Three years ago, I tried Tinder for the first time.
I was 25 at the time, and while most 25-year-old women have dabbled on Tinder or the like, I hadn’t been single since I was 17. I met my ex while I was in high school, six years later we got married, had a baby, I was happy. But those last couple of years together, he had begun to resent me and the family we had created together. I fought to keep our relationship together, but the abuse became more frequent and more intense. It got to the point where I took our baby and fled the house in the middle of the night. My mind was scarred, and my heart was raw - It was a really difficult time in my life.
A couple of months after I left, I had a new home, a new job, and a renewed sense of life. I was starting to open up and could feel myself healing. I was, however, lonely. I was adjusting to shared custody and spent my weekends alone. I didn’t want to jump into a relationship, but I did want to experience some of the things my 8-year relationship hadn’t allowed me. Joining Tinder felt fun, it was new and scary, and after so much trauma, it felt nice to have so much positive attention. My self-worth was low, so the cheap compliments and instant gratification of the app felt incredible. Who am I to deserve their attention? Why would they choose to speak to me of all women? Not my healthiest coping mechanism, but I wanted to feel desirable. That’s when I met Deric. Deric was an unassuming, average guy. He was cute enough, but not so attractive that I felt self-conscious. Deric and I shared a few interests, craft beer, hiking, and he had a sense of humor that I liked. We agreed to meet up at a local restaurant, I was so nervous. On my first date in 8 years, I donned my cutest dress, got made up, and headed out.
As I waited in the restaurant my palms were sweaty, my heart was fluttering, and I began to question myself. He arrived and everything was awkward at first. We ordered our first beers and started to break the ice. As soon as the buzz of the alcohol began to hit, our conversation took off. We had relaxed in each other's company, and the rest of the date went smoothly. We joked about karaoke across town, he laughed about how he didn’t like karaoke. I am a huge fan of karaoke, while no superstar, I have spent a good amount of time in choirs and can carry a tune well enough. One of my favorite rowdy weekend activities is going to that bar and busting out some songs with the sweet taste of gin on my tongue. I convinced him to go with me, and we left the restaurant. We sang into the night, taking shots, flirting, laughing. We ended the night in his truck, clumsily fumbling with each other's buttons and zippers, hearts racing with excitement. This had been what I needed.
We texted back and forth more often, and soon, we were talking about another date. I had enjoyed our time together and liked that I didn’t feel a deep connection with him. It was fun, and that was it. Because my heart wasn’t tangled up in feelings, he felt safe. We decided for our second date that we would go tubing down a river that runs through our town. We had parked his orange truck at the end of the tubing run and took the tubes in my truck upriver. We agreed that he would zip my truck key with his into a pocket on his shorts and that he would drop me off at my truck afterward. Bright summer heat warmed our skin, and the water felt crisp and fresh on our toes.
The afternoon slipped past as we floated down the river. When we reached the bottom, we deflated our tubes and headed back to my truck. Only, when Deric reached into his pocket, his face sank. He looked at me and said, “your key is gone”. I laughed, surely he was joking. He insisted this wasn’t a joke. Gravity pulled at my stomach, and I began to panic. This was the only copy of my truck key, and I had taken it on the river. I felt foolish and worried about how I would get a new key if we couldn’t find it. The river was long, we had been tubing for hours. We’d stopped at several places to swim. He offered to drive me home, and I accepted. During the drive, we made a plan to meet up the next day to search for my key at some of the stops we had made.
We spent the next afternoon combing our swimming holes for my key. Up and down we swam, with very little hope that we would ever see my keys. We had to try though, and we kept at it. From one spot to another, we drove, we swam, and we moved on. At the very last place we checked, as the light of afternoon faded into a hazy orange, something caught his eye. Underwater, near the shore, were my keys! We were elated, and could not believe our luck. To celebrate, we went back to his place for some drinks.
He drove me down a long wooded driveway, and at the very end was a shaded trailer. He told me that he was only renting a room here from an elderly couple, but they were on vacation so we would be alone. We walked over the creaking porch and entered the trailer. Inside, I could see the kitchen was messy. Not just a couple of dishes, but every surface was covered with a mess. He ushered me away to show me his room. It was small, and not very clean either. Dirty clothes, mattress on the floor, a Rubbermaid bin with some snacks like Doritos, and cheap warm beer. We had sex, the yellowed light of the trailer accentuating the stains on the walls. Afterward, the spark of fun I had felt when we first met had withered, and I felt gross. I decided that it would be our last date.
