My husband Daniel is the type that keeps to himself. He doesn’t talk to any of the neighbors whereas I’ve always been outgoing. Even as a kid, I liked to get to know people so I could understand them better. Understand what they’re feeling better. I can learn so much about people by striking up a conversation…occasionally, I’ll meet someone I’d be best off avoiding…
This story can’t be explained properly without the correct framing. I am a sort of psychic…but it’s not like they show in movies. It’s not something I really talk about. I’m what’s called an Empath. You may have heard of it. If someone is in close proximity to me, I can physically feel their feelings, or at least an approximation of them.
In most cases, this is a good trick to have in your arsenal. I am a restaurant manager and often knowing exactly what to say or do is helpful in my line of work. It’s not an exact science and unlike other psychic phenomenon, things don’t come to me as words or images. It’s an emotion. For instance: I can notice someone staring down at their shoes. They might not go with the rest of their outfit. They were probably expensive. I can tell by the anxious glances downward they feel like they shouldn’t have worn them. They’re “too much.” They were trying too hard to impress their date. Then I feel anxious about their shoes too. I shouldn’t feel anxious about it–I don’t give two shits about their shoes…but I can feel that they do, so I begin to absorb some of that anxiety myself. If it gets to be too much for me, I have ways to fix it. I can pass by their table with my hands full of dirty dishes.
I’ll mutter it just loud enough for them to hear. My hands are full so I do not have to actually talk to them and absorb any of their other neurotic ticks and their anxiety subsides at least for a little while. Sometimes this perception can be too much, but I know all of the places to hide away from other people until I’m back in control of what I feel.
I can learn a lot about people by being around them, but more about them by interacting with them…the problem lies mostly in the amount of information they share. Between the things they say and the things they feel, I have a hard time remembering names. My husband has a great memory, but he talks to nobody so he couldn’t begin to know what everyone is called. That’s why I’ve given everyone in our neighborhood nicknames.
The guy in the building next to us reminds me of my cousin. He loves baseball and spends a lot of time smoking pot. He’s a nice guy and treats people kindly. He always feels so confident and carefree. It’s no surprise that most everyone who lives here loves talking to him. On top of all that, with his curly mop of hair and his 6’1” stature, it wasn’t much of a stretch for me to begin calling him “Jake,” in private conversation with my partner…he looks just like my cousin. I like Jake the neighbor. I like Jake the cousin. It was easier to remember than anything else I could think of.
Some of our neighbor’s names are more interesting.
The little old busybody who watches everyone from her windows is called “Harriet The Spy.”
One woman has a grandson in his mid-twenties who visits her a lot. He’s a robust, charming guy with bushy blonde eyebrows, light blue eyes and a chiseled jawline. I decided he reminded me of a young Charlton Heston so I call him Bright Eyes. Grandma is a retired physician so naturally, she’s Dr. Zira…both after characters from Planet of the Apes.
There’s Sergeant Dickhead and Eureeka who always seems to have her hair done up in curlers. There’s Marla Singer, Stevo and Heroin Bob, our local trio of punk rock drug addicts…
And then there was Jeffrey.
Most places in Sarasota are empty about half of the year. Our quiet little neighborhood is half empty all summer. This is when all of the little migratory snowbirds (meaning: old people) fly north for their summer homes. We’ve lived in this neighborhood for about 5 years. Sometimes the neighborhood is full and sometimes it’s empty. Most of our neighbors are well into their twilight years. It’s just a part of living in this area.
In the winter months our entire city quadruples in density. The roads are filled with bad northern drivers. They’re not bad at driving because of where they’re from; they’re bad at driving because they’re geriatric. If you’ve ever ridden anywhere with your grandmother you know what I mean.
I was walking my dog when I first met Jeffery. I thought he was a snowbird. I wish he was a snowbird.
“Hey!” he shouted from the second floor balcony. It was so loud that I could hear it despite the earbuds. I wish I hadn’t acknowledged him. I could have pretended not to hear him over the music. I didn’t. I don’t think that would have mattered anyway.
