Trigger warning: this post talks about stalking, harassing and mental anguish. It's taken me almost 10 years to process all of this and recent events have highlighted the physical toll. So if you are a survivor of an abusive relationship, a hate crime or harassment of any kind, skip this post or proceed with caution. Take care of yourself first.
The email came on May 11, 2016. A summons to small claims court. Management and our association lawyer quickly proved useless for guidance, claiming that maybe it would be best to pay him what he demanded. Even though there was overwhelming evidence that we had done nothing wrong. Even though there was additional evidence that he was using the small claims court system to harass and extort money.
Over texts and multiple phone calls, the board president MB and I formulated a plan. She would go to court and face him (the others flaking out on this out of fear). My job was to dig up all the evidence. To summarize the past 10 years of harassment, bigotry and threats. That we would countersue also to stop him from ever doing this to anyone we knew again.
I just never expected the toll from doing this to be so high.
In 2006, Grey and I purchased our first home. Like many first time homeowners, we were excited about having a place would could make our own. The day we moved in, I was greeted by a smaller man who lived next door. Instead of saying "hi" or "nice to meet you," his first question to me was "are you sure your sale went through?" Thrown off guard, I asked him why he would think such a thing. "Well, because the for sale sign is still up. And I have a friend who is a realtor and he says the sale didn't go through. You know, it's illegal to trespass." He smiled after saying this and went into his unit.
When relaying the story later on to other neighbors, they would sigh heavily and say "yeah, that's Cyrol."
Knowing what Grey and I know now, this was a sign of the beginning. The wall should have immediately gone up. But we were naive. We wanted to believe that our neighbors were inherently good people.
On June 30, MB went to the county court house to attend a mandatory mediation session. The goal of mediation is to help settle disputes outside of court. The second Cyrol saw MB, he sneered at her and announced that this needed to be over quick so he could get to the bank with his money. The mediator, despite telling both MB and Cyrol that his job was to remain a neutral third party, looked shocked by this statement. That shock quickly dissolved into visible anger once they sat down in the mediation room.
Cyrol immediately pulled out a stack of papers that he kept close to him. He started in on how we caused him to lose money on the sale of his unit. How he had the emails to prove it. When the mediator asked if he would submit those documents for evidence, Cyrol put a hand over them and shook his head. For the next hour he would wax and wane about how unfairly he had been treated and how he had been lied to.
When it was MB's turn, she pulled out 3 binders filled with emails, resale certificates and legal notices, 2 of which she submitted to evidence. It took her less than 10 minutes to tear down the story Cyrol had put forward. And as she did, he became visibly angry. He interrupted her, spewing threats and screaming to drown her out. She didn't stop though, refusing to be bullied by him. In a final attempt, Cyrol looked at the mediator and announced, knowing that MB is a lesbian, "you know, she's a man-hater. You can't believe a word she says."
MB said the mediator looked like a truck had hit him. He then order Cyrol out of the room to talk with MB. It was clear there would be no resolution. Trial was set for the following week.
In 2007, a question was posed to our HOA Board about talking to our current manager to see if our management fees could be reduced. Cyrol immediately volunteered to call her, promising he would solve the problem quickly. We knew at this point that Cyrol had been calling our manager regularly, screaming at her over the phone. I felt bad for this woman, so I responded and said that I thought it was a good idea, but that Cyrol shouldn't do it because of his temper.
Immediately Cyrol responded, threatening to sue me for emotional distress and defamation of character. He sent email after email directly attacking me, accusing me of being the problem and twisting the truth for his own gain.
Later that night, when I met with the former board president to talk, Cyrol came into this person's unit and pounced on me. He screamed at me, within an inch of my face. I'm truly surprised he didn't strike me.
When Grey found out, he lost it. In an attempt to protect me, he pounded on Cyrol's door and demanded he come out. Seconds later Grey calmed down and told Cyrol he wanted to talk. Cyrol responded by saying he was going to have Grey arrested and that he was planning on stabbing Grey "in an act of self defense."
