Author: Christopher Pike
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
The last time I was scared to be alone in my house was a few nights ago. My husband was doing an overnight with our son at his parents’ house and I was getting ready for bed around 10 PM. I’d already washed my face, brushed my teeth, and gotten the coffee pot ready for the morning but I needed to do one last check before I got in bed and shut the lights off. The TV was still on as I secured both of the locks on my front and side entrance. The dialogue from a Sex and The City rerun comforted me, like I had my friends in the house with me as I checked behind the shower curtain and the hallway coat closet to make sure nobody was hiding inside. However once I switched the TV off the silence of the night crept in like a stowaway and I started to feel uneasy.
Nothing happened to make me feel uneasy. I knew once I feel asleep I’d be fine. Nevertheless every minute that ticked by until I was sleeping would be filled with dread that maybe I’d missed a spot and an intruder was hiding in my home. I didn’t like sleeping with my back to the doorway— then I wouldn’t see someone slip into my bedroom. I didn’t like sleeping facing the doorway either—I’d keep my eyes open, waiting to hear someone’s hand on the doorknob.
Men broke into women’s homes all the time. Someone could be standing outside on the sidewalk, underneath the streetlight that burned out, waiting. It didn’t matter that I knew my thoughts were irrational. My pulse thumped louder than the voice that told me I was being silly.
I’ve been afraid to be alone in my house for as long as I can remember. It started when I was five. We were burglarized one night my brother, sister and I had a sleepover in our basement. A man broke in through a ground level window in our backyard and he crept through the basement where I lay sleeping. I didn’t hear him come in, but my sister heard the glass break. She watched him creep across the room and head upstairs in the dark. She woke us up while as he searched the rooms upstairs, and my twelve year old brother called the police. Nobody got hurt that night, and the burglar only stole thirty bucks from my mom’s wallet. He ran back down the basement steps and dove back out the window as soon as he heard the police sirens. I remember him sprinting past us as he left, and I remember not wanting to move from my sleeping bag to go find my parents. I knew he was gone. Still, I was scared he was still in the house.
I first read Remember Me in 1989 when I was in sixth grade. I have wanted to reread this book for years, I loved it when I was a kid. I remember sitting in my family’s living room late at night, turning page after page, completely absorbed in this ghost story. I remember being scared as I read, but also completely comforted knowing my parents were in the next room watching L.A. Law.
The story is meant for adolescent kids, and re-reading now was nostalgic but left something to be desired. It’s about a beautiful, rich teenager named Shari who is killed at a party. She is pushed off a balcony, but her death is ruled as a suicide. As a spirit, she watches her parents and brother grieve her death, she watches a detective interrogate her friends about her death, she watches her boyfriend try to have sex with one of her friends. She encounters a friend of hers, Peter, who died several months before she did. He tells her she needs to move on but Shari refuses, she wants to solve her murder. As she attempts to find out who killed her, a dark shadow looms nearby the could swallow her up, which would prevent her from ever entering the afterlife.
When I was a little kid I’d spend a lot of time wandering bookstores, my parents usually nearby, a few aisles over, browsing books. I read everything from Judy Blume to Beverly Cleary to The Babysitters Club, Danielle Steel, V.C. Andrews, Sweet Valley High. I started reading young adult psychological thrillers when I was in middle school. I borrowed a book called The Babysitter by R.L. Stine from my best friend Brooke, and I started my simultaneous fascination and dread of ingesting content that scared the shit out of me.
Christopher Pike novels, scary movies like The Shining, The Exorcist, Halloween, even Unsolved Mysteries used to keep me up at night. For a lot of my childhood I shared a bedroom with my older sister, and even with her sleeping a few feet away from my bed did nothing to comfort me into falling asleep. My mind kept me up. I think as a kid it’s normal to have a healthy fear of violence, abduction, and being murdered. Mine just never seemed to go away away.
Studies have been done to determine why people seek out entertainment that scares them— roller coasters, horror movies, documentaries about serial killers. Our brains release dopamine when we experience fear, and mixed with adrenaline people feel a rush of excitement and at the same time our brains are aware of that fact that we’re safe. I can identify with enjoying that kind of rush, but the thrill goes away the closer bedtime rolls around, and the stories I’ve heard on a true crime podcast keep me up all night.
Twice in my adult life I have had a fear of being watched by someone who scared me. I won’t say stalked, harassed, or even bothered, none of these words accurately describe the uneasiness I felt in the presence of these men.
