An Open Letter to Patrons of the Kingwood Public Library

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There is a man who stares at people at our library. He’s middle-aged, white, wears a baseball cap, looks relatively “normal” around here. Until you realize he has been staring at you from five feet away—from behind a book he pretends to read—for the past hour. Until you get up and move to the other side of the library, only to look up thirty seconds later and there he is again. He followed you. Until you approach the librarians to alert them of the situation and they know exactly who you are talking about—he does this all the time, they say, there isn’t much they can do about it.

As a graduate student, I spend a lot of time at the library. I grew up in Kingwood and have chosen to live here again as an adult. I believe that the Kingwood Library is one of the most wonderful assets of our community. I love studying at the large tables upstairs in front of those big windows with nothing but swaying trees outside, between a shelf of well-read copies of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and a giant wall-hanging quilt depicting images of bluebonnets, oil rigs, and footballs—representations of what makes this community home for us.

This library should be a safe haven in our community, but for me—and many other women I fear—this is no longer the case. Today, I cannot enter the doors of this library without a raised heartbeat and a fear-bred compulsion to constantly scan my surroundings and check behind my back. I wish I was exaggerating, but I’m not.

My first encounter with the staring man was in December of last year. Like I said, at first I couldn’t figure out whether or not he was staring at me from behind those books he kept picking up and re-shelving, but he definitely was. He doesn’t do anything besides stare from beneath a tilted baseball cap—that I’ve seen—but it doesn’t matter. As a woman, this behavior makes me feel violated and afraid.

Earlier this month, I was studying at my favorite table when a flustered young woman approached the table, threw her backpack down, and asked if I could watch her stuff while she went to the bathroom. As she walked away, she stealthily slipped a folded up piece of paper scribbled with the message “read me” into my hands and rushed off.

I unfolded the paper to find a letter. Its multiple paragraphs explained how there was a man—the same staring man—a few feet behind me. He had been staring at her all morning, and for many mornings in the past few months.

“I am a medical student,” she wrote, “I don’t know what to do.” She went on to explain that she even found him staring at her at the nearby Starbucks before—the one in the Randall’s shopping center. She believed he was searching for someone to stalk. She had spoken to other female patrons at the library and discovered that they knew exactly the man she was talking about. She, too, had spoken to the librarians and been told there was little they could do.

When this young woman returned to my table, she sat down across from me. We silently exchanged phone numbers and began i-messaging on our computers. As soon as the man realized that the two of us were communicating, he walked away.

“My entire body is shaking,” she confessed, before packing up her things to go.

“All he does is stare, but it messes with your head. I feel violated.” She left, with plans to file a police report.

Since these encounters, my plan has been—the next time it happens—to confront this staring man and tell him to stop staring at me. My opportunity came last week. He was in the library, pacing around, pretending to read books.

“Maybe he won’t target me today,” I thought, keeping a close eye on him, my heart racing.

After about an hour, all of the patrons around me had disappeared one by one. When the last one departed, there he was—within a minute—staring at me. After hiding behind a shelf for a few moments and then perching at a nearby sitting area, he came over and sat at the next table right across from me to stare. Instantly, adrenaline began coursing through my veins and my body shook uncontrollably.

It felt unsafe to carry out my plan of confrontation. We were in a far corner of the library—no one else was around, he’d made sure of that—and I was terrified of what might happen.

It was fight or flight, and flight won again. I threw my stuff into my backpack and stormed out—past bright-faced teenagers, young mothers, picture book-toting boys, and hair-bowed little girls.

This is not ok.

If you have further information about this situation, please comment below and/or contact the Kingwood, Texas (Greater Houston Area) Police Department.