One time when we were first dating, Chuck asked me if I was a person who was affected by pills. We were probably trying to figure out my dosage of over-the-counter sleep aids. Would an entire Wal-Sleep II knock me into a coma? Or could I take four and still be trusted to run a Cuisinart? I had no idea. I always think of this conversation when I wonder about that 30 seconds last summer. You can't know until you take two pills, sleep 16 hours straight, then seemingly operate in an underwater montage for the next three days. You can't know you will change you when a young kid holds a pistol no bigger than his hand up to your left ear.
It was after midnight. I was talking to Chuck on my phone as I parked. I lingered in the car, finishing our conversation, even though he was waiting in the house. Dropped my cigarette. Closed the window. Opened the door, left leg dangling in the street. Reached across my body for my backpack and my reusable grocery bag. Still talking.
Someone runs up on the side of the car. I look up, expecting it to be a friend. A surprise. It's a kid. He has a gun so small it can't be real. He's short -- shorter than me. Thin. His face is round. Possibly a teen, more likely in his 20s. A dark hooded sweatshirt. White baseball cap, or did I add that? American Indian, I think. I scream, fumble, drop the phone. He tells me to give him my purse. Maybe he even called me a bitch. Throw him my back pack. Looking for more things to give him. He reaches behind me for the grocery bag. I watch him run off to a car waiting for him 30 feet away, the door still open. They slowly drive away. I slam my door. Try to dial 911. Fail. Try again. Wonder if I should chase them? Call 911. By then Chuck is standing in the middle of the street screaming my name. This is captured on my voice mail. I listen to it once, and its as scary as the actual robbery. Delete.
My purse had been slung across my body. He hadn't seen it, and I'd forgotten it in the rush to give him things. In fact, as he ran away, I almost yelled "Hey! Here's my purse!" True story.
Twice, when talking to my mom about this, she said "Well, hopefully you learned a lesson." A lesson? What kind of lesson? Not to be out after dark? Not to park in front of my house? Not to give subtle cues to strangers that I have leftover soup in the passenger seat, but that it will have to be taken from me with force? Any kind of lesson this would teach me was a lesson I didn't want to learn: To be fearful. To not trust people. To see every 20-year-old boy in a hooded sweatshirt as someone who is going to hold a gun to my head.
My immediate response was maniac hilarity. I kept thinking of how lucky I'd gotten. I pictured the boys in the car, rifling through a stinky backpack in the dark, looking for some sort of treasure. Realizing they had been stiffed. Maybe not even realizing the risk they had gone through for Champion's 2007 fall collection, petrified with sweat. Maybe it all ended with that backpack. "Screw this," the passenger says, chucking the bag out the window. "I think I will go to Harvard."
But no amount of fan fiction made driving home easier. For a week, maybe two, Chuck waited for me on the front steps every night. First I'd circle the block to make sure I wasn't being followed. If a car slowed near the house, we would both hold our breath. "That car was being weird," I'd say into the phone, even though I could see him. "It was," Chuck would agree. The first time I came home without needing him on the steps, I thought "I'm the kind of person who gets over getting robbed at gun point pretty easily."
It has been nearly a year, and that is a lie. I think about getting robbed at gunpoint every single day. At least once. I still have trouble getting out of the car in front of the house. I am still suspicious of men who walk down our street. I jump at loud noises. If someone runs up behind me, my heart races. Sometimes when I am at the mall, I imagine the feel of a gun held to the back of my head and I have to literally shake myself to make it stop. Every day I wonder if tomorrow is the day I finally stop thinking about it.
It feels very selfish to talk about the time I was robbed at gunpoint. When it comes to the creative crime scenarios available to the average human being, mine was Sandals Cancun. I wasn't raped or maimed and while he got my stuff, he didn't get any of the stuff that requires paper work and phone calls and cancellations. He got a dirty sports bra, dirty tube socks, dirty running pants and a dirty tank top. Asics running shoes -- frequently worn without socks, a straightening iron, and an impossibly outdated collection of makeup. Some Sarah Jessica Parker perfume, some leftover gazpacho and a water bottle that smelled like the inside of a fish tank. One yellow Edie Bauer backpack I'd had forever.
Sometimes I think: So that was it. My crime story. No big whoop. What are the odds of getting robbed at gunpoint once? Now divide that by a kajillion. Those are the odds of getting robbed at gunpoint twice. Then I think I'm just being naive. Getting robbed at gunpoint could be like finding a 4-leaf clover. Once you find one, you easily find more.