Sunday 20 May 2018

Me & my stalker

Maeve Higgins had the kind of ex that wouldn't go away.
Maeve Higgins had the kind of ex that wouldn't go away.

Maeve Higgins

People cry 'stalker' too lightly. You bump into them at a market stall and have a chat about how carrots really do taste better when you know what the farmer's kids look like. Forty-five minutes later, you stand behind them in line for a falafel and they scream: "Oh my God, I'm your stalker! Everywhere you go, there I am! Hahaha!"

I don't laugh. I explain to them that because we are the same basic type of person -- the type of person who listens to earnest radio documentaries and aspires to learn more about keeping bees in urban areas -- so we are bound to come across each other most days in a city the size of Dublin.

I also tell them that seeing them at a book launch, then in a bakery in the same afternoon is very different to being stalked by them -- and that I should know. At this point, I look into the middle distance and I sweep off. I leave them with a bit of mystery, in that grand tradition of women in my family: we love to hint darkly at something bad that may or may not have befallen us, and leave it at that.

I can never fully leave things at that, though, so I will tell you all about it. I want this to be like a slumber party. It's already late but there's so much to talk about. So you must lie, tummy-down, on the bed, prop up on your elbows and cup your face with your little hands. In other words: prepare for drama!

Ages ago, I went out with a creepy guy for about three weeks. It was super casual and I didn't realise back then that he was creepy. From what I remember, at first he was just kind of weird. He drank a lot and had the shakes and was really jumpy.

I know that most ladies love a shell-shocked oddball, but he wasn't for me. I didn't see or hear from him for years, until he emailed me last year to say a) that he was in love with me and wanted to marry me; b) that there was an international conspiracy of arms dealers trying to ruin his reputation; and c) that he was absolutely not crazy.

I emailed him back to thank him for getting in contact but said that I honestly didn't think we should get married. It was stupid of me to reply that one time. What followed were dozens of emails from him with the same basic themes: that I was his future wife but didn't seem to realise it; that he just needed to see me to discuss it and everything would be fine.

It wasn't scary -- like seeing a cat with no eyes or hearing you need root canal treatment -- but it was worrying. It seemed like he was not fully with it in the old 'this is real, this is my imagination' department. I made a gmail folder, labelled it 'Creepy Guy', and had his e-mails go directly there.

I didn't think about it again, until a radio station I sometimes work for got in touch to say someone had been sending in requests for me -- hundreds of them. He'd also sent gifts for me to the station. Although I have no formal training in detective work, I thought to myself: This has to be the same creepy guy who is emailing me. It was.

I asked my agent for advice. I thought he might know what to do, because he's got some big names on his books -- for example, Des Bishop. Oh, Dezzi B. Big Boy Bishop. I call him Desmond Tutu, because he's too, too handsome! He certainly is an anomaly -- a great-looking comedian. I try and treat him like the rest of the guys (comedians are guys), but it's hard because he's just so handsome. I always want to put lipstick on when he's nearby -- I don't know why!!

Anyway, about the stalker, my agent told me he didn't come across this kind of thing much, and to go and talk to the police, just to see what they have to say. I said I would leave it a few weeks, but he said to maybe go and talk to them right away.

I was embarrassed about going to the police; nothing had actually happened, really. At the station, a frozen garda looked hard done by. I promised I wouldn't take up too much time and told him briefly what had been happening. He folded his arms, and looked at me sceptically as I talked.

I heard myself getting more and more apologetic. I think I finished up by saying: "So, I know it's stupid and there's nothing to worry about really -- just thought I should mention it to see what you think."

He picked up his pen and tapped it on the desk three times. Then he said: "So, your ex wants to get back with you, is it?"

I said: "Well, we were never actually going out, it's kind of..." He cut me off by saying: "Look, just give him a ring and tell him it's all over."

I said: "Oh, I don't have his number."

To this, he said: "Can you not get it?"

At this point I think the slumber party is going great, don't you? You're dying to hear whether or not I took the garda's advice about opening up a new channel of communication with the creepy guy. I will tell you, but first let's go to the toilet then have some peanut M&Ms ...

Okay, so, I didn't take the garda's advice but I did feel kind of mortified. I was worried I'd made a big deal out of a situation that didn't even qualify as stalking. Most stalkers are diligent and show up absolutely everywhere their victim is.

As opposed to tracking me down, the creepy guy would often just email and tell me where he would be on a given afternoon, and request that I come and meet him there. And he would not give me much notice. I suppose I was lucky that my 'stalker' was disorganised and, I guessed, regularly hospitalised.

I was beginning to doubt his commitment, until he suddenly got it together and began showing up at my gigs, albeit just the heavily publicised ones. He waited outside after one, and before I could get away, he talked to me directly.

