This story is to remind you that, for women, routine is actually dangerous.

I grew up in a small suburb and was a pretty flush teenager thanks to the local ice cream shop where I worked since my freshman year, saving up enough to buy my own car the second I had my license. My senior year I dumped sports to work more because I wanted money and freedom more than stupid pins on a letter jacket. I wasn’t good enough to play in college, so what was the point?

I had a pretty predictable routine. I would get home from school, bum around for an hour, and then head to work which was about a 5 minute drive from my neighborhood to the center of town. I did this 4-5 days a week since the start of school, unless I gave a shift to someone at the last minute. I drove a VERY distinctive 1980s blue Caprice, an absolute boat covered in bumper stickers. There was no hiding where I was because of my car, and it actually got me busted for skipping school earlier that year when my mom drove home from work because she forgot something and saw my car parked at the local breakfast joint. She came in and ripped me a new one for ditching first period to eat pancakes and drink coffee with my friends who had graduated the year before (that’s how benign my rebellious streak was).

By October, I had been doing the same damn thing Monday-Friday for two months. Longer if you consider that I worked for years. It’s hard to notice patterns if you aren’t looking, but eventually I noticed a car, a sedan with darkly tinted windows, that would stay running in the parking lot of the strip mall where the store was located. I don’t remember when I started noticing this, or when it occurred to me that this was odd, or “hey, wasn’t that car here Tuesday and Wednesday too?” Maybe it was when the days started getting shorter and it got dark earlier that I began to think more about the car parked in the lot. It was always running too, I would go out and change the trash by the benches in front of the store and I could hear it. I never saw anyone get in or out. We shared the parking lot with a salon, a cigarette/cigar shop, and a pizza place, among other stores,so the cars parked in the lot weren’t only our customers. Our store could be dead but the lot full. I noticed the car frequently, even noted that it was odd, but I never connected its presence to me.

Until the afternoon I got home from school and saw the car parked down the street from my house.

I was unsettled, but convinced myself it was a coincidence. Yeah it looked like that car from the parking lot, but that was a very general looking could have just been similar. I drove to work as usual, and the car didn’t show up. When I got home that night (the car was gone, I checked) I said hi to my parents, changed, and drove to my best friend’s house on the other side of my subdivision to watch a movie. I left her house around one, and as I got into my car where it was parked on the street, something inside me told me to scan the area. Once again, I saw the car. The street was pretty empty, most people parked in their two car garages, and between the street lamps and the moon, it was bright enough that I was sure it was the car. I felt that awful, queasy feeling that creeps into your tummy when you know something is very wrong. I got in my car quickly and locked the doors. This was before I had a cell phone, and my friend’s parents were asleep, and she had probably locked the door behind her. My mind was racing. What if the driver wasn’t in his car anymore? What if he got me when I went tried to go back to her house? I’d seen enough teen horror to know not to get out of the car (but I did check the back seat about thirty times). I decided to race home, and then realized...he knew where home was too.

I drove home a different route, snaking through my big, winding subdivision, doubling back down other streets, taking an extra 30 minutes. I arrived home wide eyed and terrified and parked my car in the driveway and RAN inside the house, checking all the doors. I debated waking my parents to tell them what had happened, but in the safety of my own home I decided I was probably overreacting. I’d mention it in the morning. I went to bed, but I don’t think I slept. I was up multiple times, looking out my window each time I heard a car come down our sleepy suburban street. I started thinking about all the time spent in my room with the light on and my blinds up. I thought of the big, glass windows of the brightly lit store and all the times I had taken the trash out at work, alone, in the dark. I started to think about how long this may have gone on.

The next morning I told my parents that I thought a car might be following me. I had seen it outside my work, and outside our house, and eventually outside my friend’s house. I was a good kid, and my parents were good parents, they believed me and asked if I wanted to call the cops. I said no, I felt silly, the cops would think I was being hysterical. Nothing happened, I was overreacting. My parents hmm’d and hawed and instead my dad insisted on sitting in the parking lot of my work in to see what was what. The next day I drove to work following my usual routine. Like clockwork, just after I arrived at work, so did the car. However, this time, my dad was already sitting in HIS car. He immediately got out and walked up to the driver’s side of the car, the tint was too dark to make out much, but as soon as he got within knocking distance of the window the car quickly pulled away. We called the cops, and because we were a small town they didn’t have much to do they put an officer in the parking lot AND on our street. I never saw the car again but I learned a valuable lesson about changing up my routine and I shudder to think what that very patient guy was working towards and how much he depended on me sticking with my routine.