The most important thing to know is that today, I’m fine. And the second most important thing to know is that if it had to happen, then I’m glad it happened the way it did.
There’s no other way to say it than this: I was robbed last night, and it’s not anything I’d like to do again ever. I can take responsibility for my own actions for putting myself in the place where I was (on my street a block from my house) but as for the actions of the two teenagers who approached me, that’s on them, and they apparently have no understanding of the word “karma” and how it’s a bitch.
How long have I lived here? Seven months? How many times have I walked up my street to rent a movie at Blockbuster? Innumerable. I carried with me just my tiny wallet that I can almost disguise in my palm and my keys that I’d tucked into my front pocket. In my wallet was just my credit card and a couple of other cards–insurance, food ticket card, and my Blockbuster card. Not even a single piece of cash–coins, nothing.
The best way I can describe the moment I knew it was going to happen was a warm sensation in my stomach–like my stomach was coating itself with liquor, a gulp of whiskey or tequila. I could feel the warmth fall suddenly from my chest all the way down to the pit of my stomach when I saw the two figures on the opposite side of the street cross and walk directly toward me. The street was silent, a classic scene from a movie in which a woman is attacked. I knew it was going to happen and maybe that warmth was my body’s preparation for keeping a cool head as much as I could.
It turns out I couldn’t keep much of anything, including my wallet.
“Rapidinho,” the two boys said. “Seu dinheiro e celular. Rapidinho, rapidinho!”
The tall one up in my face, curly hair, red shirt. “Rapidinho!”
“Eu nao tenho nada!” And it was true. I had nothing. Nothing of any kind of value to them.
“Rapidinho!!” the smaller and younger boy whispered. For a second I could see he wasn’t comfortable being there. I could see he didn’t want to do what his friend was doing. I knew it.
I turned and then the tall one grabbed me by the shoulders and I gripped my wallet tighter. He wanted the wallet. I knew that. I struggled from his grasp but his arm came around my neck and I smelled the salt of his skin. It was warm and dry. I made a choking sound and his grip released only slightly.
I realized then as I struggled to hold onto the little blue wallet that I could very well be hurt seriously if I didn’t let go of the thing they wanted.
“I could die like this?”
“Rapidinho!” he repeated.
In our mutual attempts to hold onto what we both wanted, I fell on my knees and he tugged once more at the blue wallet. I released, felt the leather slip from between my fingers and then there was nothing there. I reached out and stood up and was conscious of my flip flop falling from my foot and I screamed to all the porteiros and I yelled out behind the running boys and their colored t-shirts and I cried to them and to anyone who could listen. I saw lights come on, was conscious of people out on balconies and before I knew it I was at my apartment and crying and shaking and knowing there was nothing I could do. And I wondered if my shoe had really fallen off, if I’d left it in the scuffle of desperate bodies up the street. And without looking I tried to feel my feet again and tried to feel through my foot if the straps were touching my skin, if my sole was on the ground.
On my skin, when I looked at it, were marks left by the dry fingers: against my neck, on my forearms. Red marks from holding.
In the end, I had help from four different people. I sat on the steps of my apartment weeping, more out of shock and confusion than fear. The warm coating I felt in my stomach had shaken its way through my whole body, into my fingers and left my hands trembling. Three people brought me to the police station, another woman cancelled my credit card for me, and in all, after two hours, I was back in my apartment and on the phone crying with Dennis. I’ve never wanted someone with me so badly as I did last night. I never wanted someone’s body next to mine as intensely as last night.
And today I’m mostly searching. I’m searching for a way to make sense of what happened, how to learn from it, how not to give into stereotypes about Brazil and the people who live here, how to teach my students something from this. How not to let any kind of fear make me freeze up. Did I have a different opinion of living here this morning when I woke up and looked out of my window? Does it look a little less beautiful today than it did yesterday? Can I take comfort in the “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” mantra?
On my first day in Brazil, I was sitting in my first Portuguese class and talking with my teacher. He said, “Don’t let one bad experience ruin all of Brazil for you. Don’t make generalizations based on one or two people. Don’t think all Brazilians are a certain way if you have a bad experience.” I thought how weird it was to introduce a person to Brazil in that way. Way to paint a positive image of this country, I thought. I didn’t see the point of what he was saying.
I swear to you, I am trying so hard to do what my teacher said.