It was one of those long winter days: when mid-semester work piles up and overwhelms at school, when early morning sports practices run you out of energy even before academic demands of the day begin, when after-school appointments and meetings keep you busy until dark, which falls early this late in January.
So, with this day behind me and merely two blocks from my apartment, I am looking forward to relaxing for a short while before delving into my homework. Making a left onto my street, I almost sighing with relief that I can see my building canopy—rest is near. I watch the gray pavement move quickly under my New York City-style strides and hear another set of impatient, hasty steps behind mine, so out of respect for this presumably home-bound, tired citizen, I move a step or two to the left to allow him or her to pass by. But no one passes me, and I only hear more steps shifting and hastening. This feeling develops in the pit of my stomach and floods the rest of my body; it is only as I almost double my pace that I recognize it as the top level uh-oh feeling that had only before been simulated in Prepare classes. I move even faster now, and I notice my shadow against the cement bouncing the way a jogger’s shadow might, and I quickly notice another figure’s tall, looming shadow right behind mine, swinging its arms and making speed up the street. I whirl my head around, checking the block as I power-walk, frantically searching for another person on my small, residential street. I feel my breath quicken with anxiety, and zero in my canopy, focusing on it, willing my legs to take me faster to it as the steps belonging to my follower grow alarmingly quick and heavy. I’m already at where the red-brick of my building begins, which means I am about 15 feet from my front door. But 15 feet is still a whole 15 feet.
And suddenly it all happened. I find myself quickly calculating that breaking into a run from my current walking pace would take about 2 preparatory leap-steps, and somehow, in the exact moment I’m making these calculations, I am executing the step. I’m about break into that run when I feel the presence of my follower directly behind me. I know I no longer have time to run. This is time to fight. I bend my knees with my next step and bring my arms in and up to my chest, ready to swing them back and do the slap-grab-pull of the from-behind choreography. I feel him close to my body, almost at my waist, and I plant my feet, centering my weight and opening my mouth, reading to yelp, “NO! I’ve been grabbed!” when suddenly a flash of light shoots up from under my skirt. I’m momentarily blinded and shocked, and I feel the arm pull back and slightly brush against my inner thigh and butt. For a slip second I’m paralyzed, I’m gaping for words, for air, but just as quickly as I lost my voice, it came back, booming. I’m shouting at the top of my lungs, “Help! There is a pervert! He took a picture up my skirt! PERVERT! Everybody LOOK!” My shouts drove him to the middle of the street, and he took three or four confused, hesitant steps in different directions. The idiot was standing right under the street light, unsure of where to go, trying to hide from my voice and the eyes of the waiters from the restaurant across the street enjoying a smoke outside. The harsh orange light from the street lamp showed my follower to be an old man in a frumpy trench coat carrying a shopping bag. I am observing all of this, still yelling, and I take three huge leaps to my front door. I fling the door open, still facing the man in the middle of the street, still yelling. My doorman, who had been at the elevator talking to a tenant, immediately came rushing through the lobby towards me, asking in a raised voice, “You were what? He did what? Oh my GOD!” In one fell swoop, my doorman looks at me, follows my pointing hand to that creepy guy still wandering in the middle of the street, and races after him, adding to my noise by shouting, “You, get back here!” I step into the lobby, oddly aware of all parts of my body: my shaky legs and arms, my flushed face, my heart beating rapidly out of my chest and up into my throat.
The next few hours run together in my mind. I had a pow-wow in the lobby with the other resident and the superintendant. Soon after my doorman came back and told me he had recognized the guy as a delivery person for a local pharmacy. I was on an adrenaline rush, talking loudly and quickly, laughing every other breath, and gesticulating wildly. I went upstairs, and my mom came home about 10 minutes later. I was already on the phone with my best friend, unloading the play-by-play onto his attentive ears. As I spoke through it, the clarity of my memory shocked me, as did the precision and quickness of my own actions. We hung up, and I told my mom the specifics; Felix the doorman had already filled her in on part of the story. My whole chest and body seemed the shake, but my words were clear and steady. My mother kept asking if I was okay, but I told her I was more stressed out about telling my dad than anything. He lives with his girlfriend, so I probably wouldn’t see him that night, but I didn’t want to worry him over the phone. After a few deep breaths, my mom made me call him, but I left out some of the details to spare his blood pressure rate. He wanted to know why the police hadn’t come already, and he said he was on his way over. We had already called the local precinct, and sure enough, minutes later two kind officers were in my dining room, taking my story. They wrote furiously and filled out their reports and asked all sorts of questions—how tall was he, how old was he, had I seen him before, could I recognize him again if I saw him. They asked me if I was okay, and then they said a detective would be calling me, and then they left. Just like that. My dad came over and hugged me so tight I actually could not breathe. He later told my sister that he had hugged my doorman, too, when he came in. My dad’s not a big hugger.
