Tuesday, October 5, 2010

(Attempted) Street Crime in Santiago. How I almost became an attacker.

I have seldom been so angry, felt so violent, came so close to running home to get my bike and find the ingrate who decided to ruin my night and go ruin his night. Or week. Or life. Or whatever.

I was walking home after a tough conversation with a friend, and it was early, around midnight. I wanted to clear my head, and did not want to deal with talking to a taxi driver about where I was from or who I lived with here in Santiago. It certainly wasn't the three dollars I was going to save that made me not take a taxi, and instead walk from near San Diego over to Barrio Brasil, where I live.

Barrio Brasil is not particularly unsafe. I know the routes I can take into and out of my neighborhood with relative certainty. I live between two major conduits (one more major than the other), and I always say I'll never walk in from the Alameda (the more major one) to where I live because it's too easy for someone to observe you and follow you in. And once you're in, there's no one unless you're near a bar, and even then, you can't really rely on those people for backup.

I found myself walking along a street I always say never to walk along at night, Manuel Rodriguez. It's a wide street, with traffic, but it has people coming off a highway (the PanAmerican highway), and they're not looking at the sidewalks, and you can't see from one side of the street to the other because of the highway exits. It is lined by a bunch of hourly motels, and not much else. There's not a lot of activity on the street, and it curves, so there's also not a good visual on the whole trajectory. I was walking along, headed north when I noticed I was closing in fast on the guy ahead of me, who was certainly dragging his feet. I didn't want to get in front of him, becasue I didn't want him behind me. So I slowed. And slowed.

He could tell that I'd slowed down, and slowed more, finally leaning against a sapling to cough. The cough was fake, like a child who was trying to stay home from school. Cof, cof. And I knew it. I could tell he was going to mess with me. But if I turned around, he'd catch me. And if I went straight ahead, he'd catch me. But straight ahead was home, so I went for it.

I broke out into a run, and hadn't gone more than twenty paces when I felt his hand. His hand. His hand on a part of my US-brand rose-colored courdoroy pants that was not his to touch. And I screamed, and flew into a rage.

I think I elbowed him, I may have also punched him. I know I grabbed his headphones, spun him around, tore them off his head and also ended up with his MP3 player. I must have kept running. Or he ran away, because when I turned back, his MP3 player and headphones in my hand, he was far from me. Far enough that I shouted, spat a stream of invectives at him to make sure he and anyone nearby heard. I yelled about what he had in his pants in the area that corresponded to where he'd grabbed me. I told him he was useless, feeble, a loser. I insulted his mother. And then I said, "Y te tengo el MP3" (and I have your MP3 player), which I dangled in front of him (from a distance). And he looked at me, and said nothing.

(I imagined him thinking) How could it be? A woman, a foreigner. So strong, so reactive, so over-reactive, so clearly nutso. And I threw his MP3 to the ground and smashed it. And I ran.

And I ran, and cried, and sobbed and cried. Because I hated that I knew I shouldn't have been where I was and I hate the fact that a misguided, misanthropic, misogynistic loser could muck up my night and my week. And then I cried because of how angry I felt, and thought better of grabbing my bike, and pedaling slowly through the streets, finding him and menacing him with my heavy kryptonite lock, and maybe listening to it make contact with his skull.

It would have been premeditated and cruel, violent and uncontrolled. None of which I think applies to me. But if you grab my ass in the street, I'm just saying. "Me buscaste, y me encontraste." (You asked for it.)


And in the time that's followed, I've thought about all of it.

What if he had had a knife? What if he had had a gun? I assume he'd have threatened me with those things. I hope I would have had a more reasoned reaction, but I can't say I would have. Was he after money, or is he a mauler? I think neither. I think he was a person who saw a possible victim, and he wanted to make me mad. It worked. I wasn't even carrying a purse, or my camera, which surely I'd have used as a very pricey weapon.

And now I spend a lot of time looking over my shoulder and making sure I don't go anywhere I "shouldn't" at night. I've been one nervous nellie since this happened (10 days ago). I like to think wherever this lump of a human is, he's giving his ways a second thought as well.

And I also kind of wish I'd kept his MP3 player. On the one hand, what kind of music does a pretend-coughing groper listen to? On the other hand, maybe he had a file or two on there that could have helped me to find him. I couldn't identify him in a line-up, but I bet he could identify me. And I hope he starts to see me everywhere.


Andrea said...

