalking me, cornering me, abusing me, they laughed it off. “Boys will be boys,” both the manager and the owner told me. “You should give him another chance, he really loves you.” Why it never occurred to them as odd that he, “loved me” after we watched a movie together and talked about the weather, I’ll never understand.
One Monday, I was assisting Mildred, one of my regulars, find the Gold Bond powder on the sales floor.
“Saeel’s coming,” my friend Parviz said. She could tell when he was near the store because she could feel the ground shaking from his angry footsteps.
Sure enough, he stomped through the doors, right to the back room, into the office – even though he’d quit months ago and was supposed to be in in Afghanistan – and slammed the door. A few minutes later, I was ringing Mildred’s purchase through at the registers when he stormed up to us.
“I have to talk to you. Can you take your 15?”
Since I’d already said everything I wanted to say (you know, things like, “I don’t have anything to say to you,” “I don’t even like you as a person and I have no interest in being your friend,” and my favourite, “We went on one date 6 months ago. Let. It. Go.”) I decided to avoid that drama, at least in front of Mildred, and lie. “I already went on break.”
“No you didn’t. Your time card is empty.”
Mildred and I exchanged a look.
“I forgot to clock out,” I said, sweating a little, fearful of his flaring nostrils.
“Well then go again.”
“No,” I said, meekly.
“I don’t think she wants to take her break with you, dear,” my 87 year old customer said. “Maybe you should leave her alone?”
He laughed. It had been a long time since I’d liked the sound of it. “What, you have old ladies fighting your battles for you now?”
“Saeel, just leave,” I pleaded more than anything.
“You don’t even work here anymore! Fuck off!” Parviz had finished helping someone on the floor and came back to the registers. “Seriously man, you have a PROBLEM. Get it through your head, she doesn’t want to talk to you.”
The torment went on for months. I wish I’d been bold enough to approach someone who could have actually helped me, but it’s not like the internet was what it is now and I could have gotten help at the touch of a few buttons. Also, I come from a pattern of abuse, so my natural instinct was to lay down and take it, especially because I tried to reach for help and came up empty handed. It’s just easier to mentally retreat and let whatever is going to happen, happen. It’ll be over eventually, you just have to endure. This is the state of mind I was in one afternoon, when he’d, “returned from Afghanistan” and had been working with us again. Parviz was holding down the fort at the registers, and I was in the stock room downstairs, getting tampons or chocolate or something, when he cornered me. I don’t even know how it happened, but we ended up in this tiny room, at the end of a long corridor I’d never been down, and he locked the door behind us. I don’t remember what he said, but I remember he forced himself on me. I pushed back, trying to get around him, but he was bigger and stronger. It nauseates me to recall this, but he pawed at me, kissing and groping until he was satisfied. It made me feel like the smallest person on the face of the earth. I was really hurting. Whether or not he knew it (my guess is he did), he’d preyed on my weakness. My helplessness made him feel powerful, like he had the upper hand now for the first time since I’d rejected him. I felt even worse when we went back to the store and he slapped my ass, winking. “Let’s do it again, sometime.”
He turned and walked away. I went to the registers and told Parviz what happened. She was livid.
“That is not cool, Ana.”
“What are we going to do about it?”
“Forget that it happened.”
“No. That is SO not okay.”
“Well what am I supposed to do?”
He walked by us then, his shit-eating grin so smug that something inside of me snapped. For the first time in my life, instead of feeling incompetent, I felt enraged. I kept my stare focused on the back of his head, tried to keep my breathing even and calm.
“I want to hurt him.”
She smiled. “Okay good. Let’s come up with a plan.”