The first one was a guy I encountered when I was 21 years old. I was working as a bank teller for the summer before I started my sophomore year at Rutgers. One night, right as we were closing, me and another teller were alone at our stations in the bank while the manager and another teller were in the vault counting the deposits. A guy who seemed to be close to my age came into the bank and asked me for a deposit slip. He had sandy blonde hair, a ruddy complexion, and he made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. He looked perfectly normal but his presence made my skin harden. When I handed him the deposit slip he stood at the counter, filled it out, and tried to deposit some cash with the other teller who I worked with. I couldn’t hear their conversation but after a few minutes he left, and my coworker said he didn’t have an account with us. We both thought it was weird, but my focus was clocking out and going home, so that was that.
The next night the same thing happened. He came in at the same time, a few minutes before closing and asked me for a deposit slip. I asked him if he had an account at the bank and he said he did. I handed him the slip, and he started to fill it out, but when my manager walked back into the teller area and the guy abruptly left.
A few days later I was on my lunch break and I saw him in the chinese restaurant where I was grabbing some lunch. A week later I was walking through a parking lot headed into the mall to meet my mother, and he drove down the aisle I was walking through, slowing down as he approached me.
When I passed his car he asked me if I wanted to get in with him to go smoke some crack. I can’t even remember if I answered him, I was so scared that he knew who I was, what car I drove, and that maybe he knew my address too if he’d somehow been following me. Shortly after that, I quit my job.
Nothing had happened, really. I never saw him again, but I imagined him breaking into my house and hiding in my bedroom, waiting for me, for months afterward. My anxiety got so bad that I started taking medication.
The second guy is the neighbor who lives directly below me.
We moved into this apartment the summer of 2018. Steve and I were having pizza for dinner shortly after we moved in when I told him that that our downstairs neighbor gave me bad vibes.
We had two men living below us in our second story walk up. The guy facing the main road was named Rick. He was in good shape with a crew cut and muscle T shirts, looked to be about sixty, he was cordial but kept it moving, which is the type of relationship I prefer with my neighbors— friendly, but not friends.
He was directly underneath us, in one of the apartments facing the back parking lot. I knew Alan wasn’t going to be my favorite when we moved in two weeks earlier. It was a humid July morning when Steve and I pulled up to our new apartment in the truck he’d borrowed from his boss. Two of his friends were helping us lug our boxes and furniture upstairs, and the three of them told me I could hang back until they got everything inside. I took a walk around the property, assessing where the laundry room was, and I saw several residents who ignored me while I wandered around. Their inaction confirmed we picked the right place to live. Our apartment was only about 800 square feet, but it had crown molding, a spacious living area that our new sectional fit perfectly in, a lot of windows to provide natural light, and two closets in our bedroom with plenty of deep storage space. Having neighbors who minded their own business was a bonus.
I saw Alan waddling across the parking lot that first day we moved in. He wore a pair of tattered New Balance running shoes, knee length khakis, a polo shirt splotched with sweat marks near his underarms that barely covered his gut and a cloth newsboy cap pulled down low so the brim rested on his eyeglasses. He held a plastic bag bulging with a few bottles of soda in one hand and a fistful of keys in the other. I walked several yards behind him, but my swift gait caused me to catch up to him sooner than I anticipated. He turned with his whole body to greet me.
‘You picked a scorcher for move in day,’ he squinted at me through his thick lenses.
I introduced myself and ignored the banter about the weather. Our apartment had been empty for nearly three months before we moved in, so after Alan told me his name and pointed out his place as I walked inside ahead of him, I turned on the staircase to say goodbye and mentioned, ‘I’m sure it’s been nice and quiet for the last few months, my boyfriend and I have a lot of area runs to lay down so we’ll try to walk softly.’ I was just being polite. I knew I tended to clomp around, so I hoped by saying otherwise out loud, maybe I’d be granted better manners.
Alan set his bag down in his kitchen floor but stayed in the hallway, still in mid conversation with me. ‘That thought crossed my mind. I was getting used to the quiet upstairs.’
‘Well if our stomping is obnoxious feel free to tap your ceiling with a broom handle and tell us to shut the fuck up or something.’ I was being serious. I don’t offend easily and would respect being told to shut up every now and then. But Alan’s face crumpled as soon as the ‘F’ word came out of my mouth, and he glanced at the nubby maroon hallway carpet until I stopped talking.
‘That wouldn’t be very nice,’ he practically whispered.
‘Well I’d deserve it,’ I said as I turned to walk up the rest of the stairs to our place. I was uncomfortable with Alan’s discomfort, but didn’t give it a second thought once I got inside and started setting up the contents of our kitchen cabinets.