A week passed, and we hardly texted. Our brief fling was ending, and I didn’t expect to see him again. My mind moved on to other things. The coming weekend, my friends were coming to town, and I was excited. We made plans to go to karaoke together on Saturday night. When the day arrived, I was surprised to see a text from Deric on my phone. “Are you going to karaoke tonight?”, it read. I responded that I was, and he texted back that he would be there. “I thought you didn’t like karaoke?” I asked him, and he said that he had been invited by a girl he worked with and thought he should give me a heads up that he would be with a date, in case I was there. I thanked him for taking the time to let me know, reassured him that I wouldn’t be bothered at all, and said that I hoped he had a great date!
Around 9:30 that night, my friends and I arrived at the bar. The dim lights and reflective foil stars an all too familiar scene. We got our drinks and picked a booth with a good view of the stage. I had a strange sensation like someone was watching me. I turned my head, scanning the bar, and our eyes locked. Deric and his date were a few booths away and he was watching us. He waved zealously with a big smile, his date turned around to look, and I managed an awkward wave. I was absolutely fine with him being on a date, but I didn’t want to advertise that we knew each other or make his date uncomfortable. My friends were all aware of the time we had spent together, my thoughts on the experience, and the texts he had sent me earlier. We were all thinking it was a bit odd that he would go out of his way to interact with me in front of his date, but no harm no foul, he was just being friendly.
The evening carried on, and we all had a great time. Basking in the atmosphere, drinking in the songs and laughter. A couple of hours in, we were sitting in our booth, when Deric stumbled over to our table with his date. He introduced her as Cait, and plopped down beside me, pulling her down into our booth next to him. The strong smell of alcohol oozed off of them, and I could see they were hammered. It became obvious they had both had too much to drink, their eyes glazed, and words slurred. Cait seemed nice, despite her state, and she launched into a drunk story to the whole table. My friends and I were fairly uncomfortable and were unsure what was going on. Under the table, I felt Deric’s sticky hand slide onto my thigh. His date was right there and I was stunned. Without making a scene, I subtly removed his hand and excused myself to get another drink. As I walked across the room I could feel his eyes raking my back, and sure enough, when I turned around he was watching. When I got back, Cait was slurring that her taxi had come. She and Deric exchanged a sloppy kiss and goodnights, and then it was just us and Deric.
Deric’s mood shifted after that. He was drunkenly unaware of how uncomfortable the table was, and we could tell he was brooding about his date having left without him. Deric turned his attention to me. He slung his heavy arm over my shoulder and leaned in, his sour breath managing to come together to form clumsy sentences. “You’re so cute”, “I love your laugh”. I was rigid and just wanted him to leave. When he got up to get another beer my friends and I spoke about the situation, one of them remarking, “You know you can do better than this, right?”. I said that yes, as casual as this had been, I had made a mistake. We concluded it would be best if we ended the night early, as we didn’t see him leaving me alone. As a backup plan, if anything went south, we agreed that the girls would “go to the bathroom” and leave out the back door, while our male friend would distract him and slip away.
Deric arrived back at the table, sloshing his beer onto his front. He slurred, “Where are we going next?”. I hesitated, but my friend told him that we would all be going home. Deric said he would walk us there, and we politely declined. He was leaning up against a wall and barely holding himself up at this point. We asked him how he was going to get home, and if we could call him a cab. Deric drunkenly pouted that he could just come to my place with me. Trying to shut him down as politely as I could I told him that my child was there with a sitter, so I couldn’t have him over (He didn’t need to know that wasn’t true). He refused a taxi and said he would just sleep in his truck. Since his eyelids were drooping, and looking at the rest of his state, it seemed reasonable that he would be able to fall asleep in a truck, and we accepted that answer.
As we started to leave, he stumbled after us. We stopped and reminded him that we were going to bed. He argued again that he should come with me. My friends and I locked eyes, it was time to engage with our backup plan. The two girls and I excused ourselves to the washroom, while our friend distracted him. Slipping out the back door, the cool rush of night air hit us, and we hurried to the path that led to their hotel. Our friend caught up with us and said he had left Deric behind at the bar. We were all relieved to be out of there and started the walk back to their hotel. One of the girls was sober and offered to drive me home when we got to the hotel, and I accepted.
A few minutes down the path, my phone began to ring. I looked at the caller ID and felt my stomach drop. It was Deric. I turned the volume down and let it ring, and to my surprise, he left a voicemail. I turned on the speaker and played it out loud. Deric’s voice sounded confused as his words melted together into the phone “Wheeerre are you guys?? I thought we were gonna hanggooout? I don’t understand…”. We were all glad we had left, and agreed that this had been wild. That’s when the phone rang again. Another voicemail popped up on my screen. In the dim light of the trail, I played the new voicemail aloud once more. His drunken speech was more intense this time, as he launched into how he didn’t understand why I had left, I had hurt his feelings, and he was in love with me. The tone of his voice shook me when I heard him say “I love you”. There was something dark and heavy about it that left me feeling unsettled. We were all creeped out, but happy to see the bright sign of the hotel ahead. We traveled the carpeted hallway to their room so my friend could grab her keys to take me home.
