Monday, January 31, 2011

Calmness in Crisis

For the last three years, I commuted to work by bicycle (year round) on the bike/pedestrian path along the lake without incident. I worked at a restaurant so I often was returning home as late as 11 or 12:30 at night. For my job, I had to wear very formal clothes but was not provided with a locker like most other employees so I often carried my work clothes on a hanger draped on my handlebars. When I first started riding, I used to plan on using my heavy bike lock as a weapon if attacked. I never carried pepper spray. On the night in question, my work clothes were blocking access to my bike lock. I was also carrying a large over-the-shoulder purse instead of my usual backpack. I was not listening to music or anything, but I was lost in my thoughts, not paying attention to my surroundings.

I ride a very old bike and other cyclists pass me all the time, though this night it was 12:30 and there were very few passerby. Suddenly, there was another bicyclist riding alongside me shouting “Give me the bag, bitch!” and holding a foot-long kitchen knife high above his head. I didn’t give it to him, screamed and he kept riding closer to me until I swerved off the path onto the sand. He didn’t shove me or anything; in fact, there was no physical contact the whole time. But I hopped off my bike and then we were standing face-to-face. He held the knife above his head again and said “Give me the bag, bitch! I’ll cut you, bitch!”

At first, I screamed loudly again. Then I realized no one else seemed to be along the path and I stopped screaming. Astoundingly, although hyper-alert, I became incredibly calm. I said, “Well, I don’t wanna give you my whole bag; I’ll give you some cash” and I started taking out the contents of my bag piece by piece. Then he said “Hurry up, bitch! I’ll cut you bitch!”
“See, these are my work clothes; this is a dress so you don’t want that right?”
“Uh, naw, keep that,” he said. “Hurry up!”

With a slightly annoyed but patient tone I said, “I will, just give me a minute.”

The only cash I had ($10) was a wad of singles in my purse and I took a few out and gave them to the mugger as I began to empty its contents. He saw my iPod inside and demanded that and my wallet so I gave it to him, but not my whole bag or my whole purse inside. I took out my cell phone and put it in my back pocket. “What was that?! You put something in your pocket!” he shouted. I replied, “Don’t worry about that. I’ve got some more cash in here.” (And he did, indeed, forget about the phone.)

I tossed out the rest of my money onto the ground, a few other sundry things from my bag. “This is a tampon, so you probably don’t want that,” I said. “You don’t have to throw sh** at me!” he said. Then, “Give me that black bag!” so I tossed it to him. “That’s just my make-up in there,” I said. “You can keep that,” he said and tossed the black bag back to me. He appeared a bit nervous and got on his bike. “Be on your way,” he said as he began to ride away, but it sounded mumbled. I said, “What?” and he said, “Be on your way.”

I picked up my belongings, pulled out my cell phone and called 911. About 2 minutes later, another bicyclist was riding by and I asked him if he’d wait with me for the police and he agreed readily. The squad car had a hard time finding us (despite the fact that I knew my location within two blocks). When they arrived, I told them what happened and they were polite enough but said, “So, you don’t want to file a report, ‘cos he only got ten bucks?” I was incredulous a moment and took a breath. “I’m calm because I want to explain to you what happened—it doesn’t mean it wasn’t a big deal. He can’t just go around waving a knife at people. Yes I do want to file a report.”

One of the most disturbing aspects of the incident to me was that I had no idea how to defend myself physically; it seemed like I froze up. I considered seeking psychotherapy, which I do think has a place, but I decided what I really was looking for was to feel more capable of defending myself. It was a significant financial investment at the time to enroll in the IMPACT program, but it provided what I needed. Reflecting on the incident, I know that I have the ability to find a type of calmness in a crisis situation and now I have other tools to respond with.

I don’t know how I could have moved forward with my life or discovered this type of confidence without IMPACT. Thank you so much and I look forward to finding a way to volunteer with the organization.

SH, IMPACT Chicago Core Program grad

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