To Chester, or Karen Confronts Her Childhood Stalker (Sort of)

by Karen Gsteiger

editor's note: Oh God, I'm probably going to regret posting this, but whatever.

"He called again."


"Don't you remember when you were little, and I'd get all those phone calls from that creep who would say things like, 'Karen looks so pretty walking home from St. Mary's...'"



"How can you not remember that? Don't you remember? I called the school, and I was walking you there and back every day..."

I vaguely remember a time when Mom escorted me to St. Mary's, even though we only lived a block away, but I don't remember being particularly disturbed.

"I thought you were being nice," I told her.

I'm not sure when exactly these incidents are supposed to have taken place, but there's nothing in my memory that would differentiate this tense period from any of the other long and dreary school days from approximately third to sixth grade. These memories just kind of bleed together into a jumble of busywork, a fear of nuns, rounds of Chinese jump rope, and malicious teasing from my peers. I don't remember any special "stranger danger" lectures from my mother or school officials, beyond the obligatory discussion mandated by the premiere of the TV movie Adam. I don't remember being interviewed by any world-weary but kindly detectives, but I'm just going to assume that Griffith's finest were on top of it. My mother had an amazing talent for giving me a happy childhood in the midst of chaos and despair. And after all, this isn't the first time that I've let myself forget something memorable.

I was on the phone with my brother one time, and he informed me that one day while my father was dying, Mom had to pick me up from kindergarten because I was totally freaking out. I have absolutely no memory of this--I can picture what it must have looked like, me sitting defeated in The Office and staring at a cheap-looking yellowish green carpet, my mom holding my right hand as we crossed Elm Avenue in silence--but when I attempt a true recall, I see the words "Access Denied" flashing in front of my eyes, and damned if I didn't forget my high security clearance password.

I'm a little disturbed, however, at my brain's tendency to lock away certain unpleasant memories. My family will remind me of these events, and I listen dumbfounded with my mouth hanging slightly open. "Really? I did that?" A good portion of those most critical and devastating years are now a clean, blank slate. I'm sure that must be true for most people--I was very young at the time, and everything was only just above my head. But it's weird to me that I can vividly recall the time when my teacher, the angelic Miss Mary, brought in an inflatable "Mr. M," who happens to have a munching mouth, and playing us the accompanying theme song in class or how I just couldn't wait to show Gina, my kindergarten idol, that my mom had bought me the exact same blue iridescent Nike shoes that she had. All of these memories are easily within my grasp, yet I have absolutely no memory of the afternoon when I wigged out to such a severe degree in school that they sent me home. [Note: It is extremely difficult to arrange to have oneself sent home from a Catholic elementary school. Severed limbs would most likely be treated with a peppermint at the nurse's office.]

It makes me wonder what else I've hidden away from myself.

Anyway, getting back to my personal Chester the Molester, I'm never quite sure who was meant to be the victim of this man's perverted telemarketing campaign--me or my mom. The whole reason the topic even came up some twenty years later was that Mom apparently had another conversation with my stalker. I'm sure that after a few minutes of his dirty-old-man routine, she unceremoniously hung up on him. (The woman has embraced DVD players and Foreman Grills, but she doesn't have call waiting, let alone caller ID.) And beyond the unsettling conversation recreated above, she hasn't brought it up since.

Well, at least he's not ageist.

I could find out more, but I think I'll wait for Mom to initiate that discussion. I'm in no hurry to hear any more gory details. I figure that my brain has done such an admirable job of protecting me all these years from the memories of feeling terrorized and hunted and unsafe that it would be sort of a betrayal to not just let some things go. It feels weird to be championing repression, but it allows me to nonchalantly walk home alone at night from the El station, to pick up the telephone without a sense of dread, to take a walk in my old neighborhood without feeling watched.

* * *

Well, there was that one phone call. I must have been seven or eight, maybe. I remember just very randomly picking up the phone one day after school as I waited for my next-door neighbor, best friend, and first innocent childhood love, Mitch, to come over to play. I heard a voice that seemed to be neither male nor female--somewhat high-pitched and quivering. This person explained that he/she/it worked for St. Mary's. Apparently, we were all to be marching in a parade, and for some implausible reason, we had to wear special underwear, which required some extremely detailed measurements that had to be taken over the phone. "Are you doing it?" the caller asked urgently. "Yeah," I lied, bored, waiting for the caller to get to the point. Mitch came over then, and I handed the phone to him. He went to St. Mary's too, and perhaps he needed this information. He seemed a little upset and hung up the phone. He was two years older than me, and he gently explained to me that I was never supposed to talk to people like that.

Did I ever encounter him/her/it again? I truly do not think so. Or is that just my brain saying "Access Denied"?

* * *

You probably picked me because I was so small, right? Maybe you saw me walking home from school some time with my head down, my feet shuffling slowly on the ground. Maybe you saw me riding my bike down the block, using my training wheels much longer than most kids. Maybe you thought you could keep me that way forever. Maybe you're hoping that I am still awkward and naive and easily embarrassed, and that's why you thought you'd check up on me.

So you want to know how I'm doing these days? Fabulous. Just fabulous. No matter who you are or what you may have tried to do to me, you never got to me. I have no fear of the world or of men or of you. I have no real memory of you, and you have no power over me. My junior prom debacle had a more lasting effect on me than you.

What I want to know is, how are you, really? You have clearly never gone anywhere or done anything with your life if you're still keeping an eye out for me in Griffith. Are you still watching me, you fucking sad-sack loser? You tempted to pick up the phone? Tempted to catch up with me in person? You may have noticed the strapping young man who accompanies me on visits home. As an enforcer of the law, he has been issued an interesting array of deadly weapons, but I'm the one you should be worried about. I am a tightly coiled viper, and to be honest, I cannot be responsible for the withering laughter that I would emit were I to actually see you face to face.

And when I am rich and famous enough to own Central Park in Griffith, I'm going to raise neon letters twenty feet off the ground in the Little League baseball fields that will glow in Miami Vice pastels every night of the year except for Christmas, and they will read, GO FUCK YOURSELF, CHESTER.

There's one thing that you never understood about me. I was small, and I had a fragile innocence about me, but I was never, ever weak.