One time, when I was... gosh, I don't know. 11? 12? Not quite a teenager yet.
Anyway, one time when I was still a kid, I went with my family to an electronics store. I don't remember what we were going there for (and chances were that I didn't care then, either) – my brother and I just wanted to play the video game demos they always had on display.
Since we all had different reasons for coming, and since the store was relatively small, we split up and went in our own directions; Mom and Dad to whatever it is they were looking for, and my brother and I toward the video games and movies.
For some reason, I wound up not going near the demos – maybe they were already being played by someone else, or maybe they were games I just didn't care about? I don't remember. Either way, I was just browsing through the used games section, hoping for a good deal on a rare gem. I don't know where my brother was. He might have been at the demos, or maybe he was looking through a different isle? Idk.
After a while, a guy came to stand next to me. Kind of gangly, a little short for a guy, but still taller than me. He was older, too – I'd have pegged him as maybe a Junior in high school. Being shy and socially awkward, I made as if I hadn't realized he was there, trying to casually shift away from the shelf so he could see the selection easier.
Instead of checking out the games, he ducked his head to see my face, unsubtly catching my eye with his own. I was a little startled, but smiled at him returned his “hi”.
For a moment he stood there, silent, grinning (leering), before he held his hand out to me without a word. (He never once mentioned his name, not during the entire encounter.) I was, again, surprised, and a little anxious, but not really that bothered. He was just being friendly! So I took his hand, expecting a handshake.
He squeezed my hand, hard. It hurt. It hurt really bad, enough to make me shout in surprise and pain and try to yank my hand away without thinking.
He wouldn't let go, at first. He just stood there, watching me try to pull away, still grinning and not saying anything. I started to get a little scared, and kept trying to yank my hand away, saying “let go, let go” quietly. (Because we were in a store, and I didn't want to cause a commotion, naturally.)
Eventually, he let me go. I stumbled backward, and he laughed and grinned again. The corners of my lips wavered, automatically trying to return his smile, because when a stranger smiles at you you're supposed to smile back. But I stopped myself. He hurt me. He hurt me on purpose, and laughed about it.
I glared, muttering “bye”, and left without waiting for a response.
Heart still pounding, I walked around for a little bit, before grabbing a guidebook for a horror game (Silent Hill 4, maybe? That'd make me 13 at the time...), and flipped through it. I tried to avoid thinking about that guy, though I was still really angry with him. Seriously, what an asshole! What the hell was even his deal--
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him again.
He was just standing there, watching me, still fucking grinning.
The layout of the store has the games and stuff all in the back, but the actual games and the guidebooks are on opposite sides of the room. Had he followed me?
I put the book back, and left.
I saw him several more times while I was there. In the music section, the DVD section, the home appliance section. Watching me and grinning. I told him at one point to stop following me, and he laughed again and said “ok”, but he didn't stop. I kept seeing him.
It eventually got to be too much. I was scared, even though I didn't have any concrete idea of what this guy might want or was planning on doing. It was more of an in-the-moment sort of terror, instead of anything based on consequences...? I can't really explain it.
Anyway, I went looking for my parents. I can't remember if I picked up my little brother or if he was already with them, but they were all together, and I said, “I want to go. I want to go home. I don't want to be here anymore.”
Mom was obviously puzzled by my behavior (by then I was really jittery and scared and I kept looking around for that guy), but not enough to ask about it I guess, because they just said, “We were getting ready to leave anyway, we found what we came for.”
In the car, I'd considered talking about what had happened, but I decided, no. I didn't want to. I didn't want to think about it anymore.
I didn't go back into that store for years and years, even if it meant staying home or in the car by myself.
But you wanna know what the scariest part was?
After a few months, I told my mom about what happened. I told her about how he leered, how he hurt my hand and laughed, how he followed me throughout the whole store, even when I asked him to stop. How he hardly said anything while he was doing this stuff.
You know what she said?
She smiled brightly, and cooed, “Aww, he LIKED you!”
I was shocked into silence. After a moment, I tried to clarify, no, that's not what I wanted you to get out of this, I wanted confirmation that being upset about being stalked throughout the store was a totally legitimate reaction and that the guy was an asshole.
She frowned, and said, “You were probably just overreacting. He was probably just being friendly.”
It had been months, but her saying that, even after I'd mentioned several times how scared he made me... somehow, that was almost as scary as the incident itself.