A Guy Punched Me On The Street and Tried to Steal My Bag -- And Instead of Breaking Down, I Chased Him

I’m a fatter, blonder Mary Tyler Moore as I am parading down 5th ave seconds before a man punches me in the face and stomach and tries to steal my purse and my phone.
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Rebecca Jane Stokes
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I’m a fatter, blonder Mary Tyler Moore as I am parading down 5th ave seconds before a man punches me in the face and stomach and tries to steal my purse and my phone.

I will be honest from the start: I was walking and texting when it happened. 

Back up, I was walking and G-chatting which is, in its way, even worse. 

It might be October but its only just started feeling that way in New York. It’s still light outside when I leave the new office where I work on 5th avenue at 6 p.m. It’s a Monday, the start of my second week at my new job. I’m in that honeymoon phase where even the cramped rush hour commutes feel like a blessing. Stranger whose elbow took refuge in the rear where god saw fit to split us all, I salute you. 

I’ve been out of work for too long and unhappy for a little bit longer than that. I get up early and put on a full face of makeup while shaking it to Big Freedia and thank my lucky fucking stars. I make appointments with my OB/GYN and my GP for the most luxurious of medical tests. Insurance has made me cocky. 

“Is this my dentist?” I purr into the phone. “It’s been a while, and I’ve got the massive disaster in my mouth to prove it.”

Even the harried G-chatting as I walk is pleasant (a smart funny guy who loves cats, he’s a socially conscious writer who makes me think, we’ve been dating since the end of August). I’m running late, and that doesn’t even kick up my latent and perpetually lurking anxiety because I’m late to a rehearsal for a play. 

In college, I studied theatre and concentrated in acting. In grad school, at a loss, I studied playwriting. Then I turned my back on my both for six years. Now, I’m acting in a play I’ve also written (I have to stop myself for apologizing for this, which is one more reason to add to the list of reasons why we need feminism). 

It all has me feel like I’m rounding a corner, like I’ve sussed out the dangerous curves of adulthood. 

It could also be the fact that I’ve been back on fluoxetine for 12 weeks, but I’m going to choose to be slightly less cynical and say that the drugs are only a contributing factor.

In short, I’m a fatter, blonder Mary Tyler Moore as I am parading down 5th ave seconds before a man punches me in the face and stomach and tries to steal my purse and my phone. 

The street was insanely crowded -- I was in front of the New York Public Library with its lions, a popular tourist attraction. Because I was looking down, the first knock to my face I assumed was my fault. 

“Oh I’m sorry!" I yelped. I locked eyes with a man about a foot taller than me as I said it. He grabbed at my phone, and confused more than anything else, I pulled it close to my chest and stepped back. 

He socked me in the gut and snatched at the shoulder strap of my bag. “HEY,” I yelled, stepping back again and shaking him off.

I don’t know what made him stop. We were in the middle of  one of the busiest sections of New York. He must have been terrified. He also must have been desperate. He took off running. 

This is where I start shaking and dissolve into tears, right? Except that didn’t happen. I took off running after him. It’s the closest thing I’ve had to an out of body experience. 

“WHY DID YOU HIT ME WITH A CLOSED FIST?” I yelled at him as we crossed back over 41st. “WHY DID YOU HIT ME?!” He called me a dumb bitch and kept running. I stopped.

I was still angry when I found a police officer and their response didn’t lessen the Hulk-like rage still imbuing my person. 

“Well, were you looking where you were going?” My eyes bulged. “He didn’t actually take anything, so...” 

Beneath the anger, something else kicked in during this encounter: Shame. Fucking SHAME. Because I wasn’t watching where I was going. Because I HADN’T lost anything. Because I AM privileged. It’s a familiar narrative: I must have been asking for it. You know it isn’t a rational thought. But you think it.

I don’t realize that my teeth are covered in my own blood until I’m on the train to my rehearsal. A molar in the back of my head has cracked, but I don’t know this yet either. I run my tongue around my mouth probing for damage as I try to maintain my balance on the 7 train. I keep going back to the moment of impact, to my reeling disbelief, my instant-apology, and how none of this is surprising.

What’s surprising is what happened next. When I ran after him, when I screamed and demanded answers. When instead of running or melting down, instead of choosing flight -- I went for fight. I turned into Bobby Hill, railing at my enemy “THAT’S MY PURSE I DON’T KNOW YOU!” 

It is my surprise at this, my still simmering anger, that stays. It’s not the shame. It’s not the unhappiness. It’s anger. It’s the anger that stays, bright and shiny like the blood on my teeth. It feels like a same part of the new chapter. 

But I still walk to the train another way on Tuesday.