Officially a Chicagoan, or, My First Mugging

I assume most people have heard about this at this point, but a lot of people are curious about the details, which I totally understand.

I have to walk a little under a mile from the train to home, and rather than walking on the main, busy street I have taken to walking one street off the main street. It’s much quieter and full of these huge, old, interesting houses.

On this particular day it was pouring rain and I was carrying a giant Amazon package which had been delivered to work (a birthday present for Oliver), so my hands were full. I was coming towards a giant puddle and there was someone walking toward me from the other direction.

We were both angling in the same direction and I remember thinking, “Why is this guy forcing me to walk into this puddle?” I noticed that he had spotless white sneakers on so I thought maybe that was why he was taking such a strange angle. “No worries,” I thought. “I will be the nice guy and walk in the puddle,” and I tried to squeeze between him and the fence.

When I got close enough to him, he kind of chest-bumped me with his body and said, “Don’t say anything or move, I’ve got a gun. If you say anything, I’ll shoot you.” He kind of indicated his right coat pocket, but it was closed so I didn’t see if there was really a gun or not.

Now, you’d think this would be kind of panic inducing, but honestly I was not at all scared in that moment. Not even angry. I feel like I was just thinking really fast and I just kind of felt like, “Okay, this is new.”

He reached in my pocket and took out my phone. “Oh, it’s an iPhone 4s,” I said, honestly thinking surely the guy would go, “Lol, nevermind.” He didn’t. “Give me your wallet,” he said instead. “Hey, take the cash, but not the wallet, okay? All of my stuff is in there,” I said. I mean, even a robber understands what a pain it is to go to the DMV, right?

He was not convinced.

I feel like this part took a long time because I didn’t really know what to do, and there were a lot of fumbling exchanges and things. I kept thinking, “Surely someone will look out the window and see this and call for help.” But I guess 1) time might have been a little sped up for me, and it might not have taken as long as it felt like, and 2) anybody who happened to see us probably would have just thought two people were talking.

“What else you got?” he said. “Nothing else. What else would I have?” I said. What I did not say is, “DEFINITELY NOT A HUGE WAD OF CASH IN MY OTHER POCKET!!” Because, see, I had just gotten out an unusually large amount of cash (seriously, who uses cash? What are the odds this happened on this particular day when I just happened to have cash?) (and before you ask, no, he did not follow me from the bank)

He started patting down my pockets. “You holding out on me?” he said when he hit my pocket. “No, I don’t have anything!” I insisted but he reached in and grabbed the cash. His eyes lit up and he ran for it (at least one of us was having a good day). I didn’t realize it until that minute, but there was a car running, waiting just up the block, and the guy hopped in.

“Hey, can you leave the wallet though?” I forlornly called after him. “Just leave the wallet, okay?”

As they drove away, my first thought, crack detective that I am was, “Oh hey, I should get a picture of the license plate!” and reached for my phone. Which of course had just been stolen. And then in my confusion and disappointment from realizing I didn’t have my phone, I didn’t actually catch the license plate (which I have been kicking myself for ever since…stupid, stupid!)

I stood there for a minute, and then started walking home. I just started walking quicker and quicker until I was almost running. I think that’s when it started sinking in. I really hadn’t felt bad or anything more than frustrated until then, not even as he was running away with my stuff. Honestly, it didn’t seem real, like it was a scene from a movie and I was playing a part.

It was raining pretty hard but I kind of forgot about my umbrella, which was just dangling from my hand. When I got home I remembered that I had given my gate key to Sara and the buzzer didn’t work and naturally I didn’t have my phone. I had no idea what to do. I really didn’t know what to do without my phone, and I think I wasn’t thinking that clearly.

This was my lowest point; it felt worse than the robbery. I was cold and soaking wet and the adrenaline was starting to ebb, I scraped up my arm trying to break into the fence and everything just felt so, so hopeless. I thought, “If I just stand here in the rain, maybe eventually someone will start wondering where I am and come looking for me?” It just felt like there was a big weight pressing down on me.

Finally I managed to force the gate open and came inside. “Sara?” I yelled. “I’m really busy right now!” she said in a no-nonsense voice from the kitchen. “I’m busier!” I yelled back, voice cracking, verging on hysterics. I think there was something in my tone, because she did come pretty quick. I was pretty close to crying.