As we entered the room, my phone began to ring again. This time, the voicemail sent shockwaves of fear through my body. Deric’s voice had taken on an edge, as he repeated that he loved me, but he was f***ing mad at me for leaving him at the bar. He went on about how could I do that to him, he didn’t know what he was going to do. His voice shook with anger, as he stumbled over himself expressing how I had betrayed him. The last thing he said before hanging up echoed in the hotel room, “you know, I’m starting to f***ing HATE you!”. This guy was unhinged and I was terrified. I was grateful this side of Deric hadn’t shown up when we were alone in his secluded trailer. My friends hugged me and told me to call them if I needed anything and to keep them updated.
My friend took me home, and as I unlocked the door and stepped into the comfort of home, I felt exhausted. It had not been the night out I expected, and Deric’s erratic behavior had freaked me out. Fresh out of an abusive relationship, his actions at the bar, then the voicemails rang some all too familiar bells. That’s when I saw the headlights. It was very late for anyone to be driving down my street, I peeked through the curtain. My blood ran cold and I trembled. Sitting in the cab of his orange truck, was Deric. Mind racing, I panicked. This dude could barely hold himself up when we left, he was blackout obliterated. How did he drive across town to my house?? How did he find me? I immediately remembered the other week when he dropped me off after my key was lost. How could I have been so stupid? I barely knew him, we had only met three times!
Deric’s face was stony and etched with rage, as he sat in the dark cab staring at my house. He wasn’t getting out. He was just staring, while I was on my hands and knees peeking out the window. All the lights were off inside, I was sure he couldn’t see me. Then the screen on my phone lit up. He was calling me again. I quickly hid it so he wouldn’t see the light. Hands shaking, I played the voicemail as quietly as I could. Deric only said one thing this time, a phrase that sent terror shooting down my spine. In a drunken sing-song voice, almost taunting me he quietly said, “Where aaaare you?”.
I was terrified. Somehow I hadn’t considered I could be in danger, and chalked up all of the fear to my past experiences. Surely I was overreacting, and it was my fault for reading too much into this, I shouldn’t be this scared and I don’t want to make a scene. That last voicemail sealed the deal, I figured even if I was overreacting, at the very least he was a drunk driver. I called 911 and the dispatcher said someone would be there in a couple of minutes.
As I peeked out the window, I saw him get out of his truck. He was done waiting. His heavy feet stumbled as they hit the pavement, and he looked around. Deric’s voice cut through the night, he started yelling my name. The wild anger in his voice was tangible through the walls, and he just yelled into the street “WHERE ARE YOU!?”Deric started to stumble towards my house, when the flashing red and blue lights cascaded down the street, lighting up his face and highlighting every ounce of rage carved into his features. Two police cars pulled up, and the officers got out. I was still peeking out from inside my dark house, and couldn’t hear much of what happening. I watched them breathalyze him, which he failed. The officers inspected his truck, they all spoke for a while, and one of the officers came to my door. I spoke to him about what had happened, and he was very empathetic. He said as unsettling as his actions had been, there wasn’t much they could do without a direct threat. The officer let me know that they would be taking him in for the night and he would be charged with drunk driving, but that he would be out tomorrow, and to make sure I kept my doors locked and stayed safe.
The tow truck came to remove his orange truck from the road, and I could see him arguing. The officers weren’t having any of it, and they turned him around to cuff him. As the handcuffs locked around his wrist he yelled out one last time, looking directly at the window I was peeking out, “I know you’re in there (my name), why don’t you come out to say goodnight?”
As quickly as my street had filled up, it was empty. The quiet shadows of late-night swallowing the earlier chaos into nothingness. Deric texted me the next afternoon. “I’m very sorry about last night, I was in a bad place”. I responded that his actions were unacceptable, and how dare he show up at the house my child lives at, and that I would prefer not to hear from him again.”. He apologized one last time, and I haven’t heard from him since. Over the next few months, I would see him on a bike going to and from his workplace, so I know he lost his license. I was always wary that we would bump into each other (which thankfully never happened), I can only imagine how much angrier he was after that night lost him his license. I found out that he moved to the mainland a while back, which was quite a relief for me, and I no longer feel as on edge around town. So, Deric, let’s never meet again.