Friday, April 08, 2005

The Shot Not Heard Round the World

today marks the 2-year anniversary of an incident which changed my life forever. it is a strange thing because no matter how hard a person tries to forget something or someone, the brain won't let us do that. it is an internal filing cabinet which releases bits of information when it feels appropriate. so, the anticipation of nothing but a day has been building all week.

two years ago today i was still on my high from completing grad school two weeks earlier. a trip to san francisco was planned in order to pound the pavement and seek employment to put all that i learned in grad school to good use. however, until i was ready to land the job of my dreams, i was still waiting tables in order to continue the flow of food from the grocery store shelf to the pit of my stomach.

it was a slow tuesday night shift and i was given the opportunity to be cut at an early hour. but, having still felt guilty from spending too much money partying at graduation, i told my manager that i would stay until close and pick up as many tables as possible. i can still see the faces of my last customers. little did i know they would be the last of my waitering career. after being left a tip that was in no way worth staying on for the evening, i did my close out duties and headed out the door.

i began walking to my car which was parked a few blocks away from the restaurant. employees were in no way, shape or form allowed to park on the premises. it was bad enough having my face seen as an employee there, but to put my personal possessions on the property definately would have made me feel like they owned some part of my life. i began talking on my cell phone, returning a call that i missed while on my shift. i continued my walk down the tree-lined, residential street where kids play in the front yard and dogs chase passer-bys. somehow, even with one ear occupied with my friend's voice chattting away, i heard a branch break behind me and the sound of movement heading toward me. i turned around to see 3 guys running in the middle of the street headed towards me. 'how weird' i thought for people to be out this late for an evening jog. a street light hit the silouette of a gun and i soon realized that these 3 guys were not out for a night run. everything that followed probably only lasted a total of two minutes, but playing out in slow motion, felt like an eternity.

they surrounded me, forming a circle and proving to me they had done this before. slowly my possessions were removed from my hands, pockets and backpack. i was left with nothing. keys, wallet, phone, anything that could have helped me not remain stranded was now gone. i was told, gun to my head, to turn around and get down. i remained relatively calm thinking and accepting the fact that my time was up. three people (who still don't know this) flashed before my eyes and i set to embrace whatever lie ahead of me. i was pushed to the ground and told to count to 100 as they fled, promising to return if they saw me move. after hitting the number ten, i picked myself up and went back to my place of employment to phone the police. inside the restaurant i stood soaking wet and covered in mud (it had been raining all day) trying to process what just happened. needless to say, the guys were never caught and the police were of little help. big surprise.

a friend came to pick me up and i sat up until 3 in the morning having to relate my story to customer service representatives of various credit card and bank companies. the harder phone calls to make were the ones to my parents and friends the next day. i can still remember my parent's voices trying no to crack as they responded to what i was telling them. friends called me to say they had just managed to stop crying or stop throwing up when the reality of losing me passed over them. this was all something i was not used to at all. all of a sudden, the attention and priority i usually gave to my friends and family and their problems was now shifted to me. and i somehow felt that it was my fault that i was causing them such heartbreak and pain. and that upset me more than anything.

weeks passed and i moved back to my home state and went to live with my dad. slowly, but surely, i feel into a state of depression. replaying the assault over and over in my mind with alternate endings was a daily ritual. being angry at the world and asking why i had to be the one, out of all the people in the world, had to experience this. this would be something i would have to live with for the rest of my life, stored away in the crevases of my brain. i had been stripped of everything on that residential street, including my dignity. feelings of anger toward my attackers for not being men and finishing the job ran through my head as well. i often thought that not being here at all would have been easier than experiencing the pain, hurt and anger i was feeling. i eventually isolated myself and my depression got so bad that i would go for days without speaking or getting out of bed. i also pushed as many people as i could out of my life because it was easier to go through this alone and not have my pain rub off on others. it was easier for me push away their support and not witness what i felt was their pain and pity for me.

one sunday morning, tired of walking on eggshells in his own home, my father said he had enough and that i needed to seek professional help. still having not let a single tear be shed, i found myself forced into therapy. while there, not only did i work through my assault, but i worked through the way i was living my life and the relationships that consumed it.

and let me just say, a person's outlook on life changes once something like this happens. never would i have completed grad school had this assault happened before graduation. the countless hours in front of the computer and stress to complete projects all didn't seem to matter now. relationships, people and a sunny, warm, spring day all take on new meaning. the daily, uncontrollable stresses of life get moved to the back burner once you realize life is too short and is really worth living. you begin to take deeper notice of those around you and question how inhuman humans are to one another. you try to live life the best way you know how with as little drama as possible. and why? because it is wasted energy which could be put to better use in other places.

i have become very spiritual these past two years. not religious, spiritual. i realize everything has a purpose and reason for happening. although it may not be clear right away, eventually in time the answer appears before you. i have learned to appreciate who an what i have in my life. and i now realize that it could all be taken away, or i can be taken away, in the matter of a second. you learn to appreciate the people who matter to you even more. you also become more aware of your surroundings wherever you are.

i've been told i have come a long way these past two years. there has been a lot of progress and movement. the assault is thought of less and less (except on the anniversary of course) and the anger that accompanies an incident like this is felt less and less. awareness of my surroundings has stayed, which is a good thing. but being able to talk about this and face it head on, for the entire world to read or hear, is the best progression possible. i proved my mother wrong when she used to say, 'you're mouth is going to get you killed one day.' even in a traumatic incident such as this, i get a little satisfaction in proving a parent wrong for once.

it bothers me when i hear people say, 'yeah, my life sucks.' i often say to myself 'do you have a place to sleep at night? do you have food to eat? clothes to wear? a steady income? how about trading places with me back on the night of april 8th, 2003?' there are so many people out there walking around with much more serious problems and internal feelings other than having a bad date or a crappy job. you or i could not be here right now. i have a place to sleep at night, food to eat, clothes to wear and barely enough money to survive. life may not be going the way i want it to. but after realizing there was the possability of me not being here on this day, two years later (and having one of my greatest fears come true which is having something happen to me and leave my parents with no child), no, my life does not suck.


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