Apache Mall, Rochester, MN. 6/14/20. 12:05 pm.
My 5-year-old son and I went into the mall today to grab a few things. (I only go to the mall if I have to; I am NOT a leisure shopper!) As we were walking in, I noticed an older gentleman walk in as well. He was solo, wearing dark glasses – this was the only thing I took note of at the time.
We made our way from the Applebee’s entrance to where Santa usually sits, just a couple hundred yards from the entrance we came in. My son found some mini rides he wanted to play on, so I let him play for a little bit and we finally ventured clear across the mall to the Buckle.
As we were walking, I noticed that the man who walked in behind us was going the same way we were. Hm, he’s still around? Again, I didn’t think too much of it, but my instincts did start to kick in. “Be aware,” they were saying. That’s the gift of fear: heightening a person’s senses.
I noticed the man nod from a distance to another man that was standing outside of a store across from the Buckle. My son and I went into the store and wandered around for a bit. When we came out, the same man was outside of the store facing towards us, looking at his phone. I took note of his hot pink shirt and dark jacket. He appeared to be 50 (or so) years-old, darker skin, maybe Hispanic. He was bald and heavy-set, and his jeans were too big. And he was alone. Hanging out at the mall, not going into stores, in the middle of the day.
I thought it was odd, but we carried on and went into another store nearby. When we came out, he was right outside of that store too, this time appearing to be talking on his phone. As we continued to walk, the man followed.
That was enough. It was obvious at this point that we were being followed. I took my son by the hand and led him into Maurice’s where a lady asked me if she could help me with something and I calmly asked her to call security. She went to the register and called security. She asked if I wanted to talk to them and I said, “No," and she asked if I wanted them to come to the store and I said, "Yes."
After she got off the phone, I peeked over my shoulder and saw him standing at a booth outside the store. I told the lady a man had been following us. She said that she saw him too and that he was staring into the store. I asked her to look at him and get a description; I was afraid to turn around. She instead took her phone and discretely went to the front of the store and took a picture of him. When security got there, I explained the situation and asked if he could walk my son and I to my truck. As we exited the store, I noticed the man book-it towards the Food Court, likely heading towards an exit. I couldn't get a glimpse of him as the security guard and I went towards the direction of my truck.
The security guard had seen the man standing outside of the store when he walked in. He politely walked my son and I out to my truck and when I got in, I broke down. I cried, and I cried, and I cried. I called my ex-husband 3 times with no luck, so I called my mom and said, “Mom… I just need to talk to someone,” and then I became nearly inconsolable with my son strapped in his booster-seat in the back seat. He didn't ask questions.
I didn’t have my pocketknife on me; I didn’t have my gun in my purse today, I didn’t have the safety measures I usually have when going in public. It was just my little man and I… and once again, I was put in a situation where I needed to protect our lives. But because of the first situation from 2018, my instincts are on high-alert and I trust nearly no one (mostly men, sorry). I made sure that no one was following us as we headed towards home. It is one thing to mess with me, but when my little man is involved... the situation is brought to a whole new level. A whole new anger. A whole new rage.
Looking back at the situation, I wish I had called the Rochester police while the cashier was calling security. I told the security guard that the Maurice’s staff got a picture of the man.
I posted this story on Facebook because all I wanted to do was raise awareness. Within the first 24 hours it was shared over 1,000 times. And by day 5, it was shared just over 1,400 times. I’m glad I raised awareness.
In sharing this story, I learned that a man with this exact description was spotted in Stewartville, MN supposedly trying to take a young girl from her mom when they were on a walk around town. Both this lady and I made a police report. Also in sharing this story, the lady from Maurice’s got in touch with me and shared my post saying that I did the right thing and she was glad to have helped me (it was absolutely touching). She followed up and said that the security guard went back to the store, got a report, and got the pictures. He was supposedly speechless. He did file a police report as well. I’m glad the authorities have his photos, and the lady from Maurice’s shared them with me as well. I was afraid to share them on Facebook in case someone that was affiliated with the man were to come after me. I had women reach out to me and say they were praying for me, one even asked for advice on a good gun for women. Another lady reached out and said that she was in the store at the time of the incident and the cashiers told her not to leave the store with her daughter until the man was for sure gone.
I wish I could tell you this is my first encounter with something scary, unwanted, and something happening without consent. But it’s not (as you, blog readers, know from my previous posts). Hell, just last week on Sunday I ran out to Menards quick to grab something and the cashier says, “Wow! Look at you! You’re even cute with a mask on!” …and on and on and on, and he was nearly twice my age. The next day at work, a patient said something along those same lines... and on and on. I just wanted to go to the mall and feel safe with my son. I just wanted to go to Menards. I just wanted to do my job.
Why is the world so quick to objectify – why is it so easy? Why are men so quick to objectify me? Why was the man in the mall so quick to objectify my son? And in this stupid Facebook post (that I am now sharing on my blog), I can’t even explain the epicenter of my anger (yet), the biggest situation that has happened in my life with my son that has forever changed our worlds. My anger is so full inside my body that it’s seeping through my skin in the form of tattoos and it’s seeping out of my body in energy I’m putting towards advocacy.
You know what I say to people when people talk to me about it? I say, “I hate people.” It’s the first thing that slips out of my mouth. It’s such a hateful thing to say, but I think I’ve been given enough reason to say it without thinking it through first. I step back and remind myself, except for my work family, my blood family, and my non-blood family.
I gave a speech recently and part of it says:
Sometimes I feel like the way things are handled (regarding sexual assault and harassment) is like having a blind person teach someone how to see color. While the blind person can say the right words they are taught to say about the colors, they truly don’t understand. As a person who has experienced so much (sexual assault/harassment) – I have seen all the colors, I have felt the colors, and I can explain the colors. And now, I need to stand up for what I believe in. Because if I don’t, then who am I? What is the point of me?
So here I am, spreading awareness. As Thomas Rett says, “In a world full of hate, be a light.”
Shine on, friends. Hug your kiddos.