Wednesday, August 04, 2004

I had another surprise on my birthday, this one not at all pleasant.

After dinner and a movie with my mom, I drove home. I parked my car, popped the trunk, and took out a big box sent to me by a friend that I'd picked up at the post office earlier in the day. I put my left arm through my purse, a bag kitty litter in that same arm, and held my soda cup from the movies in my left hand. The box was big, but lightweight, so I could hold it with my right hand. It was awkward, but it worked.

As I made my way to my apartment, two people that I’d first seen in front of my mom’s house walked in front of me, a male and female. The male asked me the time, I said I didn't have a watch, and the female walked ahead, saying, "I'm not sure we are going the right way." I asked them where they wanted to go, and they said Dolphin Street, which I thought was strange. There isn't anything on Dolphin Street. I told them the way to go, and motioned with the hand that was holding the Coke, and the two began walking ahead of me. I continued behind them a few more steps when the male suddenly stopped short. That's when I knew I was in trouble. He spun on his heels, grabbed my left arm, brought up his right hand, which held a huge can of mace, and from a foot away, sprayed it directly in my face. I felt it hit my forehead and left side of my face and my right cheek. Then, they just stood there. And so did I.

For just a second.

My reaction wasn't what one would expect from just receiving a face blast of mace. I didn't drop a thing, not even my Coke. He had released my arm, so I turned a quarter away from them and said sarcastically, "Oh, thank you very much." Yes, that is what I said. Then, the male said to the female, as they watched me, "I think we're running low," meaning the mace. When I look back, I think he said that because of my calm reaction. I have no idea how I stayed so calm, but I did. I attribute it to being in shock. My uncle says he thinks it’s because I’m tough. I’ll let him think that. :)

And that’s when extraordinary luck came into play. Behind me, I heard someone open the inside door to their apartment building. I walked from my assailants and made my way toward the noise. The door was all wood, so the person behind it couldn't see what was going on nor did the bad people know anyone was there when they did what they did. I walked up the stoop, knocked on the huge wooden doors, and a college age kid answered with a phone to his ear. A beautiful sight.

I said to him, still holding all my things, "I've just been assaulted, call 911." I repeated it a couple times as he let it register. He looked at me, then told his friend, "I gotta go." From the corner of my eye, I saw the two vermin retreat into the darkness. After I had reached safety, is when my body let me feel the fierce burning effects of the mace. I squeezed my eyes shut, and from there, everything was a flurry of sounds, smells, touch, and senses.

I said to the guy, “I can’t believe they just did that,” crying and shaking, my hands to my face and my eyes squeezed shut. He took my box and set it down, then led me into the foyer where I crouched in the corner as he spoke to the 911 operator, telling them I needed medical assistance and relaying to them what he knew. He relayed their questions to me, and I’d tell him, then he’d tell the operator. I could tell he was struggling with their questions, and offered to talk to the operator. He put the phone in my hand, and I gave a description, and after we were finished, they told me to get comfortable and that police and paramedics were on the way. As I crouched in the corner, occasionally my savior would gently touch my arm, letting me know he was close by. It turns out that he was visiting a friend in his apartment building, and God bless him, just happened to be there at the right time. He was a MICA student, and spoke to me every now and then. He was so calm and mature and told me what was going on around me, such as when he saw the fire truck pull up.

I heard the hiss and bellow of the truck, and the squeak of the brakes. I heard male voices, then the student talking to the firemen. I then heard a male voice say, “Sweetie?” I can’t remember if I moved or not, and he said again, “Sweetie?” I raised my head, and he told me he was with the fire department, and asked me what happened. I told him, my voice quivering through tears, and he asked if he could lead me out onto the stoop. I nodded, stood up, and reached out, feeling his offered forearm. He guided me gently as I took baby steps, and I felt another hand gently wrap around my left arm for support. The skin on my face was on fire and the chemical, stinging smell of the mace penetrated my nose. As I crouched, I’d been careful to cover my mouth and nose to avoid it getting inside. He led me down a couple steps, then told me to sit down on the stoop, holding on to me the whole time as I did so. They discussed my condition among themselves, and said that they had some water they could pour on my face until the paramedics arrived to flush the mace out of my eyes. They handed me what they called four by fours, which felt like thick, square sheets of gauze in my hands. I used it to dab at my eyes and face, and thanked them, saying it was a shame that I couldn’t see them to know who was helping me. They said they were just around the corner, and to come see them anytime. When I said it was my birthday, they reacted in sympathy, but wished me a happy birthday. I said that it had been a great one until now, and that good part is what I would focus on. That got accolades from the firemen.

