Mugged Twice, Still Sober

By Courtney Gillette 08/17/15

Who gets mugged twice in one calendar year? Who gets mugged twice in sobriety? Me

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One summer night, shortly after I celebrated one year of sobriety, I was mugged for the first time. It was June, and I was walking home to my apartment, oblivious, with my headphones in my ears. A man and a woman stood in front of the door to my building, which I opened for them while I paused to check the mailbox. I figured they were visiting someone and waiting to be buzzed in. I even smiled when I held the door open. Walking to the top of the stairs, my head was bent, my music still on. They were waiting for me on the landing. The man yanked my earphones out, his other hand under his shirt, holding a gun or a hairbrush or a candy bar. I’ll never know. The woman stood behind him, blocking the hallway. 

“Give me everything,” he said. 

I handed over my iPhone, the headphones still dangling, the music tinny and present. My wallet was a small leather clutch that I took from my tote bag and handed to him. 

“How much is in here?” he asked.

“Forty dollars?” I guessed. The answer was six dollars, but my mind was a circus of fear. On my right hand, I wore a white gold Claddagh ring that held my mother’s wedding diamond. I stuffed the hand awkwardly inside of my tote bag. 

“The jewelry,” he said.

“No!”

“Give me all your jewelry.” 

“Fuck,” I whispered. My eyes stung with tears. I took my hand from my bag, twisted the ring from my finger, and handed it over. 

“Is that everything?” he asked. I stood before them, a white girl in a halter dress, my groceries in a canvas bag at my feet. The tote bag on my shoulder sagged with a journal, library books, the Serenity Prayer used as a bookmark. 

“Yes.”

He darted down the stairs, the woman behind him. My fear ratcheted up a notch when I thought they had taken my keys. “Hey!” I bellowed. “Did you take my fucking keys?”

They stopped at the bottom of the stairs and turned to look at me. Here we were, absurdly paused in the drama of this crime. “No,” he said.

The keys were clutched in my hand all along. “Well, thank you!” I yelled.

They rushed out the door. I had just thanked my muggers. 

What happened next was an angry blur. All the rage bubbled up at once, and I stomped the rest of the way up to my apartment, screaming, “Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!” at every closed door. I had to knock on my neighbor's door to use her cellphone to call the cops, who rushed up the stairs in a pack of six, useless and late. “They’re gone!” I cried. “They’re gone.”

What I remember about that night is sitting on my couch afterwards, deflated, bewildered. My groceries were limp on the living room floor, a pack of fish sticks defrosting into a soggy puddle. I had my one year coin, which I clutched in my palm while chanting over and over again, “I’m safe. I’m safe. At least I’m safe.” It baffled me, how quickly this gratitude found me. I emailed friends and family to let them know what had happened, and one friend drove over immediately, holding me in my doorway as I sobbed. I had been mugged, and all I felt was relief. It could’ve been worse, I told people. It could’ve been so much worse. 

Six months later, I was mugged again. 

That November, I walked to a friend’s apartment on a Friday night. I no longer wore headphones, and I clutched my handbag close to my body. My friend lived on the ground floor of a brownstone, the door to her apartment under the front stoop. I opened the gate to her building, closed it, then rang her doorbell. There was movement in my peripheral vision, and I turned just in time to see a man hop the gate, stick a gun to my head, and yank my bag from my shoulder. We didn’t say a word. When my friend opened her apartment door a moment later, he was gone.

“I just got mugged,” I said. 

This time, there was no relief. There was unstoppable rage. 

Who gets mugged twice in one calendar year? Who gets mugged twice in sobriety? I was the kind of drunk girl who had passed out on the 6 train and woken up at the last stop in the Bronx. Cab drivers used to shake me awake at the end of the ride. I once came out of a blackout lost in New Orleans, without a cellphone, without cash, far from the French Quarter. I stood crying on the side of a highway until a stranger in a pickup truck offered me a ride home in exchange for a favor. In all of those dangerous moments, I’d never been harmed. It was grace in brilliant black and white. Now there was this seething, dumb resentment within me that stone cold sober, I’d been mugged twice. 

My friend was gracious and strong, searching the bushes along her block for my bag, talking to her neighbors to ask if they’d seen anything. I sat on her couch and stewed. Same as the first time I’d been mugged, I sent an email to friends and family. I gave them my friend’s cellphone number in case they needed to call me that night. Then I closed the laptop and eyed the liquor bottles on top of my friend’s refrigerator. Once everyone in the apartment went to sleep, I was going to get drunk. 

I laid on the couch under a blanket, waiting for the right time. My friend was still up and about, making tea, trying to comfort me. At one point, she came out of her bedroom with her cellphone.

“You have a message,” she said.

She hit replay, and I held the phone to my ear. It was one of my sober friends, the first sober friend I’d made. “This is Carrie,” she said, her voice serious, concerned. “And I’m looking to talk to Courtney? She gave me this phone number. I just want her to know that I’m here if she needs anything. I want to know if she’s alright. Please tell her to call me back. Please.”

A sob grew in my chest, hearing my friend’s voice. I called her back immediately, taking the phone into my friend’s bedroom.

“You don’t have to drink,” was the first thing Carrie said. “Just don’t drink. Do you need me to come get you? What do you need?”

Grace like a mood swing. Grace like coming up for air. 

I didn’t drink that night. I woke up the next day, and I cried, and I screamed, but I didn’t drink. And I did this over and over again. Sober friends talked to me about justifiable anger, and how we were ill-equipped to handle it, but nothing could quell the resentment I felt against the world. It was plainly fucking unfair. Why me? Why women? Why now? Why twice? Was this what it felt like to be taken care of?

In the next several weeks, I did my best to move through the anger and the fear, and friends gathered around me to help. I kept thinking about what sort of action I could take against my justifiable anger, what service I could be of. There were so many nights that I declined parties or outings because I didn’t have the cash for a car service home. It was winter, and every evening it got dark so fast. Feeling unsafe was a terrible, isolating feeling. 

Then I read about an organization called Right Rides that gave women and LGBT folks a free ride home on Friday and Saturday nights. I signed up to volunteer, and after the brief training, a friend and I were on our first shift. He drove while I navigated and communicated with the dispatcher. That night, every time we delivered a woman safely home, I felt a fraction better. It was tangible service. Two hours into our shift, we were driving through Brooklyn when I could feel the hair on my arms rise. The block looked familiar, the church on the corner, the manicured brownstones. I turned just in time to see that we were driving past the house where the man had put a gun to my head and grabbed my purse, my safety, my faith. 

“That’s it!” I shouted. “That’s where I was mugged!” 

We all swiveled to watch the building disappear from view as we drove on. I collapsed back into my seat, laughing. “Not tonight!” I laughed. We all cheered. It was perhaps small, but I would get home safe that night. So would my friend driving. So would the woman in the back seat. I could be angry, and I could be of service. It could’ve been so much worse. 

Courtney Gillette is a writer and ex-teacher, as well as co-host of the reading series The Hustle. She lives in Brooklyn with one bookseller and three cats.


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