Over the next couple days I saw Alan a lot walking back and forth across the parking lot, from the door to his car. He drove a dumpy Nissan stanza the sunk when he lowered his body in the driver’s seat and bounced up in an exhale when he hoisted himself out of the car. His breaks made a screeching hiss whenever he lurked through the parking lot toward his designated parking space. He would wave and say hello if I made eye contact with him, he even called out my name and waved a few times when he saw me through my kitchen window cooking something on the stove. We started getting mail about a week or so after moving in, and one morning I walked downstairs to our mailbox, inserted the key, and opened it while Alan simultaneously opened his front door and lumbered into the hallway. He blocked the path I needed to go back upstairs.
‘Oh I thought you were the mailman. I was confused, he doesn’t usually come until three.’ He was lying. He didn’t think I was the mailman, his speech seemed rehearsed, and he’d likely heard me on the stairwell seconds earlier.
‘Could you excuse me? I need to get back to work.’
Alan said ‘oh sure’ and ‘sorry’ in the same ‘howdy neighbor’ tone he’d been using with me all week, but I was hip to his game. I knew in my gut he was going to be a problem.
I told Steve every example I had why Alan was a creep as I broke down the pizza box and cleared the dinner table. He just looked at me, waiting for his turn to speak, and when I was finished speaking said, ‘He’s just a lonely dude being friendly.’
‘Rick’s friendly. Alan isn’t. He’s imposing.’
A few days later I was home alone in the middle of the day, and I stubbed my toe on our coffee table. I screamed some curse words loudly as I lay on the ground rubbing my foot. I heard a thumping in the hallway and then saw our front door knob start to jiggle. Alan called out from the hallway ‘Are you okay?’ The thumping had been him running up the steps. He tried to open the door without my permission.
I had lived alone for almost a decade before Steve and I moved in together. I can’t tell you how many times I’d screamed in my apartment and never once had a neighbor checked on me—if I saw a spider, when Sansa and Jon Snow reunited on Game of Thrones, countless times— never once had someone came to my door to see if I was alright, much less tried to open my door without an invitation. The fact that Alan did both convinced me he was psychotic. I screamed again, but this time I screamed to him that I was fine.
‘Let me in,’ he said, still standing in the hallway.
I shouted again that I was fine and he thumped back down the stairs and for the next two years I avoided Alan at all costs. I stopped making eye contact with him. I stopped saying hello back to him when he said hello to me. I gave the peephole of his front door the finger when I went to get mail and I could feel him staring at me as I walked up and down the stairs.
Eventually the weather got colder, the sun started setting earlier every day, and most nights when I got home from work or school it was pitch black outside. I began to notice Alan’s silhouette frame his kitchen window when I walked across our parking lot toward the doorway of my building. I gasped the first time I saw it. In one instance the window was stark in comparison to the dark sky surrounding me, and then his hefty frame loomed into view and he spread apart the blind with his fingers and stared at me walking toward our building. He probably had been doing this all along, I just didn’t notice it until winter settled in. He did it almost every time I walked into the house. He did it the entire winter, and a year later, he did it nightly the following winter too.
Nine years ago when I got sober I remember asking my sponsor what I could do to feel less afraid all the time. She asked me to explain what I meant, and I told her I looked underneath my bed before falling asleep, I got scared walking to my car late at night, fearful of being attacked. She told me I’d start to trust myself and my surroundings better if I built my self esteem. She had to tell me how to do that, she explained I needed to do esteemable acts— making polite conversation with the people who rung up my groceries, my neighbors. She told me to make eye contact with people. Pay my bills on time. She told me if I was self supporting, my trust would deepen and so would my inner peace. I tried what she said and it worked. It still does.
Over the last several months, something inside me has shifted and Alan no longer freaks me out. I started being friendly to him— I truly have no idea why— and whatever tension there was between us lifted. I stayed inside for almost a year of the pandemic, like most people did, and the isolation kicked up a lot of fear. I got tired of it, and have been making a concerted effort to get back outside, look people in the eye, and build esteem again.
I didn’t ever truly think Alan was going to hurt me, or come after me, but I trusted that voice in my head that said to stay away from him. It was the same skin hardening I felt when the guy walked into the bank. I trust that feeling when my body tells me to stay away from someone.
Thanks for reading this month. This post was hard for me to write. I intend to continue my summer months reading some lighter novels while I am on vacation. See you next month.
The June playlist is all songs inspired by the year Remember Me was published: 1989.