The kids were a little upset (I really wish I could have handled all of this without them knowing, but it just would not have been possible), and of course we needed to call the police and cancel the credit cards and everything. The CPD were surprisingly quick and they canvased the neighborhood with surprising efficiency. My phone was registering that it was nearby, so they took off over there, but it turns out they had just chucked my phone out the window of the car (hey, I tried to tell them…nobody wants an iPhone 4s!)

Getting my phone back seemed like one bright spot in all this, but it turned out not to be since the phone was damaged. I’m still glad to have it back. It feels so…weird that someone has all of my stuff. My mind keeps going to the business card Evelyn gave me when they made their businesses in 2nd grade and how somebody else has that now.

I always imagined if I were in a situation like this, I would fight back. “I bet he didn’t even have a gun,” I told Sara. “There are a lot of guns in Chicago,” she said, “I think it’s safe to assume he had one.” It’s like there is the logical part of me that says, you did the right thing, everything worked out okay. Obviously the main thing is that I was not hurt; the rest is just money. And then there is another part of me that thinks I should have fought him off or called his bluff or ran or taken another route or infinite other possibilities. Hard not to keep replaying it.

That night I thought I was fine. I had a lot of extra energy; I couldn’t stop pacing. “Maybe you should run on the treadmill,” said Sara. Everything just kept looping in my head. By the next morning I was really wishing it could stop looping in my head. By the time I was waiting for the train, I was feeling some massive anxiety. My heart was racing and I felt sick to my stomach. I just felt like there were so many people and I was trying to look at all of them. Why is that guy looking at me? Why is that guy coming toward me? Oh, he’s just getting on the train. I had to put my back to a wall.

I had planned to walk home from work, but Sara had offered to pick me up, and I uncharacteristically took her up on it. I knew that I was going to have to walk sooner or later, and usually in that case I figure might as well get it over with. But I put it off until Monday.

Naturally Monday was rainy, just to simulate the exact conditions as closely as possible. I got anxiety just looking at the weather report. But of course it was fine, and Tuesday was fine, and every time it’s going to get a little bit easier.

At this point, I think everything is more or less back to normal. I have wavered on publishing this post, because I feel like I want to talk about this and put it out there as honestly as I can. I wrote most of this the night it happened because Sara, understanding very well how I work, encouraged me to write it down, knowing that’s how I process things.

But on the other hand I don’t really want any sympathy from anybody. I really, truly don’t. It’s a thing that happened, and now it’s over. Life moves on.

The thing that gets me the most is that I don’t want to walk around my neighborhood anymore. That’s what was really stolen from me. I was really enjoying that walk, and now instead I have to go on the busy street and evaluate everybody for threats. I worry about Sara walking, or the kids. I wonder if by sharing this I am somehow justifying every person from back home who thinks that Chicago is not safe and you shouldn’t live here.

One last thing I want to say. If someone tells you that they’ve been mugged, do not say to them something like, “Whelp, you gotta be aware of your surroundings!” I can tell you from many experiences over the past few days, this is the absolute worse thing you can say. It is the worst kind of victim-shaming nonsense. I assure you that I was 100% aware, and there wasn’t a thing I could do about it. I saw him, I stared at him, I knew something was strange about him. It’s why I had such a good description of him for the police. I am not the one who did something wrong.

I could have walked a different way. I could not have taken that package home and had my hands full. I could have had less cash. That does not mean I deserved to be mugged. That guy was going to mug someone, and I was the only one on the street at the time.

I understand that people say this as a way to reassure themselves. I was the same way; I always thought, “Well, I don’t walk around at 2 am” or “I don’t walk around with my phone out” or “I don’t do the dumb things that *those* people do, so it won’t happen to *me*.” Well, I was aware and it wasn’t 2 am and I didn’t have my phone out and it happened anyway. If you want to reassure yourself, fine, but don’t do it on my back thank you very much.

In a weird way, I guess I’m glad that it was me that was at the wrong place at the wrong time. If I would have taken a different route or looked like a less tempting target, then the guy would have waited for somebody else. It could have been Sara or someone else with a kid, it could have been a teenager, it could have been someone who already had some kind of mental problems. It could have been a tough guy or a nervous guy who could have tried to fight back, and it could have gone poorly.

I came through unscathed. Let’s hope that was my one, and I’m good now. You hear that universe? We could really use a break.

 

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