Saeel preyed on my weakness, so logically, the only thing I could do was prey on his, retaliate through emotional warfare. See, his best friend, Reza* worked with us, too. Reza and Parviz dated a while back, much to Saeel’s dismay. Reza was smooth, charming, funny…all the things Saeel was not. Despite being less attractive, he got all the girls. Saeel always felt like he was playing second fiddle, which was apparently part of the reason he’d pounced on me so quickly, to make sure he “got” this one before his friend could. This is all according to Parviz, who had been friends with Saeel at one point. Like I said, the deepest conversation he and I had ever had was about the weather. We may or may not have discussed our local sports teams.
Parviz's idea to fight fire with fire seemed like my best bet. Gathering my courage, I went to the office, where Reza was filling out paperwork, aka, probably doing nothing.
“How’s it going?”
“Good. How are you?”
The painful exchange carried on. I’ll spare myself the embarrassing details of how I awkwardly flirted with someone I was in no way attracted to for revenge purposes, but eventually, I kissed him. It turned into a full-on make-out session on our boss’s desk. Obviously, we were a very productive, drama-free team.
“You know I’m going to have to tell Saeel about this,” he said as I was about to leave.
I turned back, feigning my best hurt look over my shoulder. “I guess you gotta do what you gotta do.”
He seemed genuinely conflicted. “He’s my best friend, I have to.” Funny that this didn’t seem to matter a few minutes ago, but whatever.
“I understand,” I tried to hide my smile, and scurried out of there before I blew the act.
I returned to the registers, where Parviz had been holding down the line solo. Once we cleared it, she asked how it went.
“Not too bad. He’s a good kisser.”
**Pause: 33 year old me needs to comment on how questionable I find 17 year old me's logic and decision. But I digress. Moving on. **
A few minutes later, she felt the ground shaking. “Brace yourself,” she warned me.
Saeel, of course, launched a verbal attack.
“WHY?! WHY DID YOU DO THAT?!”
I shrugged, smirking. It was my turn to be the arrogant asshole. Taking my smug silence as cue, Parviz decided to answer for me. “To get the nasty taste of YOU out her mouth!”
I barked out a laugh that echoed through the now empty store. The veins in his forehead throbbed.
The registers were on a two-foot riser, with swinging doors on either side. I guess he didn’t like that we towered over him, so he walked up to one of the doors, attempting to even the playing field, I imagine. He slammed his knee. I’d locked them.
His rage was like joy coursing through my veins. I smiled wider.
“Saeel, go home. Your shift is over. No one here wants to talk to you. Buh-byyyyyyyyeeee!” I waved cheerfully.
“How could you do this to me, Ana?”
I shrugged again.
“You’re not who I thought you were.” The venom in his voice didn’t hurt at all. If anything, this time it fuelled my own fury.
“Dude, fuck off. We watched a movie together, like, a million years ago. You don't know me and you never did.”
He stood there a while, fuming. To this day, Parviz swears actual steam came out of his ears. “This isn’t over,” he declared.
“Oh-ho yes, it is. It was barely a thing to begin with. Now pull up your big-boy pants and be gone.”
That was pretty much the end of that. I never saw him again (the manager complied with his request not to schedule us together. Fucking asshole), but I heard creepy stories about him through a friend. Well, a friend’s boyfriend, who was also in the military, same squadron or something. He’d update me from time to time about Saeel’s craziness. At this stage in the game, I was 4 months into my first serious relationship, but Saeel’s delusions went on. My friend’s boyfriend and Saeel were having drinks at a bar (yes, enough time had passed that we were now old enough to drink), and he asked Saeel, completely innocently, what my last name was. Apparently, he lunged across the table, grabbed him by the collar, and started shaking with rage, screaming his own last name, over and over again.
Whatever became of my first stalker? I can only assume, with cloning having become a real thing, he’s in a lab somewhere, trying to make another me out of one of my hairs. Either that, or fate decided to be a bitch and actually ship him off to Afghanistan, where I imagine he hurt his hand for real, didn't use enough gauze, contracted an infection, and died.
I'm obviously, like, SUPER over this, and wish him all the best ;)
*All names have been changed to protect the innocent. The guilty, too.