…and when it was happening, I wondered if my shoes had stayed on my feet.

25 03 2007

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.
“Rapidinho.”
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.
“Rapidinho! Rapidinho!”
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.

But now?

I swear to you, I am trying so hard to do what my teacher said.

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8 responses

26 03 2007
Rob

Holy sh*t!! I’m really glad to hear you’re not hurt but I’m so sorry that happened. I’m sorrier still that you’re down there by yourself. That must have been really scary. Punks!
That’s horrible. As expected, all the typical male stuff is running through my head but at the very least I wish I was down there to walk you to work or to blockbuster until you felt better. Maybe I can send you a big dog?
Hope you’re ok. Let me know if you can take a phone call.

26 03 2007
ginacoggio

I really am okay. Although, today, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t look at people differently on my street or if I wasn’t more aware or suspicious of my surroundings, even at 7:30 this morning. It’s just so shitty that it happened and I’m so mad. I didn’t think I would feel mad about it, but I do. And mostly I’m mad because this kind of thing is NORMAL here. It’s expected to happen. So that just sucks to expect to be mugged. I would love a big dog and I would love a friend to walk me to work. But even as I type this, Dennis is on a plane from Miami. So, soon enough. Thanks for your thoughts.

26 03 2007
rob

perfect timing. enjoy the time together. I’ll see what I can do about the dog 😎

17 09 2007
Literary Bohemian

Wow! It’s time to get some mace or pepper spray to carry on your key chain. Or, better yet, use this as a perfect excuse for taking some hard core self defense classes: kung fu, jeet kun do, kickboxing, capowera (sp?) etc. Let it propell you into learning how to defend yourself. There are bad apples in every country. Unfortunately, in countries where poverty is rampant, robberies and violence happen more often. I can’t imagine being robbed. What a horrible experience. I hope you feel better soon.

18 09 2007
junewell

I got mugged (one kid, with a gun) two blocks from my apartment in Brooklyn a few months ago. I still feel uncomfortable in my neighborhood after dark, but I don’t know what to do other than try to move on. It really can happen anywhere, anytime. Fear can rule your life if you let it (and that is not meant to be preachy; it’s what I keep telling myself).

19 09 2007
Kristin

Oh my gosh, that is so horrible! I’m glad you are OK, though! Punk ass kids.

19 09 2007
ginacoggio

…right?!
I’m more mad at myself that I let it happen at all, but I know I can’t take credit for everything that happeend. I just wasn’t thinking.

11 04 2008
No fear. « A Year Here / A Year There

[…] Since I was robbed in March last year, on my street, I have been afraid—-almost paralyzingly so—-of going outside alone at night. I’ve turned down invitations to join friends at bars simply because I knew it meant I would need to walk on my street by myself at some point, where I would almost certainly meet my death. When walking home from my friend’s house at night, just one block over from my own, my stomach has knotted itself so tightly it’s taken hours to unwind. I’ve left parties early, spent money on cabs, asked for rides from strangers, just so I could avoid being on my street at night by myself. […]

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