Memoir & Life Stories

Obsessive Attention

It was late and the darkness in my apartment was heavy but not quiet. There was always some kind of noise in the hallway, sometimes it was like living in a hotel with those all hours voices and traffic in the halls. That was why when I first heard the noise I wasn’t sure if I was hearing correctly, but my body stiffened and ice ran through my veins. My breath came in ragged grasping sounds, harsh in my ears as I strained to listen.

I heard it clearly, the unmistakable sound of my front door being jiggled, the handle shook and the chain rattled. Someone was trying to get in. I had no escape route given that I was twenty floors up. I bolted out of bed and opened the front of the dog crate. The black fur on the back of her neck was up and a low warning growl was humming from her throat. When I opened the crate she bolted out past me and down the dark hall her nails clicked and her paws slid as she scrambled to get her footing to get to the door faster. Her low growl had turned into a deep rumble that preceded a fierce protective barking.

Her body slammed into the door. The attack on the door had become louder and faster as I flew out of bed to get my dog. It now went silent. I let her bark for a few more minutes before hushing her. There was nothing to see in the peephole. The hall had gone completely silent, no sounds of movement or talking. I dropped to the floor and wrapped my trembling arms around the thick black and brown neck. She stood still, I could feel the faint vibration that still ran through her. I breathed deep smelling that doggy smell and it filled my nose and calmed me. She wasn’t a big dog, a medium size Rottweiler Shepherd mix. She was extremely protective. Her bark made her sound bigger then she was and at the moment I couldn’t have been more thankful for her companionship.

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Feeling a bit better, I rose and peeked out the peephole one more time. Still seeing nothing I slowly walked back down the hall and flipped on the living room light to find the phone. I dialled the building security. I spoke with a woman who asked questions and seemed to be taking notes by the sounds of short soft clicks in the background and the pauses that followed my answers. That was supposed to be it from what I understood.

I turned out the lights and only a soft filtered light cast a dim haze through the living room, the same light hung in my bedroom. I crawled into bed and the dog followed me. She stretched out beside me with her big head on my pillow. Her ears stayed slight pricked, listening. She was no longer agitated though, and I started to doze off with the comforting feel of her body beside me.

A short time later there was a knock on my door. I crept down the hall, I peeked out the peephole and saw a security guard. I moved down the hall and loosely secured my dog in the crate. I slowly opened the door to him. He was an older man, mid-fifties. He was plump, and he walked with an exaggerated sense of importance. I felt instantly uncomfortable, but I also felt guilty because this man was supposed to help me. He brushed past me into my apartment and down the hall uninvited, my sense of discomfort heightened. The dog started to growl low in her throat. I couldn’t see the security guard at that time and I wasn’t really sure what to do. Was this normal?

I closed the door but left it unlocked. There was nobody else in the hall when I looked out. I cautiously made my way down the hall to the living room. He was standing on the far side of the room, the dog was now between us and I moved close to her crate gently resting my hand near the top latch. One pull and she’d be out and on him; I hadn’t pushed the bottom lock down thankfully. She clearly didn’t like the man which did nothing to alleviate my own growing feeling of disturbance.

He didn’t seem interested in what I was telling him, he had no interest at all that somebody had tried to gain entry to my apartment. He wanted to know if I lived alone, it seemed a fair question on one hand but I was also uncomfortable to provide an answer. I hadn’t moved from the side of the crate. He was now leaning comfortably against the wall, and telling me about his workout routine. He seemed to have a mighty high opinion of his abilities, abilities I didn’t care about in the least. I was trying to think of a polite way to ask him to leave without lighting a fuse that I estimated was just beneath the surface. It was apparent that this security guard had a strange sense of what was appropriate or within his scope of duties.

Before I finished working through what to say to get him out I became aware that his tone of voice had changed. I hadn’t been listening, just nodding absently while thinking. There was a pause; he was waiting for something. “It’s late, thank you for coming up. I’m good here now.” I said looking at him.

It was like I hadn’t spoken. He made no move to leave and didn’t acknowledge what I had said. He was staring at me in manner that made me aware I was in track pants and a t-shirt with no under garments. There was of course no way he could know that I had no under garments on, but his eyes seemed to be assessing me and drawing uncomfortable conclusions. I pulled up a little on the pin holding the crate, it was barely holding her in now. She was still on edge, hackles up, teeth showing and emitting a low guttural sound. I kept thinking it is one thing knowing how to defend yourself, but it is an entirely different one when being forced to do it.

I felt my eyes go wide involuntarily, and I purposely took a step back. All his build-up about taking care of himself and his body suddenly made sense. “I need a date to my nieces wedding in a few weeks,” he said and went on to describe her in details I missed completely because I was so focused on the cold knot of fear lodged in the pit of my stomach. How do I get him out of here, and out now without causing his clearly fragile grasp on reality to shatter completely and take me out with it? That was the big question, will I go with him?

I couldn’t believe what was happening. First I was awakened to someone trying to get in my apartment for who knew what reason. I was left shaking and terrified from it. Next the security guard who was supposed to keep the building safe and provide some measure of security was standing in my apartment and wouldn’t leave. At thirty plus years my senior he was taking advantage of my current vulnerability. I could feel anger and fear alternately rise and fall in me like the tide of the sea.

