Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Happy Anniversary

This evening, I ran home from camogie practice. That probably doesn’t sound like that much of an accomplishment and really, it’s not. It’s only about 2 miles, but it was cold, rainy and dark. Cold and rainy I can handle. It’s the dark that gets to me and makes tonight something special.

Eleven years ago – on the 12 of October – I was mugged in Camden, New Jersey. I’d been rollerblading on a tennis court on the edge of the Rutgers campus. I was sitting on the ground swapping my rollerblades for shoes, getting ready to walk the two blocks to my dorm. It was dusk and students sometimes cut through the tennis court to get to the commuter parking lot on the other side.

A guy came in, hooded sweatshirt up and hands in his pocket, and made like he was going to ask me a question. It happened so fast. One second, he was Mr. Nice Asking a Question Guy, the next second he was crouched on the ground next to me, Mr. Gun Right Behind My Ear Guy.

I didn’t know it then, because I was sure I was dead, but I was lucky. He took a couple of bucks, my credit card, my ATM card, my school ID and apartment key, and my walkman. Camden isn’t exactly the ritziest neighbourhood so the security at the dorm guaranteed that he’d never get into the apartment. It was just a scare tactic. And, oh yeah, it worked.

The things that get taken in a robbery, the things that really matter, have nothing to do with money or jewelry. The things that matter are your sense of confidence, your sense of security, your sense of well-being. Your purse might turn up in a garbage can. You can cancel your credit card and your ATM card. You can replace just about everything. But it takes a hell of a long time to get to the point where someone can lay a hand on your shoulder and not make you flinch.

When I lived in Chicago, I just about never went out by myself in the dark. I went to great lengths to avoid it. When I needed to get into work early and it was still dark out, I’d run to the L platform, panic bubbling just under the surface. When we moved out into the heart of Republican (and deeply law-abiding) DuPage County, I would sometimes walk Kodiak at night, but he was 100+ pounds of big, intimidating dog. It was a little like walking the streets with a water pistol that looked like a Glock. Yeah, I knew he was harmless, but no one else did.

I can say that this is the first time in eleven years that I’ve willingly gone from Point A to Point B in the dark without panicking or freaking out. It’s the longest I’ve been in out in the dark by myself since 1994. I was carrying my hurley and I wore my glasses so I could see better, but I didn’t feel as hyper-aware as I used to. My every nerve ending wasn’t twitching and ramping up for fight-or-flight time. It was just a fairly pleasant run in the cold, rainy night.

I didn’t realise that tonight was the anniversary, until I was on my way home. I feel like I’ve turned a small corner. Only a small one though. No one is home and I’m sitting here reeking like the inside of a gym locker because I still can’t shower in an empty house. Maybe that will be my big breakthrough on the twentieth anniversary.


At 12 October 2005 at 05:50, Blogger Stacey said...

Thank you for sharing that story. I live south of Chi-town and often leave my school late at night, walking in the parking lot alone, and until reading your story...realize how naive and stupid I am to think "I'm untouchable." Thanks for the wake-up call...and I am thinking forget the shower...take a nice hot bath!

At 12 October 2005 at 07:53, Blogger Jack's Shack said...

The loss of trust and innocence is terrible.

At 13 October 2005 at 16:43, Blogger Shane said...

Being your brother I knew you were deeply affected by that event. But reading this post makes me realize I wasn't aware of how profound an impact it made on your well being.

So I'm even more proud of you for not letting fear keep you from running at night! I've always seen you as a brave, confidant person. I'm glad you are to able to start to believe this yourself.

At 16 October 2005 at 01:09, Blogger Career Guy said...

That was an awful time for you, I know. Now I have the big scary dog and he does give me confidence to walk down the street, except when we see a skunk. Then we retreat gracefully.

At 17 October 2005 at 12:42, Blogger Lyss said...

Wow. Scary. Camden is scary. While driving back from Florida with some friends I fell aslepp in teh car only to wake up to learn that my boyfriend at the time (who was from a small town in New England) had decided to pull over so the 3 of us could sleep in the parking lot of a rest stop in Camden. I was so freaked. Camden is not a place to do that at 4AM.

Glad you've regained teh sense of place and confidence. I shall take this story with me on my upcoming move to Boston. I'll be living in a mixed neighborhood where i am wary of walking to the T (subway, MBTA) stop alone after dark.


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