PERSONAL ESSAYS
Crying in Restaurants
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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

promotion

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.





        

  

Commentarium (21 Comments)

Jan 02 08 - 3:28pm
Ken

Sarah - You made me cry in a not bad kind of way. Here's to caring about and loving enough to cry about it. Happy 2008 to you.

Jan 02 08 - 11:54pm
DN

Sarah, I've been a long time reader (originally of your blog, then of your writings on The Morning News, and at Nerve). I just wanted to say that I'm glad you've found what sounds to be a great guy. I hope it works out, and I trust that it will.

--David

Jan 03 08 - 12:35am
XLS

I would have thought with the salon gig this would have been finally over? Oh well. It is sub headlined the end.

Jan 03 08 - 2:16pm
HF

Yeah, Sarah Hepola. Your story made me cry. I am happy for your success. Heather Frankie

Jan 03 08 - 3:46pm
RAZA

Is anyone else disturbed by the "weepy-white-woman-protected-by-John-Law-from-the-scary-Black-guy" narrative going on in this story? He got FIFTEEN YEARS for mugging her in post-Katrina New Orleans, but sometimes bad things like that can lead to good stuff like cuddling in bed and being consoled about your cat possibly dying at some point in the future.

I'm not trying to say that she doesn't deserve love and joy... but damn. I propose another column entitled "Crying in Restaurants about Uncritical Reflections on Race and Class."

Jan 03 08 - 6:32pm
rg

thank you i cant say more right now but my heart feels i am unable to finish right now i just hope and pray
to tell you the truth am not sure how to ue the comp so well lol not sure how to get basck to finish your story but thank you for having me hope

Jan 04 08 - 4:04pm
JA

I agree with you, RAZA. This column has always felt self indulgent to me, but this last one goes too far. He gets 15 years, she gets cuddles and sympathy?! and this is somehow supposed to prove that something great can come out of something terrible?! I'm just amazed at the level of self indulgence here.

Jan 04 08 - 8:35pm

Thank you for your story; it made me happy - but also melancholy - which I like. jd02

Jan 06 08 - 10:53am
JPP

Ouch, these comments are cruel! Please tell me why somebody who mugged the writer deserves to be the subject of her dispassionate treatise on class and race? Under the circumstances, I think the writer has more right to feel this was a fair sentence as you do to think it's excessive. If someone mugged my wife, I'd want him locked up AND kicked in the balls as well, but that's just me.

Sarah, as someone who is 12 years into a sweet, loving, and happy marriage with someone I met and fell in love with online, may your days be filled with happiness and all the best kinds of tears. Thanks for sharing your story.

Jan 06 08 - 12:55pm
JCF

I double-checked, and the mugger is described as black in only one place in the article. Just delete the word in that one spot, and read it again, not caring about the race of the mugger, and see if you like it better. I'm personally grateful that a) Justice prevailed, at least eventually, and b) Sarah found someone to make her cry for different reasons. However, I still am left not knowing how you get on your return flight home if someone steals your ID in the middle of the trip.

Jan 07 08 - 1:23pm

great article, very intense. Nathan

Jan 07 08 - 9:35am
cc

Hi Sarah. I'm glad you met a nice guy. I hope it works out for you. But let's get real... You don't really know him very well. You are not yet truly in love. Relax, take it slowly, maybe you two are compatible and will live happily ever after. But you don't know that yet. Also, it seems quite unprofessional of your boyfriend to get involved with a participant in a current case. (Even if you did not directly discuss the case.) Isn't this a violation of his ethical guidelines?

Jan 07 08 - 2:04pm
EF

A lovely addition.

Jan 11 08 - 2:42pm
REM

A lovely ending, and yes, incredibly wonderful things come out of nowhere from the smallest of choices or coincidences, or even from what seem like bad things at the moment. Love came to me, also, from a person I didn't expect it from or intended to look for it with. As for the mugger -- who knows what his record was. But in some respects, he got off easy. If one of Sarah's party had a gun, he or she would have had the right to shoot this piece of crap dead (and I don't care what his race is -- aremed robbers are pieces of crap, period). If the case had gone to trial, their relationship arguably could have been a subject of cross examination, but it would not "disqualify" either of them from testifying.

Jan 11 08 - 2:43pm
REM

P.S. I went back to the first article in the series. You didn't know how this was going to end when you started, did you? Makes it all the more fun.

Apr 20 08 - 12:02am
njk

I've read the last portion of this series many times, and it makes me smile. It's real, and I thoroughly enjoy it.

Oct 01 10 - 8:08pm
serialcoder

Respect to the author of original work. I am want to say thanks for funny post, and thanks to google and yahoo for perfect blog search.

Feb 09 11 - 2:31am
Serial Kaelyn

Hmm, nice. im out right now.

Feb 18 11 - 8:00am
Crack Kate

Wow and wow!

Feb 18 11 - 1:47pm
Patch Kendra

Whay are you don't write about politic?

Feb 19 11 - 2:27pm
serialpost

Why are you don't write about politic?