I’ve heard it takes enormous courage to imagine the world how it should be instead of how it is. I think it’s an incredibly harsh lesson to understand how limited this imagining is. I want to live in a world that is good. I want to live in a world where I feel safe. I want to live in a world where I can appreciate the talents, creative ingenuity, and energy of my peers and thrive in a society that does every bit to foster each of us to our potential. Up until last Saturday, at approximately two in the afternoon, I had slightly deluded myself into thinking I was capable of attaining such a dream, an imagining realized.
Then you came into my life for a mere fifteen or twenty seconds, and you literally tried to beat that out of me.
I was minding my own business, reading a book, doing my best to “educate” myself, walking past you, barely acknowledging your presence, and the next thing I knew, I was on the ground, cradling the cut on my scalp, stunned by what you did and the amount of blood pouring from my wound. You didn’t say much. Honestly, I can’t truly recall if you said anything. I think you called me the N word, which further bewilders me. And like that, you were gone. Fleeing the scene, leaving me to clean a mess I didn’t make. No witnesses to corroborate, no hope for CCTV footage, and not enough time to get a physical description. Almost like you were a dream. By the grace of God, you didn’t incapacitate me, and fortunately for me, it happened a block from the Hennepin County Medical Center. You reduced me to my childhood years. I hadn’t experienced a shame like that since elementary school. Waiting in that bed reminded me of detention, Five-Minutes-On-The-Wall, waiting for someone to look me over and say, “Fine, you’re free to go. Don’t talk back to Mrs. Sphuler. And don’t assume everyone is inherently good. That’ll teach you to carelessly wander the streets without a constant state of awareness.” I felt foolish, uttering the words “I didn’t think it would happen to me” to my roommate and my parents. It seems obvious now, after washing the blood from my hair, tenderly maneuvering around the stapled wound. Even as I write this, I’m still in a strange denial stage, as if I’m subconsciously attempting to convince myself that no, I didn’t get jumped, you didn’t assault me out of some unknown spite, or perhaps you did have a reason but didn’t feel obligated to enlighten me. Heck, why would you? You don’t know me, I don’t know you. I don’t want to know you, and from our brief, horrific encounter, I’m fairly certain that feeling is mutual.
A couple of days have passed, and I’ve experienced a mix of emotions. I’m hurt, upset, and confused. I pity you. I’m furious. I want to go back to that moment and actually fight for myself. I want to run you down and retaliate. I want to hug you and say, “It’s okay. I forgive you.” I want call you awful names. I want you arrested. I want to know if this was your first incident or just another assault in a string of assaults you’ve inflicted on other passerby. With that on the table, it’s probably in your best interest that you stay away from me. My fluctuating state would spook anyone, more so because I’m kind of difficult to read. I’ll never forget those hours in the medical center, void of my spunk. I feel sorry for my roommate, having to witness a side of me he never saw before. A despondent shell of what I once was, short, succinct answers, that stupid question on the tip of our tongues, itching to be uttered:
“Why you, Arthur?”
I can’t walk through the Twin Cities anymore without thinking of you. One of my favorite pastimes is strolling the city in the evening, watching cars fly past me, glancing at couples and groups through the windows of bars, restaurants, bookstores, bike shops, coffee shops, imagining myself in a large group of friends wandering through an urban garden of lights, relishing my youth. You took that away from me. I can’t walk outside without this paranoia gnawing at my mind, wondering if you’re out there, hoping to get another turn at me.
I want those fifteen to twenty seconds back. I want that sense of security back. I want to believe in this city again. God help me, I want to be naive again.
Or perhaps not. Maybe somebody worse would have come and taken advantage of my naïveté in a more gruesome way.
Truthfully, I expected the worse when I realized you were beating me. I was wondering if this was it, this was the way I was going to leave this world — beaten to death and robbed, left to be discovered by some unfortunate tourist from Mankato. I can’t help imagining my family’s reaction if my injuries had proven fatal. You could’ve killed me. You stunned me to the point I couldn’t have put up a decent fight. I’m grateful you spared me. If I could, I would say goodbye to everyone I loved before I left, so if there’s anything I can thank you for not taking from me, it’s that.
What overwhelms me the most about this incident is a lack of motive. Your silence left no trace of a reason. I want that more than justice. What was it about me that afternoon that infuriated you enough to hurt me? Was it my skin color? The rainbow pride bracelet? I was reading Larry Kramer’s The American People when you attacked me. Did you think I was a Trump supporter? Was it because I was reading? Did my quick glance suggest I thought you inferior to me? I want to know. I want to understand what you wanted to accomplish, what was it about me that deserved such a punishment extracted by you. Nobody else, you. Why you? And why me?
Actually, those last two questions still sound stupid and useless after I wrote them. My family, friends, and I could play the Why Game for hours. It wouldn’t change what happened. You did what you did, and I have a cut on my scalp that proves you did it. I hope you’re proud of yourself. Really, I do. May that be your crowning achievement last weekend. Because despite my anger towards you, the vague hope you’ll get caught on your next offense, I dabble back into pity. Pity for you. You must have gone through something awful, something wretched and nasty to warrant such a scary, spontaneous outlet. I’m truly sorry violence was the only siphon for your rage. And yes, I’m sure this pity will subside into self-pity, and back to confusion again. It’s still too early for me to discern my initial musings from my retrospective ones. I might grapple with this internal struggle for many years. I don’t want to waste any vital healing time on you.
I can’t say for certain if this experience will make me stronger. I’d like to think it will, and with the right support and therapeutic reflections, I’m sure I will live through this. I no longer read while walking (I really hate you for taking that from me. I can’t delude myself into thinking I’m like Belle), and I have since regarded every passerby with a wider berth. I slightly flinch when I hear yelling, even from a distance. I’ve prolonged my evening walks until I attain some protection (i.e. mace, knife, pepper spray). I’m considering taking up some self-defense courses. I’ve given phone numbers to emergency contacts for worst case scenarios. I’m more vigilant, but I’m fighting with all my might to cling to the imagining of a world where I feel safe to be me, to walk with a book in hand and revel in my bookwormish disposition.
Some friends have theorized, based on my account, the only concrete account of this assault, it was most likely a hate crime, perhaps fueled by drugs or some other form of inebriation. If that’s the case, then I adamantly refuse to let you shame me for who I am. I’ve spent years teaching and fighting to love and cherish myself, and I sure as hell won’t let someone like you knock me down a peg. Even if it wasn’t a hate crime, if it was just for kicks, I will still fight to retain some essence of what I had before you stole it from me. I might not be a fighter, and I might not be tough, but I’m tough enough to get back on my feet again and continue on my way home. And guess what? If it was about the book, I’ll stop reading it when I finish it.
So if you’re somehow reading this, Man Who Assaulted Me, I say nice try. Bring a weapon next time. I’m still walking these streets with a book in my hand. Right now, I feel brave. I feel confident. And though I may experience a lapse in these two, I’ll revel in the moment.