Heartbreak

How Netflix's 'I Am A Stalker' Helped Me Come To Terms With Years Of Being Cyberbullied

Photo: Netflix
I Am A Stalker Image from Netflix

I started calling her Bunny Boiler, named after the Glenn Close character in the '80s movie Fatal Attraction who boiled her ex-lover's pet.

For years, my personal Bunny Boiler sent me harassing messages, mostly through my personal website and blog. The two of us had been friends of friends — not romantically linked —which made her determination somehow less threatening yet also more terrifying: What was motivating her to cyberbully me?

"You’re such a boring c***," she commented once in the early days of her cyberbullying, masking her identity with the username "Dexter Morgan," an unsettling reference to the TV show serial killer.

"Look, a whale! Oh wait, that’s just your fat a**," she wrote another time.

My cyberbully was nothing if not persistent, and over the years, her comments increased in frequency and cruelty.

She also stopped trying to hide her identity. Her comments got so threatening and pointed that I eventually took my website down, exhausted. It didn’t help that behind the scenes, I was simultaneously going through a protracted family crisis, running on emotional fumes after a loved one started repeatedly hurting herself. 

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It’s been a few years since I last heard from Bunny Boiler, thankfully.

I had even–blessedly–put her out of my mind until I binge-watched the new Netflix series I Am a Stalker.

In each episode, both the victim and the perpetrator recount their version of what happened, revealing the fascinating and infuriating mental juxtapositions between the criminally obsessed and the perpetually harassed. I found myself relating to the victims, even though their stories were far more extreme than what I ever experienced.

By the end of the series, I realized I had every right to feel abused by Bunny Boiler, because she was relentless, unpredictable, and cruel: all hallmarks of a stalker.

The show also taught me another important lesson: My years of trying to understand the why of it all were largely futile: Stalkers and the similarly obsessed aren’t driven by logic and reality, but instead by outsized, volatile emotions. 

Why me? Bunny Boiler and I had never known each other very well. I first met her when she moved in with my husband’s good college friend Simone.* Initially, it seemed like a good match. Bunny Boiler loved to go out, and Simone often joined her, amazed at her new roommate’s ability to strike up conversations with strangers.

But it soon became obvious that despite these fun nights out, Bunny Boiler was volatile and easily provoked. If Simone tried to talk to her about something apartment-related, such as a cleaning schedule, it inevitably led to a one-sided shouting match, and later, brooding and pouting.

Simone could count on a long, rambling, scathing email arriving after they had a fight. It got to the point that Simone was afraid to say anything, so she started picking up after Bunny Boiler, her very own twenty-something spoiled child. 

Ultimately, Simone asked her to move out. She was nice about it. I was at the apartment the day Bunny Boiler left, and I suspect this might have been the day that she began to hate me. When I arrived and said hello to her, I was unable to hide my relief that she was getting kicked out. She shot me a venomous look as she stuffed clothes into a black garbage bag. 

I think she decided right then and there that I was the person who separated her from her friends.

And, in a way, she wasn’t wrong: After Bunny Boiler got in a loud, drunken fight with a boyfriend at their apartment, Simone once asked for my advice. I bluntly told her I thought Bunny Boiler was bad news. Pretty quickly, everyone in our friend group agreed.

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A couple of years passed by before we heard much from her. Then one day I logged onto my blog and noticed a comment waiting for me. "Did you seriously take a picture of your lunch?" The username "Mad Dog" wasn’t familiar.

That’s hostile, I thought, assuming Mad Dog was just some stranger being snarky. My blog was generally a pleasant place to hang out, as it documented my travels across New York and Mexico. 

A day later, another comment appeared (on a post about buying flowers): "Dude. Are you 50?" 

On the next post of mine: "I don’t want to live in a world where this s*** is interesting." And so on.

"You need to get out more." "You’re a fat cow." "Nice job finding tortillas, you dumb b****!" 

The comments were bland and stupid enough to be from anybody, and I ignored them at first.