I got up and went to school the next day. I thought I was handling the whole situation: I confided in my supervisor, who said that if I needed a break I could sit in his office and skip some classes, but I stayed focused and alert through the whole day. After school my basketball team had a game against St. Ann’s. And then suddenly it all happened again. As I ran down the court, dribbling the ball, everything around me slowed down, each noise was muted out except for the thud of the ball hitting the floor again and again. I watched the orange basketball bounce and my vision whirled back to less than 24 hours ago when I saw my shadow bouncing down the street. I stopped bouncing the ball and passed to a teammate, and cut away through a few defenders. I suddenly saw what the scene of that creepy man sticking a camera under my crotch would look like from the side. I lost my breath and got it back. Re-cut on the court and couldn’t get open for the ball. We fell back to defense, my mind whizzed back and forth, all noises were either intensified or nonexistent. There was a time out. I kept feeling his hand near my leg, seeing the flash under my skirt, feeling him standing so close behind me. I was nodding in agreement to a new defense. I played hard, shaking my head to get the memory out. I saw the fake shrub my building has on either sides of the front door for decoration, the same one my eyes had focused right before the flash went off. I couldn’t see my teammates open on the court. Every timeout I bent down as if to stretch my legs, but I was really creating a quiet space to talk to myself. Keep focused. Its okay. Basketball now. The Incident later. It’s a game. You got it. Relax. Basketball. Basketball. Somehow it worked. I got refocused, my defense got fierce, and we won.
On the bus back, I sat down next to my coach and among my teammates. We passed out some celebratory snacks, and just as I opened my mouth to eat a Twizzler, I began to cry. Shaking and sobbing, apologizing for my poor play. Everyone seemed confused; I had gotten back my passing and lead the defensive revival. But no, but no, it was so bad, I said. I found myself choking out my story from the evening before, and my teammates hugged me and talked to me and calmed me down. They were the quintessential support group.
For the next practice or two, particularly during wall taps, fierce flashbacks overcame me. Somehow the whole team was wired into my mind and knew when they were happening, because each time I felt one coming on, a friend would make eye contact, smile, wink, or something, and pull me back.
I had a meeting with my school’s Head of Security, an ex-NYPD detective. Everyday when I came to school, he’d greet me, ask me if I needed anything. He volunteered to drive me down to the police station if I needed to go right after school; he said his office was also an available hideout if I wanted it.
A game of phone-tag with the detectives assigned to my case ensued. I always got very nervous when I had to call them back; I think I was always reminded of the severity of the incident when I heard one of them answer the phone as “NYPD Detective X of the 19th Precinct.” Eventually we connected, and they questioned me over the phone. The next day, at around 8 p.m., one detective called me to ask if I could do a line up. Tonight. My dad and I left my apartment building about 15 minutes later and saw Felix standing next to a huge police van. Felix told us to wait, and a man got out of the van and introduced himself to us as one of the two detectives on the case. He was giving Felix a ride to the station, and would we like to join. He expressed his outrage that such an event happened to me, and my dad said he hadn’t been so scared for me since I was three and bumping my head on the edge of tables, and the detective was one of the scariest moments of his life, the detective told us he has a teenager daughter in college that he worries about all the time, especially because he’s always on the job and sees so many terrible things. Standing in that all-too familiar spot, right under the A-line apartment windows 15 feet away from my building’s front door, this NYPD detective turned to me and said, “Off the record, you did exactly, exactly what you were supposed to do.” With a nod and a pat on my shoulder, he escorted me into the van and drove us all down to the precinct.
© Emily Coch 2009, 10th grade student