Tag Archives: Creeper

Creeper Guy Revisited: You’re Always the Hero of Your Own Story

English: A stereotypical caricature of a villa...
You always know the villain by the awesome mustache. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today I want to share some thoughts looking back on my experience with my neighborhood stalker (a.k.a. Creeper Guy) two months ago. As always, if you’d prefer to stick with the flash fiction, no hard feelings here. Check back tomorrow or browse the archives.

Let’s start with a familiar story. It’s about a hero, a villain, and a damsel. The villain’s of the mustache-twirling variety. Because he has it out for the hero, he’s captured the damsel and tied her to the train tracks. The hero somehow learns of this plan, hops on his horse, and rides to rescue his lady.

In the distance he hears the sounds of the train whistle growing louder and louder. Does he get there in time? Of course! He’s the hero. He jumps off his horse, duels the villain, and unties the damsel just moments before the train whooshes past.

It’s a classic story, and a good one. And the perspective matters. As readers, we see through the eyes of the hero because that’s the perspective I told the story from.

But we reflexively do this all the time. You are always the hero of your own story. When we hear about a dangerous situation, we imagine that in similar circumstances, we’d outsmart the bad guy and save the day.

Take my Creeper Guy story. While I received an enormous outpouring of love and support, I also received well-intentioned comments like this:

“Show me where he lives, and I’ll beat him up if he bothers you.”

“If someone ever came after my family like that, I wouldn’t think twice about shooting him.”

“Shame on you for not calling the police sooner. You should have called a long time ago.”

“I’ve never run into crazy guys because I always run with my dog/with a friend/at the park/etc.”

In all of these statements, the person casts themselves in the role of the hero within my story. They presume that, given the same circumstances, they would have made a different decision that would result in a more victorious outcome. My actions (specifically, the months and months of inaction that preceded my eventual phone call to the police) don’t make sense. That’s not what the hero does. The hero is bold, decisive, and in control of the situation. The hero beats up the villain and saves the girl.

English: Poster for The Perils of Pauline (1914)
The damsel’s in a default state of fear. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But let’s revisit the story again.

She’s minding her own business, overpowered by a stranger whose intentions are inscrutable. She’s restrained. She’s lying on the train tracks while her kidnapper looks on and laughs. She hears the whistle of the train approaching. All she can think about is that she’s about to die. She would do anything to get away, to hide, to rewind time to that point in her life just hours ago (a lifetime ago) when mustache-twirling strangers only existed in the movies.

You see where I’m going with this.

Being a damsel in distress is inherently disempowering. It’s a role defined by helplessness and limited options. In my experiences with Creeper Guy, it really bothered me that this jerk could singlehandedly terrorize me into not running for weeks at a time. He had all the power. It’s a sick feeling. Whenever I had a run-in with him, I’d be afraid to check my own mail for days afterward, lest he be out there in his car, waiting. It’s the “flight” portion of the “fight-or-flight” response.

Remember: I’m exactly like you. I’ve had fantasies all my life that if anyone messed with me, I’d put them in their place. But when the reality of several tons of metal comes barreling after you, you run. You hide. You don’t want to think about it. You want to go back to that time in your life when your neighbors were harmless, when stalkers only showed up in the movies.

So what changed?

I already told you, remember? It was Connor Choadsworth: In Search of the Mongolian Deathworm.

Frank Bernard Dicksee. Chivalry
Me, Creeper Guy, and Connor Choadsworth. Hint: I’m not the damsel this time. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am dead serious. Here’s the secret, the essential difference between the damsel and the hero: The damsel runs from danger because she doesn’t want to die. The hero runs towards danger because he doesn’t care if he dies. He has someone to fight for.

There’s a world of difference between fear and anger. Fear paralyzes. Anger empowers. As I sat at home staring at my iPod that day, I felt overwhelmed by the injustice, that this jerk would ruin my favorite episode of one of my favorite podcasts… well, you gotta draw a line somewhere. Wanting to defend the honor of Connor Choadsworth provided just enough rage to change my “flight” into “fight”. Having someone to fight for transformed me from damsel to hero in an instant, and heroes have options. Heroes are able to take action. So I did.

As a result, I think I better understand why people behave the way they do under stress. More importantly, I can silence the voice in my head that tells me that given the same situation, I’d do it differently. Just because I want to cast myself as the hero doesn’t mean I’ll have that option. Circumstances dictate so much. Who can know for sure what you’ll do until you’ve lived it?

For example, as the Trayvon Martin case has unfolded over the past few weeks, I found myself profoundly overwhelmed with its parallels to Creeper Guy. A pedestrian in his own neighborhood, being followed by a neighbor in a car whose intentions were unclear. The fear, the sense of danger, the inherent physical imbalance between vehicle and foot traffic. And if Creeper Guy had left his car and come after me, what would I have done? I have a bittersweet admiration for the young man who, being braver or more reckless than I am, rejected the role of the damsel outright. Hero or villain? Let God decide, but I can empathize.

The line between these roles is a thin one. We never know what role we’re going to play until we’re playing it. One can transform into another so easily with just a change of motivation. Maybe the best we can do is to be conscious of these roles, and do our best to understand each other accordingly.

Do you usually picture yourself in the role of hero when you hear other people’s stories? What should we do about it, given it’s so reflexive and automatic?

Creeper Guy vs. The Mongolian Deathworm

Creepers gonna creep.
Creepers gonna creep.

We interrupt your regularly scheduled medical microfiction to bring you a personal story. If you’re here for the flash fiction and prefer to skip, you won’t hurt my feelings. Check out the archives instead, or check back later for what I’ve got cooked up next. Otherwise, pull up a chair and pour yourself a cup of coffee. This tale is true, and mine.