“I like your dog!” He said.
“Are you married?”
Wait what? Red. Fucking. Flag. Why would you need to know that? Why would that be the first thing you’d ask a stranger? Then the feelings began. I felt something rising in my gut. A queasy unease. Something about this guy was wrong.
He stared down at me, eyes wide, with the sun glistening off his balding head. He smiled placidly. People smile to show you that they’re friendly…but this felt…wrong.
Maybe I’d misheard him. “What?” I asked.
He responded by asking the same question as before. Even the level tone of his voice hadn’t shifted. There’s something inherently not right in asking someone you’ve never met whether or not they’re married.
Holy shit. I thought. This guy is catcalling me.
I meant to say ’No. I don’t like this feeling. I don’t want to talk to you…’ but it just stuttered out as “N-no.”
“Oh! Great!” He replied. “Got a girlfriend?”
“No?” I responded. Why are you asking me this?
“I meant to say I am married. Husband. Thanks.” I responded, feeling my skin crawl.
“Oh! You’re gay! Me too.”
Christ, I don’t care. I thought. I don’t want to talk to you. I felt the leash tremble in my hands.
“You and your husband should come over sometime.” He said, “could be fun.”
What? We don’t know you. This isn’t the way you meet people. Finally, I came to my senses and found the assertive voice I’d misplaced for a moment. “No thank you.” I said sternly as I began walking again.
I couldn’t help but feel the entire interaction was wrong. I refused to look back, feeling unsafe the rest of the way home. I had the eerie feeling he was watching me as I went and if he were, he’d see which building I went into. He wanted to know which building I went into. I could feel it. Thankfully, our doorway is around a corner and there was no way he could be able to tell from his balcony. I didn’t feel safe again until I made it back inside.
I shot off a text message for my husband as soon as I’d calmed down and the unease subsided.
Just met new neighbor. Old balding gay guy. Total creep.
LOL! What he do?
Invited us over for some ‘fun’ …
Yep. We’re gonna call him Jeffrey Dahmer
Time passed and I forgot all about Jeffrey until Daniel called me from the condo’s pool one afternoon as I drove to work.
“WHY DID YOU TELL THAT CREEP MY NAME?” He demanded. I could hear him unlocking our door in the background noise.
I had to think for a moment. I was sure I hadn’t.
“I didn’t tell him anything about you.” I said cautiously.
“Well my friends and I just left the pool. He walked up like we were best friends, said ‘hey Daniel, how are you?’ and got into the water next to us…it was…too weird. I wasn’t the only one who thought so. Jane and the rest of us, we all left. We’re back in the house.”
“I didn’t tell him your name.”
“Then how…?” Daniel said after a pause, “that’s too fucking creepy.”
You often hear women telling other women to trust their instincts and as a man, you think you know what they mean by that…but you don’t.
No. You don’t.
You can’t possibly know what they mean by that until you find yourself in a situation when you do.
He began to go out of his way to talk to me. Each conversation was exactly the same.
I might pull into my spot, arriving home from work…he’d see from his window and casually come down the stairs while I wasn’t paying attention. I would slide my key into the mailbox when…something would make my soul shudder cold.
There wasn’t ever any sound as he approached. I could just feel him there without realizing it before he spoke, like he was part of the air around me. I might be outside taking pictures of flowers to accompany a post on my writing blog or taking the recycling out…
“What’s your name?” He’d ask.
This happened over and over again. I would find myself so shocked as I spun around. I didn’t know what else to do but reply. It happened like a reflex. It would always be the same…
“Hi! What’s your name?”
“I’m Scott.” I would say. I was too shocked by his sudden appearance to be rude…and then I’d remember to be rude: “bye.”
And as I left he would tell me his name, but I’d never hear it. I was too busy hearing the screech of his intent in my brain and feeling his eyes grazing me like the fingers of a hundred spiders crawling under my skin. I could feel him controlling their path as they tickled their way to my nerve endings beneath. A puppeteer and his eight-legged marionettes violating me with the twisted web of his thoughts. I always found a way to get back to the safety of my door, and get inside, but I could still feel him out there, hungrily tickling at my consciousness. I could feel the greedy lust as it moved in his brain, even through my door and my own feelings of abject disgust.