Later Cyrol would attempt to extort money for his "damaged door" from us, even though there was no damage (and Cyrol wouldn't allow the association to inspect). An issue he wouldn't let go of even to this day. He would also admit to listening through the walls and obsessing about our movements.
But the real killer was that Cyrol believed I should be submissive to him because he was a man. That it wasn't my place to ever call him out.
Our case was the last one for the day. MB suspected that the word was out on Cyrol, meaning he would go over time. In the early afternoon, the judge sat down and asked Cyrol to present his case. Cyrol spent the next hour picking apart the binder filled with evidence we had submitted. He broke the rules of mediation and spoke openly about the conversations there. He presented himself as the victim and demanded he be paid for more than the limit of small claims.
Finally, MB was given a chance to speak. Dressed in a 3 piece suit, complete with tie, she opened with the following: "Your honor, this is not a case about lost financial gains. This is a case about a continual history of harassment, abuse and racial/sexual discrimination from Mr. Cyrol."
MB then presented newly found evidence about other small claims cases filed by Cyrol: One against an African American woman who fled the state to get away from him (that case was dismissed), one against recent immigrants extorting money (outcome for him because they were no-shows) and one slated for the following week against the Seattle School District for emotional distress after Cyrol had been terminated due to repeated racist remarks directed at elementary school children and for bringing a whistle to class to silence them.
At the end of the day, the judge dismissed the case, denying Cyrol's claim. But she rewarded our association for the filing and legal fees. MB told me later that Cyrol immediately threatened to appeal. Smiling, MB said "Sure. But know if you do, this will go to superior court. And we will be countersuing for much, much more than legal fees as we'll have our lawyer involved."
As the drama with Cyrol played out, the news came in about the shootings in Baton Rouge and Minneapolis. And then there was Dallas. I couldn't bring myself to watch the footage or read much of the news, knowing that it would cause me to go further down the rabbit hole of fear. And like many who protested, I found my anger hitting a new peak.
For almost 10 years, Grey and I lived under continual stress and fear of an individual who stalked us. Though in our calmer moments we reasoned these threats were hollow, the truth is we were never fully sure. Cyrol attacked whenever he felt like it. We watched him threaten anyone he deemed as weak. And no one stopped him. Not even his family, who we meet, had the courage to tell him enough.
This post from Justine, talking about domestic abuse. Specifically, this part rung true.
"That abusers can stop abusing their partners, if they take responsibility, if they learn communication skills, if they examine their own pasts.
Maybe there are lessons to be learned here. That domestic abuse can stop. That abusers can redefine what it means to be masculine, that they can begin to see their partners as partners, not as threats. That we can find ways to support both abusers and survivors. That we can offer hope."Given all that has happened, this is definitely the heart of the issue. Because Cyrol has shown that he won't take responsibility for his actions. But also all of his actions are routed in deep-seated fear. Just as those police officers who murdered Alton Sterling and Jamar Clark. Just as those who then in turn shot those police officers. And just as those who attack/abuse/bully anyone in any way.
There is hope that things can get better. Part of it is recognizing the problem and formulating strategies for how to address it. But the other part is finding the courage to stand up to this type of hate. Both if directed at you or someone else. To demand it be done and that the abuser seek help.
With Cyrol, Grey and I are finally armored. We now know how to defend ourselves, calling him out on his threats and making it clear it will hurt unless he stops. I don't believe he's completely processed that message, but we also believe he's escalating because that message is coming from all sides. And we are refusing to hid because that feeds his obsession.
Still, my firm wish is that someday soon we can come together as a society and recognize that what matters isn't the color of your skin, your culture, your religious background and even your sexual orientation or gender. What matters is what is in your heart. That we need to reward love and recognize that though differences do exist between different populations, no one deserves to be treated less. To live in fear.