Friday, December 31, 2004

Global Warming and Ghosts from the Past

I biked home from work in a tanktop on December 30, 2005. Fantastic--this BikeWinter is easier than I expected. I love to feel the air on my skin and my hair moving across my back so this is a welcome treat for me. I was in a super good mood because of the warm weather and considered how amazing it was. I tried to recall how cold it normally is around New Years when I remembered my experience two years ago today.

On the eve of New Years Eve 2002, I was similarly excited about the warm weather and my upcoming plans. The next day I would drive to WI to spend NYE with two of my best friends, Steph and Shalan. In preparation I went to the grocery store to buy ingredients for brownies and lemon bars. Walking home from the store, canvas sack jostling against my hip I marveled at how warm it was. I wished my thick wool sweater was along with my mittens in my bag, my headband was pulled down around my neck I wore running shoes instead of my warm steel-toed boots and I was delightfully happy. So happy, that I completely failed to anything around me but the puddles, dripping icicles and other signs of our December heat wave. My attention shifted to more important matters when I realized that a man followed me into the alley leading to my back gate.

My delightful day took an unpleasant turn as this man tried to force me into an alcove at knifepoint. That I didn't allow to happen--[I have a weird sense of self-preservation/fear that prevents my body from doing certain dangerous activities by just overriding my conscious commands. In regular life this keeps me from doing fun things like mountain biking, and feels as useless and clumsy as a guard on a familiar piece of machinery] and just outright refused to follow his command. It's good to know that this stubborness/fear considers being trapped in an alcove with a man holding a knife on me just as dangerous as crossing over while ice skating.

My whole experience of being mugged was extremely odd. My mind was absolutely racing during the incident. I tried to assess all of the risks and dangers of fighting back or getting away:

  • a lame turtle can outsprint me, so just breaking free and running wasn't an option,
  • I was keenly aware of my unarmed feet,
  • I felt that I was pretty well protected against slashing sorts of cuts because I was wearing a turtleneck and my thick headband was also bunched around my throat and additionally I thought that unless his blade was extremely sharp, my bulky wool sweater probably would protect me, however
  • I also knew that wool wouldn't do a damn thing against a knife that was stabbing instead of slashing, additionally
  • I feared getting my face cut--I guess when push come to shove I am vain.

Based on this analysis I didn't fight back, but kept my eyes trained on his kitchen knife at most times--I can still perfectly identify it today: light wood handle with the finish worn off so it has that slight grayish hue that barnboard and driftwood gets, enclosed tang, 5" blade--sharpened concave like a boning knife instead of convex like a chef knife.

We had a quite lengthy conversation that took us each through several emotions and arguments. My problems with him was that he was threatening to cut me and wanted to rob me. His problem with me was that I didn't have anything of value for him to rob and I didn't cooperate with him. Conflict ensued.

First he wasn't happy with the single dollar bill and chapstick that I offered from my pockets, although he wasn't too dissappointed with the ATM and credit card. He seemed confused when I asked him for my driver's license back, but then handed it back when I explained that it would be a huge hassle for me to replace it. I told him that I never carry much cash (I did bite my tongue and refrained from mentioning that the current scenario is one reason for my cashless lifestyle). We even reviewed my grocery receipt to prove that I paid with plastic. Next he wasn't satisfied with the contents of my canvas grocery bag and complained, "there's nothing in here but food." I felt that even ignoring the fact that I was carrying a bag printed "Co-op Markets: a love affair with food," the review of my grocery receipt should have prepared him for the contents of the bag. He pawed through it bitching about the eggs, butter, chocolate and lemons. Apparently he hoped I stopped off at the ruby and diamond store after grocery shopping.

Spilling my groceries in the alley, he focused his attention back onto my bank cards and demanded my PIN number. Once again, I leashed my tongue and refrained from correcting his error. I gave him the bogus number 2601 and pleaded that it was the correct number throughout his knife-waving inquiry. Then he asked for a pen to write down the number and didn't believe that I didn't have one. This just seemed too ridiculous and my attitude got even more cheeky and annoyed as I argued that I didn't have a pen.

At this point his attitude changed and he seemed quite angry with me and he seemed more dangerous. He demanded my driver's license back to 'come back and cut you if you lie to me'. I noticed as I handed my license back to him that my hand shook. He seemed to notice this too, and calmed down dramatically. That is when I definitely realized that he was much less volatile when he seemed in control and I seemed scared. I began playing the role of terrified girl, teared my eyes and made my lip quiver--and damn did he respond. He lost his bravado and started to fidget, at one point saying "please don't cry...just don't start crying on me." He reconfirmed the bogus PIN, told me not to call the cops or do anything stupid now and started walking away. After a few steps he waived my ID and reminded me that he knew where I lived and would come back to cut me if I lied to him or canceled my cards. I almost smiled as he waived my WI ID with my parents' address at me as proof that he knew where I lived. Once he was out of sight I abandoned my groceries and took a wiggling route through neighbors' lawns to run to my front door.

Obviously I canceled my bank cards and called the cops immeadiately--both of these organizations' responses were improper or insufficient, but those are two other stories. I was giggling when I got into the house because the whole thing was just too bizarre for me to process. This caused me to be more cautious and reavaluate some of my behavior. Several of my friends were glad I was mugged, because they hoped it was prevent me from being attacked in a much worse manner later on by causing me to be more cautious and aware. This lesson has dimmed and again I am less cautious about my safety. However, as I biked in the warm weather on the two year anniversary of my mugging, I felt dread mixed with delight. I knew I was just getting irrationally spooked, but couldn't shake it none the less. So I felt like I was biking with a shadow, cast not by the street lights but by an event from my past.

For the most part biking has freed me from a lot of safety concerns, because I am simply not as vulnerable as I was before, walking and waiting for CTA. This is a pretty fantastic benefit of biking in Chicago--I am not restricted or immobilized by fear, and yet I can still be autonomous and do what I want to without worrying.



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