This happened at least 6 times. How many times could a person ask someone’s name, only to be spat a rude reply as that someone turned and walked briskly away? I didn’t entertain the conversation any further. Never again. Not after that first day. I found out enough about him that afternoon and at every subsequent interaction after, I learned something further that I wished I hadn’t.
Still assuming he was a snowbird, after each interaction, I longed for the return of summer and his eventual departure.
When summer began, I stopped seeing him all together. I assumed with relief he departed with the rest of the elderly. Learning more and more to dislike about him through my Empathy with each unwanted advance, I was happy thinking he was finally gone. Last night, I learned otherwise. Last night was the final straw for me.
Just past midnight, I returned home from work. Daniel has been out of town for a few days, visiting his sister. I noted the coolness of the air as I made my way to my apartment door. This would be the perfect evening for a nice long walk, just me and the dog. I might even let him onto the bed afterward, to fill Daniel’s vacant place.
As we made our way down the sidewalk, I noticed something. A quiet ringing. Something unheard by my ears. I could feel it inside me, and growing with intensity in my own head, like the drone of tinnitus getting slowly louder. I didn’t want to turn, but I knew I should.
Jeffrey stood in his kitchen. There wasn’t a light on in his condo, but I could see his form outlined in silhouette by the moonlight that fell through the window. He was standing just inches behind his blinds which were tilted downward in an attempt to conceal himself. I could feel his eyes burning like coals in the dark. Though I couldn’t make them out from his dark shape, I could feel them boring through me.
That’s when I learned the final thing about him that I never wanted to learn. Because of my heightened extra sense, I could tell he was creepy within a moment of our first interaction…but he didn’t know that I could do that.
He’d never known that.
My skin prickled as it occurred to me that he was doing it intentionally. He wanted me to think he was creepy. He wanted me to feel uneasy and he was trying extra hard by intentionally conveying this with his tone of voice and his body language. Anyone would have felt uncomfortable. That’s what he was going for. He went out of his way to relay that to normal people with his odd behavior. Subtlety be damned, he was being obvious about it on purpose this entire time.
I realized something I wish I hadn’t…
It was turning him on. I could feel it in the air outside, when the ringing began, and before I ever saw him standing there. Creeping me out was making him horny.
I urged the dog onward, watching him cautiously in the corner of my eye. I’m not sure, but as he left my range of view, I could have sworn he was stroking himself in the dark.
I felt as though he left his apartment to follow me the entire walk, and took a shortcut through the woods back to my apartment so I wouldn’t have to walk by his kitchen window again.
Jeffrey Dahmer, the real Jeffrey Dahmer was convicted of killing at least 16, but probably 17 gay men and boys. He met them in bars and convinced them to come over to his place. He killed them, had sex with their corpses, and dismembered them. When that stopped being enough to get him off, he began to eat his victims. A few of them had holes drilled into their heads and acid poured inside. One of those men was just 14 years old. A kid.
When you think you might be unsafe around someone you don’t have to be polite. You’re allowed to be rude, especially if you think they are making you uncomfortable on purpose. You might be in danger. Being rude is better than being dead.
Don’t get murdered.
I think I haven’t been assertive enough with my neighbor Jeffrey. Next time he approaches me, he’ll regret it because I’ll cause a scene. The shit in the window last night was the final time I let him make me uncomfortable. Next time I’ll make him feel uncomfortable. I’ll tell him I’m onto him, and I’ll shout it loud enough for the rest of the neighbors to hear.
Before I went to bed last night, I text Daniel goodnight and told him what I’d seen.. What I’d felt.
If I’m not here when you get home…tell the police to check in the condo at 7760 for my head…I have a feeling it’ll be in Jeffrey Dahmer’s freezer.