In May of 2006, I was mugged at gunpoint in New Orleans. I was in town for a wedding, walking through the French Quarter with two friends when I felt a tug on my purse and a sharp blow to the left side of my head. I thought, almost comically, that a brick had slid off one of the awnings we walked underneath and thwacked me upside the head. It was something else: Black male, approximately eighteen, lean muscular build, almond-shaped eyes that I could later identify, holding a gun whose barrel glinted in the yellow streetlight.
This story gets much, much happier. I promise. See, it's not a story about being mugged, though that is an interesting story. It's a story about what that violence led to, and how it turned out to be wonderful.
We were mugged walking back to our hotel room from a bar, the night before the wedding. My friends and I decided to bail early (early being a
little after 1am) because we have a tendency to blow out at these things, let four drinks turn into ten. We were walking down Royal Street, a street most New Orleanians would confidently describe as safe, when the whole thing happened. People always ask if I was scared, but the strange thing is how I wasn't afraid at all. I'm not being brave here; I just felt hypnotized. Hypnotized, but also hyperaware, like I could hear the rush of blood in my own veins. But I wasn't afraid, and I didn't cry, which is odd, since I cry at so many less significant things. I cry so often that I tried to cry, just assuming it was what I needed to do, but it was nothing more than a pantomime. My face crumpled, but no tears came.
Later, when I was back in New York, I did get scared. And this surprised me, because muggings are so commonplace that you assume they are no big deal; white-noise crime. But later, I will think about the size of the barrel, its proximity to my face. Later, I will grow uneasy when someone walks behind me. I will flinch when anyone runs past. Later, I will stand in the interminable lines of the social security office, the DMV, I will cancel all my credit cards and write off a a cell phone, $60 in cash, and a darling pink tote silkscreened with the image of Dolly Parton, and all of that is annoying, but it doesn't really matter. What matters is that later, I will think about dying, and think about my friends dying, and sometimes cry in the bathroom, fistful of wet Kleenex, all of which I will be reluctant to mention because, let's face it, three tourists mugged in the Quarter? No big deal.
The police showed up soon after we called. Not much later, a detective arrived. He was in his twenties, good looking, dressed in a suit
A year later, the detective and I will meet again, and we will fall in love.
that made him appear dapper, like he stepped out of another era. My friends and I joked about the handsomeness of the detective — a distraction, a little levity — but we didn't pay attention to him, because other things crowded our minds. Like how to fly home without IDs. Like the lump on my head, which had grown to the size of a lime, something I could cup in my palm.
But a year later, the detective and I will meet again when I fly to New Orleans for this case, and over the following six months, we will fall in love — a totally bizarre, unlikely event. And some people think this proves that everything happens for a reason. And some people think this proves that love finds you at the most unexpected times. And maybe what it really proves is that people like to embroider meaning onto totally bizarre, unlikely events. But I think it proves that even one of the worst things that happens to you could, somehow, lead to one of the best.
At the time, I wasn't having the best run of things. It wasn't terrible, but there were a lot of nights I finished a bottle of wine when I only meant to drink half, and I seemed to be hop-scotching around a series of adorable man-children who didn't know what they wanted, other than to drain a six-pack of imported beer and screw. Of course they wanted more than that — so did I, badly, though neither of us knew how to go about it. And the thought had occurred to me, without much sadness, that the most meaningful connection I would ever have would be with my cat.
It seemed unrealistic to hope for anything to happen with the investigation. This must be true for most armed-robbery victims, but in post-Katrina New Orleans, shit was bad. A mugging in the French Quarter spoke of some new brazenness or desperation. The week after I got back, I read a story in the paper about a New Orleans woman found in her Ninth Ward home, dead and undiscovered for nearly a year. So no, I didn't think anything would happen with the investigation. Even after my friend's purse was recovered. Even when, eight months after that, the detective sent me a photo lineup for identification. (Eight months later? Does anything move slower than justice?) Even after I identified the kid — after sleeping on it for five days, replaying the moment while I kicked the sheets and made sure that what I felt was certainty. Because I could not conceive that, two months later, the DA's office would pursue this case, flying me down one weekend in April 2007 for a pretrial motion, and I would testify in a court filled not with a jury of my own peers but with hardened boys in baggy orange jumpsuits, staring at the ceiling and disinterested in my testimony because it had nothing to do with them.