But after a while, "Mad Dog" got tired of being anonymous. On a blog post of mine mentioning my friend Simone, the commenter used Simone’s real email address.

I looked up the commenter’s IP address (she sometimes used IP maskers and sometimes forgot) and it showed an apartment building in Bunny Boiler’s neighborhood. Of course, I realized: It was her! I let Simone know. I also started saving all her messages, figuring that if she hurt me someday it would help the police figure out who did it. 

My unease was amplified by another discovery, too. Through some internet stalking of our own, we discovered Bunny Boiler also had a habit of replying to strangers who had left comments on news articles. She’d even used her real name a time or two. One of her favorite things to say? "Your mother should have aborted you."

That's when it hit me: She was a loose cannon, and I was one of her favorite targets. 

For a while, I thought this would be it: endless boring insults. But then she escalated, finally hitting me where it really hurt: "You think you’re so cool. I’d off myself if I were you," she wrote one day. 

As coincidence would have it, weeks before, a close family member of mine had attempted suicide.

I was devastated, feeling helpless and full of a type of strange dread I had never experienced before, but would later recognize as post-traumatic stress disorder. On top of that, I now had a stalker psychopath who was telling me to kill myself. 

For each "why don’t you just kill yourself" suggestion, she used names like YourWorstNightmare and Cersei Lannister, but eventually started using her own email address, not even bothering to mask her identity, apparently unafraid of the repercussions if I chose to let her employer or family know what she was doing.

(Interestingly, she never outright told me to kill myself or threatened to kill me, always framing it as "if I were you, I’d kill myself." I wondered if this was intentional, some trick for skirting the harassment laws.) 

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Sleepless and depressed, I grew paranoid: Was it just a coincidence that she was alluding to suicide in her comments, or did she know what I was going through with my loved one?

I don’t think she knew — maybe it was just a stalker’s "lucky" coincidence — but now I battled with feelings of revenge.

I found myself wanting to hurt her as much as she hurt me, struggling with my own sense of victimization. I had long discussions with friends, some of whom knew her, about what to do. As unsatisfying as it was, we agreed it was better not to "feed the troll." 

My modus operandi became to ignore her, although I dreamed up dozens of vengeful responses in my head, wondering how I’d react if I ran into her. By that point, we were living in the same borough in New York, and it was entirely a possibility that we’d end up face-to-face somewhere. 

Starving my troll didn’t really make her stop, at least not right away. She kept it up for eight years.

Fortunately, it’s been a few years since she last harassed me, partly because I provided her with less fodder.

My loved one’s situation continued to decline, and it felt fake to blog about the happy things I once shared while hiding and minimizing the intense trauma that I wasn’t ready to share with the world yet.

I also gradually stopped blogging because I couldn’t bear to put up with Bunny Boiler anymore. The final straw: When I announced my daughter’s birth with a cute photo, her trolling comment was “oink.” Nope. Done. I took down years of content, hundreds of blog posts, and memories. It was all I had as a solution.

On I Am a Stalker, we get to see the victims reclaim their power, and it’s inspiring how strong they can be in the face of torment.

But before they could begin to heal (and many admitted they may never get over it or feel safe), they had to accept what happened to them.

For so long, I didn’t want to consider myself a "victim." I didn’t want to acknowledge the power she had over me, didn’t want her to feel proud of victimizing me.

But indeed, I’ve since learned, I need to accept that I was harassed, menaced, stalked, whatever you want to call it. I needed to stop looking at victim status as a place of less power, but the opposite, one who is acknowledging the suffering and doing something about it. 

For too long, to keep from dwelling on the suffering, I kept telling myself a version of "sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me." But that’s a lie. Words did hurt me. 

And that’s my message for anyone who relates: Don’t discount your trauma, because it’s real and it’s awful, even if it all lives somewhere in cyberspace, even if the person gets physical. It’s traumatizing, it’s abusive, and it’s not right. Don’t let anyone tell you any differently: Words are weapons, too. 

*Name has been changed.

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J. Victory is a writer who writes on stalking, relationships, and parenting. 

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