I wasn’t more than about the age of two or three when I saw my mother get brutally mugged in the parking lot of the apartment complex that we were living at. It is something that shook me deeply and has shaped the way that I have lived my life ever since.
I remember having to go to the pharmacy that night, loaded up into the car, and upon our return in the dark of night, a man riding a bike tried taking her purse. She didn’t oblige, which resulted in a struggle before the assailant close fisted clocked her no less than twice across the side of her face. I remember hearing her screams and cries for help as the struggle unfolded. I couldn’t exactly tell what was happening, but knew something was wrong. I too, began to cry and scream in a shrill tone, confused and out of place or context of what had occurred. I don’t know if the assailant ever got her wallet, though he did make a quick escape as neighbors finally reacted to the commotion outside.
The police were soon on scene to take a report, scribbling down the basic facts of the loss and any descriptive details that she could provide.
There was a lineup that my mother was called in to select from. The color of the assailant’s shirt was traumatically etched into her mind and when prompted to identify suspects that closely matched the description, it was later revealed that the suspect identified was not in fact her assailant.
While that may have meant the end of the investigation, it was just the start of how things changed in our house. We moved away as the lease ran out, and ultimately we recovered. But, accompanied with a change of scenery was an investment in self defense. I learned as a young child what being vulnerable meant. What it was to look for an exit strategy in every situation. To know not to yell for help because people don’t respond, instead to yell fire to gain attention in an emergency situation. I learned to sleep with one eye open.
As I grew older, I attended my mother’s self defense classes, focusing on how to to disable any would be attacker’s. Participants would beat the crap out of a heavily padded instructor, who would tower over and around you.
The song “Sweet Dreams” would play at night on the car radio after the night my mother was attacked. To this day, when I hear it, I shiver a bit. Annie Lennox’s voice across a pop synth apparently was a key in striking a chord. The once visible shiver has been reduced to a tingle in my spine. Written to address the music industry, the chorus lends way to the idea that everybody around is out to use or abuse the talent. Marilyn Manson later covered the song, but in fact, it’s the original that stuck with me all this time.
I won’t so boldly announce that this event alone created a level of distrust of the outside world. That comes over time and with experience. Which is not to say that I am an unpleasant person, but I can identify that as I grew up, it was with a level of always remaining somewhat guarded, aware. Because, hauntingly, everyone is looking for something.