“Bye, love you.”
I had just left my youngest sister a voicemail while walking from the Astor Place subway to my apartment in the East Village. I was wearing my summer uniform, which consisted of a floral dress and a beige backpack. My hair was pulled into a ponytail with two bobby pins. It was a warm June night, and I rejoiced in the perfection that is New York City on the cusp of summer.
I turned left onto 7th Street and walked by my old church. Next, I passed McSorley's, an ancient Irish pub where you only order “dark or light” beer. Their motto until the 1970s was, "Good Ale, Raw Onions and No Ladies." You can still order half a raw onion and a sleeve of saltines with the cheese platter.
As I walked down the street, I felt something poke my rear. I was passing a group of well-manicured bushes and assumed a twig had gotten caught on my dress. I took a few more steps, and then felt a human finger very precisely poke me once again. This time I turned around, expecting to see my roommate or another friend who lived on the block.
His outstretched arms tightly encircled me.
We were face to face, breathing the same air.
For a brief second I could see his eyes.
And then I understood.
“HELP, HELP, HELP, HELP.”
I was screaming like I’d been stabbed—but maybe I was about to be? Over and over and over again I said the words, “Help! Help me!” My vocal chords strained into a sound I’d never heard before. I was having an out-of-body experience, focusing on the frantic tone of my own voice. It seemed so animalistic. Was this little girl having a panic attack? I could tell she couldn’t breathe very well. Her arms were flailing, but it all seemed useless. Bruises were forming on her upper arms. Our protagonist in the floral dress was being crushed like a butterfly in a closing fist.
“You know what I want.”
I flew back into my body the moment he spoke, and this is what I saw: There was a man in a blue polo shirt, a dark jacket, and jeans now holding both my arms with one hand. They were bent in a painfully awkward position.
His other hand was on my knee.
Now on my lower thigh.
Now on my upper thigh.
His hand was on a place no stranger’s hand should be.
As he groped for more, I blessed the bicycle shorts I wear under all my dresses. The assaulter’s hand reached the most intimate part of my body, but he became confused—the bicycle shorts were not part of his ill-conceived plan.
In second one of his hesitation, I remembered what my mother used to say when we were children: “Never go anywhere with someone, no matter what. You won’t come back.” In second two of his hesitation, I remembered what a college friend named Kaitlin Mahoney once said in regards to getting assaulted: “Go limp; fall to the floor. Relax every muscle.”
I slowly maneuvered the groper and myself into the street, knowing that I’d have a better chance of being spotted. As he attempted to finish what he’d started, I shut down every muscle in my body and collapsed toward the pavement. I stared at the ground, mentally visualizing myself melting into the cool black asphalt. I pictured magnets attached to my arms and legs, pulling me down, down, down. Oddly, I felt a death-like peace.
He held my body for a moment, but my weight made him stagger. As he began to drop me, he squeezed my arms tighter. I played dead. My left cheek was now pressed into the gravel. But I peered down the road, and there in the distance were shadowy legs walking hesitantly toward me. If I could just make it to those people…
Because I was facedown, the attacker now had to readjust his hold—there was no other option. As he pivoted, I pounced up and took off running. I turned around, tears flying from my face, and saw two men. One was my attacker. Another was a homeless man who, from what I could tell, was on my side. He waved his arms frantically, as if to say, “Go from this place!”
I reached a group of men at the bottom of the street and called the cops. Two born and bred Brooklyn gents were immediately ready to fight the attacker who, strangely enough, was walking toward us.
“Don’t fight him, don’t fight him,” you can hear me saying on the police tape. “We’re on 2nd Ave and 7th,” I then respond to the dispatcher. “He’s still here. We need someone here.” I am crying. “I know the precinct is right around the corner. 2nd and 7th. I’m on 2nd and 7th! Are they coming?”
Casey Holloway strolled by our ragtag group, which now included myself, the homeless man who tried to assist me, and two aggressive Brooklynites. He spit in my direction and mumbled something unintelligible. Then he walked south down 2nd Avenue toward Houston Street.
An unimaginable rage burst through the center of my chest, like acidic fire.
“We gonna follow em, c’mon. We gonna get this asshole. Miss, you wanna get this guy?” The man’s thick Brooklyn accent made me internally chuckle. “Yes, let’s follow him,” I said with mock assurance. I was shaking so badly I could barely hold my phone, but walking felt good. Walking felt powerful.
Holloway went down one sidewalk, while we paralleled him on another sidewalk across the road. With only the street between us, I commenced my journey and prayed for safety. He stopped, started, and stared but he never deviated off 2nd Avenue.
6th Street… 4th Street… 2nd Street…
“Don’t approach him—what if he has a weapon?” I screamed at the men, and frantically bit my lip. Where were the cops? It had been nearly 15 minutes since my initial call. Just when the tension was about to bleed into violence, patrol cars roared down the street. Two cops jumped out and pinned Holloway to the ground. Another one motioned for me. “Is this the man?” They pulled his head up and we looked each other in the eye for the second time that evening.
I watched as he was placed in the back of a cop car, cuffed and apathetic. I hated his dead, dark eyes. But the toxic rage, which had spread to every cell in my body, was now slowly subsiding.
That night was a whirlwind of police questioning and Coca-Cola. As my body went from shock to a drug-like exhaustion, I sipped sugary soda in the waiting room and washed the mascara from my face with a napkin.
My then-boyfriend, now-fiancé Ryan arrived at the police station. He was solemn but steady. I held his pinky finger as the detectives questioned me in a cold room with two-way glass. “Where did he touch you?” “Was it here or here?” “How did he grab you?”
I finally fell into my bed at 5am, cold and bruised—but unmistakably alive. The next morning, I woke up with salty eyelashes and a phone call from the ADA. I’d need to come in and share my testimony as soon as possible. And so, the yearlong court process began.
I have a quiet rage.
It’s most likely been resting inside of me since I was a little girl, but I first remember releasing it in college when I was told I “could not” while knowing that I certainly “could.”
That same rage builds up inside of me when society discusses topics like Roger Ailes, unequal pay, or how one might like to “grab her by the p*ssy.” Every time—every time—that phrase is uttered, the events of this terrible night pop into my head. I can smell him. I can taste my sweat.
This story is nothing special.
In fact, many women have experienced this and much worse.
So, let’s not weep over it.
I was even blessed with a “happy” ending.
I’m telling you this so that you can grasp the dark shadow hanging over my head today—and occasionally, other days. It is my hope that you might understand why this morning I again woke up with salty eyelashes.
Tomorrow, I'll wake up with a heart full of hope, and a spirit of determined joy that, I pray, will always overcome my humanistic need to hate.