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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

5 Terrible Things I Learned After Getting Mugged

In 1996, I was fresh off college graduation and faced with the least difficult decision of my life--become a responsible, working adult or fuck off to London until my money ran out.

Guess which I chose.

Three months into my attempt to drink England dry, I made a colossally stupid decision. My parents were in the country visiting me.  We’d just parted and I was on the tube heading home when I decided I absolutely had to find an ATM and take money out for the next day.  It was close to midnight and even the subway car was damn near empty.

I'd like to blame this set of poor decision-making on alcohol but, as I mentioned, I’d just left my folks and I was desperately trying to keep up the illusion that my stay in England was more about soul-searching than testing my liver’s ability to withstand lethal doses of grain alcohol.

I got off at Baker Street, which you might recognize as the site of Sherlock Holmes’ fictional home.  There’s some irony there, but it’s nearly 20 years later and I still haven’t learned to appreciate it.  Let me add that Baker Street is not a bad part of London—in fact it’s one of the nicest neighborhoods there to live.  But again, it was almost midnight in a large city and I was the only idiot out. At least that’s what I blissfully assumed.

I found an ATM close to the well-lit subway entrance, entered my PIN, and then felt someone tap me on the shoulder.

5. It all happens very quickly.
British people are notoriously polite.  During my first week in the country, I caused an accident because I stepped into traffic after foolishly looking in the wrong direction.  The driver, after discoveringI was American, bought me lunch, gave me a tour of a cricket field that he worked at, then politely reminded me that ‘Brits’ drive on the other side of the street, before sending me on my way home.  You can imagine him ‘tut tutting’ if it helps. It’s not far from the truth.

So when I got a tap on my shoulder in the middle of the night, I just assumed, it was a tourist who needed directions or, at worst, a polite reminder from a local that my pants had fallen down (see, drinking England dry).  What I was not expecting was to get repeatedly punched in the face and stomach.  Which I did.  And hard.  You know that expression ‘seeing stars’?  Apparently, that’s a real thing.
And now you'll never watch Bugs Bunny cartoons the same way.

I slumped to the ground while the man withdrew as much money from my account as the ATM would allow.  When he was done, he kicked me in the side for good measure and ran off.  I never saw his face.  My life didn’t flash before my eyes.

4. You’ll blame yourself. 
When I did realize what had happened, there was a moment of shock, and then I cried.  The pain hadn’t even set in yet.  It was a different kind of cry.  It was the kind of cry a baby makes in the middle of the night, in the impenetrable dark, when he desperately wants someone to come get him.  I didn’t even recognize my own voice.  It was that kind of cry—deep and from a place of terror and helplessness I hadn’t experienced in a long, long time.

My thoughts were a fucking mess.  If anything, the burgeoning rise of pain in my face and side gave me some clarity and something to focus on.  A voice in my head said, ‘Yes, this happened. Now get your shit together and do something.’  But I didn’t.  I didn’t move.  Because immediately, another voice said, ‘Why didn’t you do something to stop it?’ And I cried some more.

3. I’m a lover, not a fighter.
Above: Fighter, not lover. Don't confuse the two. 

You know that old adage about fight or flight?  Well, that's utter bullshit. After the first attack, I had a few seconds to myself while the man calmly emptied my bank account. I didn't think about getting the fuck out of there, nor did I think 'I can take this guy'.  I froze.  I locked up.  Which, if you know anything about self-defense, is about the worst thing you can do.

Looking back, I guess I could say I was, was stunned. And not like 'in a state of shock'. I was taken utterly by surprised because I had discovered that I was not the person I thought I was.

Nobody thinks of themselves as a coward.  And most of us are lucky enough to never have that belief challenged.  But I was challenged that night and I had failed miserably.  I was actually worse than a coward because at least a coward has some sense of self-preservation.  So I sat there, on the dirty concrete, bleeding, and secretly hoping that the guy would come back and finish the job.

2. Everything changes. 
I did finally manage to find the clarity to pick myself up and get back on the subway. I cried when I passed the ticket taker.  I cried when I got home and called my parents and, later, my girlfriend.  I cried myself to sleep that night.  I never called the police because I thought, and still think to some extent, that I completely deserved what had happened.  Poor judgment aside, I thought people like me should not exist in a blissful state of self-delusion where they are allowed to believe they are strong or self-sufficient or courageous.

I didn’t spend my next three months in England looking over my shoulder. Alcohol has the useful and completely under-rated ability to cloud your senses and I saw fit to minimize my sobriety as much as possible.
Sadly, alcohol also gave us Chumbawamba so let's call it a draw.

I didn’t suspect everyone and everything or avoid unlit places at night.  I didn’t stay home, cowering under my blankets. If anything, I became more reckless.  I realized at my core, I was someone who wanted to die.  Who was so gutless, that’s probably what he deserved.

1. There is no getting over it.  
If this were a movie, you’d get to see me hit rock bottom only to find myself tested again.  Only this time, I’d react swiftly and decisively. I’d discover that a stronger, better person was inside me all along.  You’d see me heroically take down an attacker.  I’d emerge unscathed, maybe with a renowned purpose for bettering the world around me. And that cowering wretch I was would be forgotten forever.

Come and get one in the yarbles!

If this were a book, I’d have time to work through what happened.  I’d find meaning in it, maybe by bonding with someone else who’d gone through something similar.  Maybe I’d even risk myself to save a loved one.  I’d be a hero.  I’d find hope and beauty in a world that had lost all color.  I’d grow tulips out of thin air.

But this is neither of those. It’s not even a blog post by a very talented writer.  Instead what I did was refuse to talk about what happened.  I got drunk as much as possible until I had to move back home and start working and be an adult.  And then I got married and had kids, both of which have a funny way of defusing any self-destructive tendencies you might have.  Children are selfish that way—they need you in a way that makes it very hard to think about dying.

But that person I was hasn’t changed.  I know that. I’m more cautious now.  Much more protective of my kids than if I hadn’t been robbed and assaulted.  And silently, I hope every day I never have to be tested again.