Sometimes it feels like it was yesterday. And with every step I take outside the apartment, I am reminded of it. One day it overwhelms me, the next I can go shopping or go out without worrying. But one thing is clear: walking the streets will never be the same again.
You never know how strong you are, until being strong is your only choice. – Bob Marley
It happened in a flash
It happened in an instant, on Thursday, August 5. And I remember the date as if it were yesterday. As I walked towards the supermarket in my most comfortable joggings, with Angelo wearing his slippers, it happened. Under a low tree, on a footpath one meter wide and in the shade: a man on a motorcycle drove up to me, pushed me to the ground and pulled from my hands and from my shoulder what he could.
For several seconds, what seemed like long minutes, I looked him straight in the eye. A small panic when he realized that my phone was also hanging around a cord and not going along as easily as he had expected. But long enough for me to remember his gaze to this day.
His loot was an iPhone. Nothing more. Because thankfully I didn’t have a passport, bank cards or keys with me. But I was left with a cut on my neck, a cord without a phone, oil all over my face from being hit and a helpless cry for help.
Who was helping at that moment? No one. I was allowed to scream as loud as I could, to no avail. People stared at me for a moment and then went on with their lives. A cold reality because it happens so often here. And therefore nobody reacts anymore. And after I myself grabbed a man, who just parked next to the tree, by his arm, I was only helped. To this day, this is still the most painful thing about that moment for me. That nobody helps each other anymore or offers support.
Oh honey, it’s just a material thing
Nor did the police or government help. Although they seemed to take it seriously at first, when push comes to shove, you’re on your own. At a certain point they even expected me to meet up with the man who committed the crime. So after a police report and an exact description of the bike, person and his clothes, we are here. Three months later we are still without news. And craziest of all: I had the robber’s phone number. He threatened my parents and Angelo to pay up. And even with that number they did nothing. They did not even track down the owner of the number. Am I disappointed in their help? Enormously. But fortunately we’re only talking about a materialistic incident here.
Fortunately, everything is fine with me. Apart from a huge shock, disbelief and panic, I’m well out of it. But I could only measure the actual damage afterwards. Days, weeks, months after it happened.
For the first few days after it happened, all the doors were locked. All the windows remained closed. Everything went safely under lock and key, including myself. Getting outside was not an option. Hearing screeching engines made me nauseous. And the first day I stepped back into a supermarket, my hands were shaking so badly that security must have thought I was going to steal something. I was completely blocked by the thought of someone getting too close to me or looking at me for too long.
And what I heard as some of the reactions was pure disbelief. “You shouldn’t dress like that” – Linked to the fact that I often carry designer bags. Or, “You shouldn’t walk down the street alone anyway. First of all; victim shaming is never, in any situation okay.
How so should I not walk down the street alone? Going to get my favorite ice cream or running errands. Since when does a style of dress determine whether you should be attacked or not? No, it doesn’t. The fault lies not with me but with the person who saw fit to commit this crime.
These streets are made for walking
Little by little I regained confidence in myself, but also in my fellow man. I had to learn not to see everyone or every situation as a danger. And just when I thought I had given it a place, I came back to Belgium, where the whole thing hit me again.
During the evenings when I went to work out and walked to the car late in the dark, the panic and fear overwhelmed me enormously. Even though it was only a 10m walk to the car, I ran like crazy. Once in the car all the doors locked and on the track one image after another flashed before my eyes.
Talking about it with others helped me enormously. Accepting it and giving it a place also helped. But of course I realize well enough that this incident has marked me for life. Because never again will I hide my phone somewhere without thinking twice, adapt my clothes to the situation or hide my money in my bra. Never again will I walk down the street carefree or go to the supermarket without being reminded. Even though these streets are made for walking… peacefully.
Fortunately, I received tremendous support from my parents and best friend during this time. After all, they were the ones who had experienced it in the first place. Angelo walking down the street because my parents couldn’t reach me…. My parents who wanted nothing more than to help. But we were all equally helpless. At the end of the day, we all still have each other, and I am immensely grateful for this.
And the days when things are a little less, I accept that this is how it is for a while. And the days that I feel good and confident, I enjoy life twice as much.