That sounds awful and I'm glad to hear that it wasn't worse than what happened, though of course, that's bad enough. In a situation like that, I too wonder how I would react and if said reaction would be any different if a weapon were involved. I dread the day something similar (or worse) happens to me because I wouldn't have the sense of self to remain living in this country. I'd probably leave, even though I know that such a quick answer isn't the best answer.
Anyway, I hope that now you are feeling a bit calmer though understandably, looking over the shoulder will probably continue for a while.

Anonymous said...


I'm speechless.

I'm so glad that you are okay. That could have turned out very badly. I've never ever been in a situation like that at night, but I think I told you about that guy who followed me around the grocery store, taking my picture. I finally snapped and punched him. Twice.

I had another experience where I was walking up Avda. 11 de Septiembre and I felt funny. I looked behind me and a man had his hand nearly inside my purse. I pulled it away and he looked at me and asked, "Me das una moneda?" Uhm...no. Where you just going to take it?

Later, L told me I should have just given it to him because it was late and we were alone and he could have had a knife.

Looking back maybe I should have, but at the time all I was thinking of was getting the dink out of my purse.

Be careful! And once again, I'm going to say that I'm glad you are okay!

Michelle said...

(best I can do from afar)

Michelle said...

Another comment...
A certain neicelet of yours has been asking when she can take the bus to school by herself. We're trying to figure out how to explain what could happen, what might happen, and that it wouldn't be her fault but it could still happen. Even in a lucid moment she doesn't know what to do if followed, if harassed (she opted for "get off the bus" rather than "go sit near the driver.") or asked for her stuff ("run away" rather than sometimes you should just hand it over, because you're more important than your stuff.")

And in the moment, I don't even know what I would do, never mind how to advise a 10 year old how to keep safe.

I do remember on a crowded subway where the dude next to me started rubbing up against me, and I thought about moving away but I had a seat and was tired and started yelling "YOU! GET UP!!!! Do not touch me!!! Get up!!!" and he did. But, the train was crowded, and he was a coward.

Keep safe, my sister!

Heather said...

What a horrible experience and I'm glad you're ok.
Yesterday was one of those days that I just had an overall unsettling feeling about life here in general.
You are a tough cookie for how you handled that whole situation!

aina said...

I'm so glad you were able to fight back and kick his ass nonetheless!I can only imagine how scary the whole experience was. You did the right thing and I'm so glad nothing worse happened.

Margaret said...

I'm so glad you wrote this up... I was hoping you would. You know, I say good for you... let's make that GOOD.FOR.YOU!.
I know, I know... he could have been armed, you're supposed to just give the damned thieves anything they want. You're supposed to just roll over and let them take what they want, but DAMN that pisses me off. And that kind of attitude just reinforces their behavior--it sends the message that they can do whatever they want and it's just too bad. The hell with that!
I never knew what kind of reaction I would have until one night a guy w/a knife tried to take my purse (and I was w/my husband just steps from our front door!) He too ended up running away purseless, scared off by the schizo gringa-chileno duo (wish I had thought to grab a smashable souvenir though!). It was pure adrenaline, and I was damned if I was going to hand over anything I had worked hard for. And then, like you, when it was all over I started shaking... and looking over my shoulder... and asking for escorts at night... and that pisses me off even more.
So... I am very sorry you had this experience and am VERY glad you were not hurt! But I DO have to admit that I also hope that that sorry MP3-less jerk thinks twice before messing with another gringa--no, before messing with ANYONE again!
I hope no one thinks I am making light of this situation. Todo lo contrario. I go into a rage every time I remember my experience or hear about someone else's...
And Eileen, please... if anything like this should EVER happen again (and I hope it doesn't), please call me... you don't have to go through the aftershocks alone. I would have been very happy to come over and help make detailed plans for his very painful demise... and then stop you just in the nick of time!

Annje said...

Wow and OMG! It is horrible that you had to go through that experience and surely the after-effects, but I am glad that you kept your wits and showed him your wrath rather than your fear. It makes me furious, I would want to go find him and beat him senseless too.

glad you are ok...

Andrew said...

Eek! This sounds like a terrible experience, but I hope it doesn't make you loose faith in humanity or live in constant fear. Bad things open, but stuff like this can also blind you to all the wonderful and great people around you.

Keep on livin'!

hal said...

I'm sorry Eileen. The worst part about an incident like that is how it can make you feel differently about a place, even an entire city, and its people. But somehow I think you have the grit to power through that negativity.

Margaret said...

