This particular encounter still freaks me out. I know how horrible it could have ended, and I sometimes thank my crippling social anxiety as well as general common sense for preventing the worst.
My freshman year of high school, when I was about fourteen, proved challenging socially. Afraid to really connect with strangers, I would typically eat lunch by myself or sit in the back of a classroom to avoid detection. I did have a few close friends from band, and I also grew fond of an equally awkward girl in my public speaking class. Now, because our public speaking teacher was also the drama teacher and cared much more about the musical than assigning us speeches, we never had to stand up in front of the class. Instead, I would walk into the room, sit down next to my friend, and talk to her for about an hour until the bell rang.
After probably about three months, this class became a nightmare. I was walking through the halls one day in between classes when I was approached by a fellow freshman that I knew from band. She handed me a piece of paper and winked at me.
“This is from Zach,” she said.
I believe that I stared at her rather blankly, earning me an eye-roll.
“The Zach that sits behind you in public speaking,” she clarified. Still confused, but not wanting to appear stupid, I smiled, nodded, and thanked her. I put the note in my backpack and resolved to read it when I returned home that evening.
Once in the comfort of my bedroom, I retrieved the note after recalling a very tall and large senior named Zach who did, in fact, sit behind me in that class. I did not remember ever speaking to him, but, thinking it might have been a message from the teacher, I opened the lined paper up.
As I skimmed the words, I immediately became uncomfortable. Printed in sloppy handwriting was a cheesy love-poem. In it, he described all of my physical features, mentioned my full name (which he spelled correctly, a feat in which not many people can accomplish), and professed his undying love. Now, I was very, very confused. I had never spoken to this kid. I only ever talked to the other freshman in the class, and I had no account on any social media platform where he could have lifted the information. Even if I DID know him, my mental issues would have definitely prevented any sort of long-term relationship.
At this point, I was honestly a little more scared at the prospect of having to speak to someone I did not know than the actual poem, but I still began to skip that particular class.
After not attending public speaking for a good two weeks, I was eventually approached by a girl I knew from band, a fellow clarinet player by the name of Korrie.
“I heard you’ve been ditching,” she said with a bit of a smirk. “Good girls don’t ditch.”
When I just laughed and shrugged, she continued.
“Well, your boyfriend thinks you’re avoiding him.”
“What? That Zach guy? He’s definitely not my boyfriend.”
“I have some classes with him, too. I think he’s a nice guy. You should give him a chance. He likes you a lot.”
Wanting to end the conversation, I just said that I would think about it, and walked away.
I think that Korrie told Zach what I had said, and things escalated. I received a similar poem taped to my locker a few days later, and I began to see Zach standing outside of my classes as I left. Because he was blocking the door, I had no choice but to talk to him.
I don’t remember the exact conversation, but I remember that he pulled out a large, black binder and handed it to me. He told me that he was a writer, and that all of the pages were filled with poems for me. After flipping through some very cringe-worthy writing, I believe that I thanked him, not wanting to hurt any feelings. He interpreted this as a go-ahead for a kiss, and I became pinned to a wall (this guy was well over two-hundred pounds, so he had quite the advantage physically against a small, fourteen-year-old girl). When he finally came up for air, smiling like he had just won the ultimate prize, I told him that I was running late for my next class, and he released me.
I felt assaulted and even more freaked out, but I never told anyone about this. I never told anyone even when he began to wait for me by my brother’s car (he went to the same school and drove me home). I never told anyone even when I saw Zach walking through my neighborhood, staring at houses intently like he was trying to figure out which one was mine. I had to change all of the routes I took to get to my classes, and I would sneak out back doors just to avoid him. I guess I figured that the school year was almost over, and, once he graduated, my problems would resolve themselves.
However, about a month later, I was leaving the school with a couple of band friends. It was around midnight after a musical performance (I was in the pit orchestra), and we were just going to grab a bite to eat at a Village Inn. As I made my way to my friend’s car, I felt hands grasp me around my waist. Spinning around in fright, I noticed Zach had me pinned against a different car.
“I haven’t seen you in a while,” he said. “But that’s okay; love transcends time.”
I think I just smiled uncomfortably and said something about being busy with the musical (not a lie).
He ran a hand up my back and wrapped it around the back of my neck. “I know you’re super busy, and that got me thinking. I love you more than anything, and I know that we’re young, and I know that I don’t have a ring, but please run away with me. Please marry me.”
Completely stunned and paralyzed, one of my friends arrived. She overheard the conversation and picked up on how freaked out I was, and she swooped in.
“Hey,” she said. “We have to leave right now, sorry. My mom wants me home in, like, five minutes, and she will NOT be happy if I am late. Come on!” She grabbed my arm and wiggled my body free from Zach.
“Wait, so, will you?” Zach asked as my friend dragged me away.
I said something stupid about having to “think about it,” and I made it into my friend’s car without any other problems. We laughed and joked about it later, but it scared me enough to take my cautiousness to the next level. For the rest of the school year, I made complex plans on how to travel between classes so I would not see him, and I made sure that I walked to and from any car with a group of people. Again, I never told anyone even though an eighteen-year-old, adult man proposing to and stalking a young girl was more than not okay. I wish I had, though, and I wish it ended there.
A few years ago, when I was about twenty-one, I was scrolling through my Facebook page when, all of a sudden, messages from people I had not talked to in years began flooding in. They all said something along the lines of, “Holy shit, this is creepy. Oh my God, are you okay?” and they included links to a news article.
Apparently, Zach had been arrested for the possession of child pornography and for multiple counts of molestation against a minor. A couple of the girls mentioned in the article I even knew from high school. I was pretty decent friends with them, too, even though they were freshman when I was a senior. I just hope that he did not hurt them BECAUSE they were friends with me.
He is in jail now for a very, very long time. However, if you search my name through Google, you will still find books that Zach actually published containing hundreds of poems that he dedicated to me. But I am honestly just glad that he is locked up and unable to hurt any more girls.
So, Zach, let’s never, EVER meet again.