I just wanted him out. I heard my voice come out from some distant place, and I hoped he couldn’t hear the tremble, “oh I don’t know with school and stuff I’m pretty busy.” Again it didn’t faze him. Was this horror ever going to end? He was droning on again about how good of a time it would be, how much his family would like me, and his niece would love me. He stopped and waited. He thought that those statements must have surely changed my mind.

The knot in my stomach was radiating waves of sickness up my throat, I was barely holding myself together. His eyes kept shifting from me to the crate, the only thing between us, and I wasn’t stupid enough to let that change. He outweighed me by probably one hundred and fifty pounds, and it was clear his intent wasn’t grandfatherly. “Yeah, that sounds great but I usually have too much homework for going out on the weekends.” It wasn’t a complete lie, and I thought it had come out convincingly, but he was moving forward now, talking about how his family would like me. His eyes had an eerie glow and I was suddenly very aware of the absence of light in the room around us. The cage burst open at this point, my dog had been pushing up against it voicing her displeasure and it had given way. I just managed to grab her collar as she lunged at him.

That seemed to get his attention, and whatever fog had slid down over his persona snapped and he stopped advancing on me. His tone changed from the sickly smooth purr to a gruff authoritative voice, “okay,” he said. “I’ll get going, and I’ll check in on you in a few days when I am working again.” I backed up pulling the dog with me, she was straining to get at him. Her jaws snapped a bit while she snarled in his direction. I had to back into the bedroom doorway with her in order to give him room to get by. There was no way I was putting her back in the crate with him there and there was no way he was getting anywhere near me with her between us.

He hurried down the hall without a backward glance and closed the door. I let her go and she bounded down the hall, I followed and locked it as fast as I could. I stole a glance out the peephole but he was gone.

A few nights later, late in the night there was a knock on my door. I went cold, I wasn’t expecting anybody and anyone that would visit lived two hours away which meant they wouldn’t just show up unexpected. The knock came again, I didn’t move. I kept the dog beside me and waited. When the noise didn’t come again, the dog and I made our way quietly down the hall. I peeked of the peephole thinking how wonderful that little invention was, he was out there, the security guard. I backed away and started to

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tremble. This couldn’t be happening. He didn’t knock again, and the next time I looked he was gone.

The next day my phone rang, not thinking anything I answered it. The voice seeping through the line was familiar, and I was shocked to hear it. “Your home,” the security guard said. “I tried coming to see you yesterday but you weren’t home! I got your number from the records here and thought I’d call first this time.” He was talking to me like we were the best of friends and it was natural for him to show up at my house in the middle of the night, and then call me after using his job to access my number.

“I’m just on my way out.” I lied.

“Where were you yesterday?” He demanded with a tone of voice that suggested it was his right to know.

“My parent’s place.” I lied again. “Listen I really have to go. Bye.” I hung up.

A few hours later there was a knock on my door. It was him. I didn’t answer. Later that night my phone rang. I didn’t answer. I had taken to using the stairs up and down twenty flights when I needed to take the dog out, that way we could slip through the side door and avoid the front office. If there was any possibility that he was going to be in there I didn’t want to be anywhere near it.

I called my mom later that night after I had seen him again, he had been getting into the elevator when I thought it might be safe to use the front door and the elevator with the dog. Twenty flights of stairs was a bit time consuming and I had an essay to finish. I ended up taking the stairs and peeking inconspicuously around the stairwell door before entering the hall. Seeing it empty I ran for my door, unlocked it and dived in. The other thing that was really bothering me was that in the year I had lived in the building I had never seen any security. The office which was empty and dark until my unfortunate decision to contact building security the night someone tried to break in.

Mom wanted me to call the police but I didn’t want to make things worse for myself by making him angry. I was on pins and needles when there was a knock on my door later, but when I peeked out there was two uniformed police officers. They were men and I was slightly uncomfortable opening the door to them given how things went after opening the door to the security guard. However, I marked that as irrational and opened the door. It seemed mom had been alarmed enough to call the police for me. They took my complaint seriously and advised me that they would speak to the security guard and tell him to stop contacting me. I was supposed to follow-up with them if I had any further trouble.

Things went quiet after that for a week or so. I didn’t even see him around the building, and I wondered briefly if he had been fired. I was starting to feel a little relaxed. It never occurred to me that I might run into him somewhere else.

My apartment was literally down the street from my school and I walked most days, and sometimes I caught the bus to avoid the hike across campus alone. Anyway, I was walking down the crowded hall, it was loud with student voices. There was a small break in the crowd of people and I saw him. He was walking toward me in a small crowd of students who were completely oblivious. My heart rate accelerated and my mouth went dry.

It didn’t look like he had seen me, so I turned abruptly into the crowd that had been flowing with me and I forced against the current. It was easy to disappear into the sea of bodies. I glanced back but didn’t notice any commotion in the crowd. I dashed around a corner and speed up to put distance between us. I made my way to the front of the school and home. I didn’t go to the rest of my classes.

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I raced into my apartment grabbed a bag and my dog. I fled down the elevator and across the parking lot to my car. I left city as fast as I could. I wasn’t able to breathe until the city disappeared and I was on gravel roads leading to my mom’s house.

I gave my notice at the apartment and moved home within a week. The commute would be killer but there was potential for danger if I stayed where I was anyway. I never saw the security guard at the school again but I was always on high alert for him. However, the ants scurrying around an ant hill feel of the school had a wondrous effect for remaining hidden and anonymous.

By Shari Marshall – 2019


**Some names and identifying details have been changed or omitted to protect the privacy of individual(s). **

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