Eileen, it looks like you've got the makings of a pretty mean creep-fighting gringa gang going on here!
Sara punched a guy out, I kicked the crap out of another, Annje's ready to beat him senseless. I have a German friend here who actually knocked her attacker out--and then tried to call an ambulance to help him!

Abby said...

Oh I left a comment before but then I got an error screen because my work computer is so slow. Anyway, I'm so sorry this happened to you. I'm not sure how I would react in a situation like this. I mean, when my purse got stolen I played tug-of-war with the creep, but I'm not sure if it had been dark out I would have done anything. I'm glad you're okay, and I totally understand the PTSD afterward. I was afraid to go out alone for a few days and couldn't wear a purse on my shoulder for months. Chin up! And take care.

Kyle said...

Terrifying. I'm so glad you're ok. I'm so sorry you're going through the ramifications of all that.

The thing is, you can't analyze what you did too much. Human reaction is...human reaction. When the guy tried to assault me on Cerro San Cristobal, everyone I talked to said, "I would've pepper-sprayed him!" But it's easy to say that if you weren't in the situation. I had my spray in my hand, and I froze. You destroyed his MP3. It's a reaction in a moment of distress. Nothing more, nothing less.

Carlo Alcos said...

Wow Eileen. That must be a tough thing to go through. I have a very good friend that I hadn't seen in almost 10 years, until a few days ago. I knew that many years ago she had been attacked while jogging, and dragged into a park, but she was able to fight him off and get away. She went through counseling, through the court case. She went through some pretty major emotional trauma. But when we were sitting together the other day, she told me that she's glad it happened, that she learned about an inner strength that she never knew she had, and that she would never be the mother she is now to a little boy without that happening. So, in time, I hope you take something like that away and use the experience to enrich your life.

Thanks for sharing the story, so glad to hear it ended relatively well.

Emily said...

What a scary story - I got chills reading it. I'm glad you reacted as you did and that it wasn't worse.

I haven't had experiences that have been as bad, but I definitely have made a snotty come-back that I've later thought better of in reaction to a piropo. In the moment, I'm just angry, but afterward I sometimes realize that actually there were 3 of them and one of me and they looked pretty familiar with crime and why couldn't I just keep my big mouth shut? I think you can question your reaction forever, but in the end what's important is that you DID react, and he didn't retaliate.

And the MP3 crushing must have felt pretty good in the moment, right?

Nimble said...

Thanks for telling your story. I hope your flashbacks diminish quickly. Adrenaline is powerful stuff. What a &*)&(# he was to mess with you like that.

Richard said...

*Rage*. That is fucked up. It's such a damn shame that you can't buttwhip a memory as easily as you can that scumbag. I hope that fear of you lurks ten times in his mind. And I'm glad you're safe.

Sending you good thoughts from the other end of the big sea.

Sharon said...

That is really awful. Something similar happened to my cousin years ago: she was walking alone at night and someone grabbed her with the intent to rob her, because being small she seemed like an easy target. Being a seasoned martial artist, her reaction was pure instinct and the guy ended up apologizing while sobbing.

Those guys deserve everything that comes back to them.

Candice said...

Ughhh, what an awful experience. All things considered though, you managed just fine. I don't think I'd have the balls to muster the assault you threw at him, good job! Just don't freaking walk there again.

Katie said...

Eileen, I'm so sorry to hear about what happened to you, but I'm glad you weren't hurt (physically, that is, because I'm sure emotionally you were very shaken up). Unless you've been trained to respond in a specific manner to a situation like that, I think it's impossible to tell how you'd react. I hope the memory fades quickly (or at least the fear and anger), and please, stay safe!

Arun said...

That was a bad experience; thankfully it ended quick and you were safe. We all tend to forget ourselves in the moment of anger.

Lola said...

Wow, Eileen! What an incredible story. You're such a picture of strength. Can't even imagine how you must have felt when it happened.
Just glad you got out of it safely.

Pam said...

Of course, of course, of COURSE the first thing I think is -- "Jeez, that is terrifying and I'm glad you're okay." And I hope you are recovering from the sheer effedupedness of being tackled. And then, when I was done thinking about that, I thought, "Wow, do NOT mess with Eileen." It takes nerves and strength to get through that, and wow. I'm REALLY glad you're okay, physically, though I'm sure you're going to be a bit jumpy, mentally, for a while and I hope that passes and leaves you with that "Don't mess with me" confidence you clearly have so much of.