He didn't threaten me or anything: it was just unnerving because I hadn't seen him in years and now he was bothering me and being wild-eyed and illogical, like a classic dangerous person from a cartoon. At that point, I decided to give the po-po another go.

This time I was prepared. I printed the weirdest of the emails and brought them with me. I learned off the most relevant murder statistics. The radio station printed off some of the text messages he'd sent about me -- at this stage, in their thousands.

The creepy guy would later tell the police that he thought I was communicating with him through the music played on the radio. As if even the combined might of Maroon 5 and Flo Rida could have adequately conveyed the only message I was sending, which was, of course: "LEAVE ME ALONE!"

I didn't go back to the first Garda station -- instead I went to one in the city centre, in the hope of a more enlightened response. My heart sank when I caught a glimpse of the officer on duty through the window: he was leaning into an office chair with his hands behind his head, legs wide apart, feet planted on the floor -- classic alpha male pose. I assumed he would brush me off, so when he came out to the desk, I told him about the creepy guy as sternly as I could.

Whenever I am trying to be serious, people recognise me from TV and don't believe me -- this is my cosmic punishment for taking part in a hidden camera show.

The garda recognised me but didn't ask if I was up to my old pranking tricks. He was professional. He was also totally handsome, not like the garda the last time, who was not even 10 per cent handsome. (I don't mean to objectify these men: I'm just trying to paint a picture for you with my words.)

He read over some of the emails, asked some questions, and then said, gesturing to my helmet on the desk: "I see you cycled here."

I said I had, and for a moment thought he might ask to see my lights. Instead he said: "Well, before you get back on your bike, you should check and see that it's not been interfered with."

That had never crossed my mind. What could the creepy guy do? Put streamers on the handles to make me more identifiable? Loosen the brakes? Maybe. I was pleased the garda was taking me seriously, but his concern made a dull dread -- one that had been shadowing me since the whole thing started -- settle itself heavily on top of my shoulders.

He said he'd talk to his superiors about what to do next, and told me to come back and make a statement the following day.

I left and checked my bike carefully. Nothing was different except for an empty Meanies bag someone had thrown into the basket. I ran my finger around the inside of it, and got that pickled onion hit I love so much, then cycled home. When I went back to the station the next day, the garda showed me into a little room and gave me a glass of water. I know -- what a total flirt!

Anyway, he asked if I could hear voices from the room next door. I listened for a moment and could hear some muffled chatting. He said: "They're some bank robbers we picked up earlier, but they're well locked up, so you're safe."

He actually said 'bank robbers' and, if my memory serves me, he may also have flexed. He then asked me lots of questions and noted down my answers in careful blue biro.

All of this good work, however, was undermined by the distracting fact that he could not stop burping. He would try and say something, then his throat would make a gurgling noise and he'd cover his mouth, and either hiccup or belch.

It was sort of gross but fascinating, and made more so by him pretending it wasn't happening.

After about ten minutes of eruptions, I told him I could come back another day if he wasn't feeling well. He insisted that he was fine, kind of shouting the 'ine' part of 'fine' with a particularly aggressive belch.

Then he looked down at the ground and, between rumblings, explained that just before I'd arrived, the other gardai had dared him to swallow a couple of Berocca. You know -- those effervescent vitamin tablets you're supposed to dilute in water.

The fizzing subsided after about 20 minutes, and we finished up the statement.

Then, I noticed I had six missed calls from a booker and suddenly remembered I was supposed to be on stage in ten minutes. I had forgotten about my spot at a city-centre comedy night for drunks and tourists. I told the garda and he said he'd drop me down. I protested for about half a second but followed him out to the corridor, where he yelled that he needed a car -- fast. Someone threw him a set of keys which he leapt to catch, and we raced out and jumped into one of a number of Honda Civics.

We sped along city streets and through amber lights. For a brief moment, I was Cagney and he was Lacey, but much hotter. I made it to the show on time, and totally pumped.

The host called my name, and I took to the stage. A red-faced man snoozed gently in the front row and eleven Norwegians looked on impassively, as I breathlessly relived what had just happened.

In the end, the burping hero arrested the creepy guy and told him to stop contacting the princess of comedy. That did the trick. I got a few more emails, apologising, saying he'd been diagnosed with a mental illness but was feeling better and would be in Bewley's on Grafton Street between 4pm and 5pm, if I felt like popping in. I didn't. After that, he stopped hassling me.

Ideally, I would prefer if the whole thing never happened. That said, I did get a spin in an unmarked car, I did meet Ireland's dreamiest garda and I got his number. For emergencies only -- but still, how do you like them apples?!

Extracted from Maeve Higgins's book 'We Have A Good Time ... Don't We?', out on October 12, published by Hachette Ireland

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