As some of you may know , for the past year I’ve had occasional encounters with a creep in my neighborhood who likes to follow me in his car when I’m out running. These encounters have been very rare, perhaps once every couple of months. Nonetheless, Creeper Guy’s behavior’s been consistent enough that a pattern has emerged.

The pattern goes like this: on the way home from a run, I pass by his house, which is at the entrance to my neighborhood. He sits in his car with the engine idling. I pass him, reach the intersection just down the road, and he pulls out of his driveway and begins following me. Sometimes it’s the slow, creepy, driving-right-behind you following. More often, he does a few roll-bys at around 15mph up and down the street–perhaps to maintain the pretense that he’s “coincidentally” driving in my vicinity, over and over again. Historically, having a run-in with him prompts me to radically change my running route, and sometimes stop running altogether for a few weeks (sad but true).

Recently I’ve been ramping up my training in the hopes of running some more races in the summer and fall. And since it’s almost summer in Georgia, I’ve preferred morning runs to avoid the ridiculous heat. Mornings, unfortunately, are when Creeper Guy likes to make an appearance.

Steve Irwin
Steve Irwin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This last Wednesday was going to be special. I intended to reach a new training milestone. To motivate myself, I even picked out something special to listen to: Drabblecast B-Sides #9: Connor Choadsworth–In Search of the Mongolian Deathworm. If you’re not yet addicted to the Drabblecast, you have to understand that this particular episode is unique. It’s a hilariously inappropriate parody of nature documentaries, Bono, Dune, Dr. Seuss, Christmas carols and more, narrated by a character named Connor Choadsworth who’s something like a deranged Steve Irwin.

So on Wednesday, I hit the road. Everything went great until the homestretch, 15 minutes away from home. I was running along a major road with plenty of traffic when I noticed Creeper Guy’s car drive by. It’s easy to recognize by a large, distinctive decal on his back windshield. I didn’t think anything of it until I approached my neighborhood entrance a few minutes later. This is where it gets strange. Several hundred yards ahead, his car rolled up out of the treeline as if he were going to turn out onto the major road. He looked in my direction, saw me, and rolled backwards, back into the neighborhood!

Real subtle, Creeper Guy.

By now, I was beat. It was the end of an especially hard run, after all. Now I had to stow my iPod and deal with Creeper Guy. I had to pass his house to get home. Hoping he wouldn’t mess with me today, I pretended to talk on my phone as I ran past. Sure enough, he was sitting in his car in the driveway with the engine idling. Sure enough, he waited until I reached the intersection to pull out onto the road.

At this point, my body helpfully dosed me with some sweet, sweet adrenaline, which eased the pain in my legs but made me feel woozy. I prayed he wouldn’t try anything today. I had no strength left to give.

Fortunately, another car queued up behind him to turn at the intersection, which meant I got a head start booking it toward my house. He managed a couple of drive-bys before I got there, but the timing worked out so I was able to get home without him seeing where I live (this makes more sense if you see my street). It probably helped that I gave him the death-glare each time he rolled by and kept up my one-sided phone conversation. We both knew I was watching him.

Chicago police car
Chicago police car (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Over the last year, many of you have told me to call the police on Creeper Guy, and looking back on it, you’re absolutely right. When I reflect on it now, I had some complex reasons why I didn’t.

For one, I’ve never had to call the police before. Before Wednesday, I failed to see my own predicament as something that deserved their attention. I thought they’d be annoyed if I bothered them about this problem. While Creeper Guy scared me, he’d never done anything outright illegal.

Another thing: filing a report felt like acknowledging that a problem did, indeed exist. It’s much easier to assume it’s all a misunderstanding or coincidence. I harbored Creeper Guy no ill will. He was a neighbor, after all. We all want to believe that our neighbors wish us peace. I’ve noticed that people sometimes employ similar logic with health problems. Something doesn’t feel right in your body, but you put off going to the doctor because it’ll somehow make the issue “real”. You’ll have to deal with your lung cancer or kidney stones instead of continuing to believe you’re hale and hearty. Same with my hangups about filing a police report.

But Wednesday was different. The treeline hide-and-seek irked me. But something else put me over the edge.

It was Connor Choadsworth: In Search of the Mongolian Deathworm.

As I was talking myself out of calling the police, I noticed my iPod lying where I’d dumped it on the table. In all the hassle, I didn’t get to finish the podcast I’d saved just for this run.

Just... 5... more... minutes!

Creeper Guy ruined Connor Choadsworth. And that pissed me off.

I was so pissed that I dialed the police on the spot. A few minutes later, a police officer stopped by my house. We had a nice long chat about the whole situation and came up with a plan for dealing with this guy while keeping me 100% safe. At long last, I’m reasonably confident that I won’t have another run-in with Creeper Guy, and if I do, I now have a plan in place for handling him much more effectively than I did in the past.

After the officer left, I finally finished Mongolian Deathworm. And it was awesome.

Lessons Learned:

  1. My local police officers are awesome.
  2. It’s okay to call 911. Really, it’s okay! No more fake phone calls while jogging.
  3. The psychology between creeps and the people they harass is complicated. Don’t be so quick to write folks off as dumb for failing to take action against a creep immediately. Hindsight is 20/20. (For podcast addicts, I find this apropos to a controversial Escape Pod story that ran last month).
  4. Fiction is compelling. Sometimes it can reach into the real world and influence your decisions. It’s why we write, even my medical microfiction. Thanks, Drabblecast.

Happy Friday, gang. As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments below. Even better, leave me a link to something fun!