Trigger Warning: Assault
It was just any other morning in Nicaragua. I was getting ready to adjust back to Peace Corps life after the Thanksgiving festivities out of town. I woke up at 6 AM, excited that the weather was getting cooler so that I could run more easily. My fingers felt chilly as I slipped into my running shorts. I noticed the bottle of coconut oil on the counter had finally solidified because it was getting cooler.
I thought about making coffee, but I didn’t. I didn’t want to waste another second of the deliciously cool air outside. I slipped on my purple Merrel running shoes that my ex girlfriend brought me from the states a year ago. I don’t usually retie the laces, but this time I made the effort to make sure they fit snugly. I wanted to have a perfect run.
It was a beautiful, crisp, bright morning. I ran the same route I always do, which I learned is a mistake. I run up my hill ran up the same hill to escape the smog and heat of the city for a moment. I passed the usual auto shops and wore my headphones to keep the men who I passed from cat calling me. My ten-year-old pink iPod stopped working, but I’ve run without my headphones since. No woman should have to deal with sexual and lewd comments when walking down the street, but then again, it’s only 2015. People in the states are still getting shot for being black, and women are yelled at for being women in the street. We might have to wait a while for these things to become as unacceptable as smallpox. In the meantime, I’ll pretend I’m listening to music so men think I can’t hear them.
Just as I was jogging up the immense hill overlooking the city, I saw your shadow bouncing behind me, getting closer. I thought you were just another man coming up to run with me as a joke, or that you were that marathon runner I’d met on that road a few months ago.
I turned and smiled down at you, but your hands and eyes were on my pockets. I didn’t recognize the dirty hat and windbreaker your wore. It didn’t feel right. You probably thought I had an iPhone. I had nothing. Asshole.
I saw the knife in your right hand and I yelled “HEY! I DON’T HAVE ANYTHING!”. You didn’t look up at me because you were busy searching my empty pocket, hyperventilating after catching up to me. You were salivating at the thought of stealing a shiny, new iPhone. It is the holiday season after all, and thefts shoot up at this time. Happy holidays, indeed.
Maybe you just wanted it to buy drugs. Or alcohol. Or food.
You just couldn’t believe that my pockets were empty, could you? What kind of an American was I if I weren’t running around with a $500 phone in my pocket? Oh, the kind who is a Peace Corps volunteer and makes less than half of that in a month and who eats just as much beans and rice as you do because meat is ‘expensive’. But you just wouldn’t believe it, would you?
You didn’t push me into the grass by the highway-your knife did. The thought of the knife numbed me as I let you continue searching my pockets. I showed you my headphones. “Take them”, I said. “I just want to make sure you don’t have anything”, you muttered, as you realized you’d failed. Fumbling my pockets didn’t seem like such a good idea anymore, huh? I saw the desperation in your light brown eyes. Maybe you were too embarrassed to take my headphones. Or too prideful. If I’d offered them to anyone else on the street, they would have taken them. You are the shittiest thief in the world. What you did was fucked and you know it.
We both confused each other. I wondered why you didn’t take my headphones. You wondered why I didn’t have an iPhone. “Move along now”, you said, as you walked back downhill, glaring at me, as if I had put you through all that trouble for nothing. Likewise. I continued running uphill, annoyed that my treasured routine was disrupted. I wanted everyone around me to know what happened. I never want anyone to feel the way you made me feel, so I told some people at the bus stop to watch out for you. A man said that the same thing had happened to him nearby. Thieves like you dress up as runners, but get too close too soon, and steal what you can. Idiots.
Now, it’s my turn to have your undivided attention. Before I let you go, here are some questions:
Do you know what it’s like to feel unsafe as soon as you get home?
Feeling safe is something I took for granted.
Do you know what it’s like to panic at the thought that you could have died, or worse, being so in shock that you are okay with dying for a second?
I’ve also had a much more fulfilling life than you will ever have, though, and I’ve helped more people than you have ever hurt, so that’s also why death wasn’t so scary. I don’t want to die, and you’ve only reminded me of how precious life is.
Do you know what it’s like to say ‘I was assaulted” for the first time?
You probably do, since your knife is your only source of power, and violence attracts violence.
Do you know what it’s like to be comforted by your close friends, and realize that they have endured the violence that you just have, as well as sexual assault and rape? And how disgustingly normal it is for people to endure this?
Do you know what it’s like to wonder what you “did wrong?” Or “could’ve done” to avoid an assault?
My mind keeps flashing back to those ten seconds you attacked me, trying to remind me never to do that again. My mind keeps trying to piece back being assaulted in broad daylight on a busy highway and having nothing physical taken from me.
Emotionally. It’s a different story. I’ve broken up with my sense of safety. I’ll get it back though. You gained absolutely nothing from miserably fondling my empty pockets, but I’m regaining myself.
I’m allowing myself to be vulnerable again, and to be sad, angry, and mad. I’m allowing myself to seek out mental help immediately rather than waiting until it’s too late. I’m observing my emotions instead of becoming them.
If my body tells me to cry, then I’ll permit myself to cry, though, because I know it will pass.
Last but not least, I have this letter to show anyone that they are not alone. No one else should ever feel like they are alone after they are assaulted. You walked away embarrassed, and with nothing. I walked away knowing that I’m not alone, and that I’m powerful.
Move along now,