They tilted my head back, and dripped water on my face. It soaked the front of my shirt and pants, all the way down to my underwear. I couldn’t have cared less, as it felt so good to get some relief, though temporary. After the baptism, they asked me to try and open my eyes. I did, and it felt as if a hundred pins were being stuck in each eye. I reacted to the pain, and shut them as fast as I tried to open them. My face was still on fire, as was my scalp and ears.

Another voice came from my left, a man identifying himself as the police officer who was assigned to my case. I reached out my hand to feel for him, and he shook it. At the time, touch was really important to me, and I reached out to touch anyone who spoke to me. He asked me to describe what happened, and I did, with a description of both the assailants. I’d gotten a really good look at both of them, and somehow being blinded made it easier to recall details, as I wasn’t distracted by what was going on around me. And, with all the activity it must have been quite a scene. He asked me my address and date of birth, and when I told him, he said, “oh, man,” then wished me a happy one. The student who had opened his door to me said that he had to go, and I reached out for him and shook his hand, thanking him for everything.

At that time, I heard my neighbor’s voice to my left, and I called her by name. She asked if I was okay and I said yes, but that I’d been maced. I could hear her boyfriend’s voice as well, saying they saw the activity outside and then realized it was me. They asked if they could help, and I asked if they could take my things in the foyer inside our apartment building. They did, and returned just as the officer told me the paramedics were there. Someone took me by my right arm, and another person took me by my left and helped me stand. They gently led me to the ambulance, telling me how many steps that I had left and where the curb was. The paramedics were a male and female, and both helped me in and sat me down.

A funny part of the evening is when I overheard the officer explaining to the paramedics that I was maced as a result of an assault, and not by the police. I guess they have to make sure who they are dealing with, even if their patient is a woman in a sleeveless crepe flowery shirt and sandals. The woman paramedic told me she was going to flush my eyes out with distilled water, and explained that the mace was oil based and designed to cling to my eyelashes, which is why it hurt so bad when I opened them. Also, that mace reacts to heat, which is why they were using cool water. They had to pry my eyes open, flushing the left one first and then the right. They have to flush from the tear duct outward. It was extraordinarily uncomfortable, but eventually, it got clear and I could see again. My caretakers both looked barely out of their teens, but were professional and did a great job. The woman asked if I needed to go to the emergency room, and I said that I thought that I’d be okay from here. I saw how they’d rigged the water, in an IV bag, which they hung up and squirted from the tube into my eyes. She then explained to me how to wash the rest out of my hair and scalp at home, as to not get it into my face. I stepped out of the ambulance, with police report in hand, then my neighbors helped me carry my things up to my apartment door. After that, I got into my tub and laid on my back with my face underneath the faucet. It took a good half-hour to wash out, but when I got out, a few minutes later my right arm and hand started to burn. I gave it a blast, but there was still burning. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep well that night. I think because my adrenaline had reached such levels and had gone into overdrive.

Now that I look back at it, it’s clear that the two intended to rob me and after they maced me, expected that I’d drop everything and writhe on the floor in pain as they made off with my goods. However, I didn’t. How the hell I didn’t, I don’t know, but it was almost as if a force field came over me in the seconds that I needed it. I’m thankful that they weren’t more violent and that the mace can wasn’t a gun.

Weirdly enough, I’d been jumpy that whole day, and kept having thoughts of dying on my birthday. Not that I would die, but the thought of wouldn’t it be weird if that happened, kind of thing. I’m glad I didn’t.

And the even stranger part is that I’m not even angry. Again, I think that comes from having “beaten them,” if that makes sense. Yes, they hurt me and put me in intense pain, but I didn’t become helpless at their actions, nor did I do what they were hoping for. The tides were not in their favor that night, and as a result, they got nothing but a dumbfounded look on both their faces as I sarcastically said, “Oh, thank you very much.”
Also, these two will eventually get caught, because it was obvious by his comment that they’d done this before. Normal people don’t have concerns that their mace can is “getting low.” Trust me, it wasn’t low.

Another positive thing was the wonderful response from everyone who came to my aid. From the MICA student who acted swiftly and didn’t panic, to the fire department, police, paramedics and neighbors. Everyone was so gentle, caring, and incredible. They all did themselves proud.

And because of that good outweighing the bad, I still had a happy birthday.

1 comment:

Tania said...

Man - that's a birthday and a half...what a horrible experience to go through. Yet somehow, having read your blog for years...your reaction of not dropping anything and reacting calmly/strongly sounds exactly how I imagine you to be :) I'm glad that the nastiness of 2 strangers was quickly replaced by the kindness of many strangers xx