Tuesday night in San Francisco

First, I am ok — thankful to be alive and recovering. Still, I want to ease my mind as quickly as my physical wounds have been healing. I’ve detailed what happened last week to many people I care about; but while I am usually very open book, repeating the experience has become very emotionally exhausting and made my mind cling to a vivid memory that’s better faded. This post is an attempt to share openly but only one last time in full detail.

Trigger warning: street violence, mugging, attempted robbery

On Tuesday, I was walking home after work when a group of teenagers attempted to mug me. This was around 9:37 pm, shortly after I stepped off the bus and turned onto a darker, quieter block that I’ve walked many times prior. I know the exact time because this was a very routine commute from work — catch a bus, get off, walk to my apartment. This particular night, a few things were different:

  • Caught a later bus time (I had wanted to finish a work assignment while I was in the office.)
  • Got off the stop closer to my apartment (Usually I’d choose to get off a stop earlier for about 30 minutes of walking on a more-lit road; but, that night I wanted to walk less after a long day at work.)
  • Wore all black (I was wearing black pants with a tan knit sweater but then a black rain jacket on top of that as the night’s drizzle was nearly rainfall.)

I was the only and last person getting off the bus at 16th and South Van Ness, and the bus driver gave me a warm “you have a good night”. She also said to stay safe out there, to which I responded “thank you, I will”. As I started walking on 16th Street between South Van Ness and Mission, I shifted my tote to the opposite shoulder and under my rain jacket in attempt to keep my work laptop dry. I pulled up my hood, and that’s when they jumped me from behind.

A pair of hands grabbed my head and pulled it back. Then one, two, three punches to my head and the punches blended with kicks as I fell to the sidewalk. I never blacked out but I could barely see what was happening — besides a phalanx of legs — as my hood was on, head was knocked around, body went into survival defense mode (I remember kicking back at one point), and darkness surrounded. On this particular stretch, no street lamps were on and the Victoria Theater marquee that we were under was off for the night. I could only really hear who I think was the “leader” yelling “Get it bitch” over and over, then something about getting my phone in my pocket. These were young female voices but in a searing tone I never want to rehear. Joining their yelling was my own voice, metronomically crying HELP. Was it loud enough for others to hear? I don’t know, but I know that nobody came over even if they did. The violence continued despite my screaming the loudest I could be, and that’s when I thought I was going to die.

Yet, after what was probably only a minute, they abruptly stopped and sprinted around the end of the block where street lights were mockingly in full beam. Somehow my instinct to defend myself and my possessions prevailed, but I was so dazed I still can’t fully confirm how many attackers ran away. Three or four is what I replied for the police report.

Within minutes of getting off the bus, the worst had come and passed. Now my body was shaking, numb as I jaywalked to the opposite corner. In that moment of crossing the street, I made eye contact with a man —headphones in and standing by the dark entrance of a bodega closed for the night. Had he seen anything? Doesn’t matter, need to move on, I thought. He was giving off such a can’t-be-bothered energy and at this point I needed to actually call for help. I was afraid to unzip the jacket pocket that held my phone. That is, after all, what those teens wanted from the start.

Instead, I approached a guy who looked around my age and was starting to cross the intersection on Mission St heading west. Turns out he was with two friends, one visiting and another that lived in the neighborhood. So on that night I found comfort standing surrounded by three male strangers, who were so kind to let me use one of their phones even when my fingers were tipped with bright red blood from touching my face. As we awaited the 911 response, I learned that the guy I first approached had hesitated to stop for me because I looked quite deranged — hair disheveled, left half of my lips puffed to thrice its normal pout, and blood from my mouth to my chin. Still, he had listened to what I was saying about being beaten up just a half block away and all three waited for me on that corner until the police and ambulance arrived.

I refused to go to hospital that night — partly because all I wanted to do was curl up in a ball in my bed instead of immersing in a sterile post-trauma environment; partly because the EMT’s first request was to lift my top slightly to check my stomach for stab wounds (read as: thank goodness I wasn’t stabbed…or shot!!), and so I realized how good I was within an otherwise bad situation; partly because I felt I’d be okay after acing all of the EMT’s questions (e.g. how many quarters are in a dollar) that suggested I was not concussed; partly because, and this is the lamest reason, I hadn’t yet finished my work assignment and still wanted to send it out by tonight.

Once questioning was complete, the police drove me back to my apartment, a grand two-minute drive away. The officers shared some warm parting words, and then I went straight into my apartment. Who could I talk to now? My roommate was in her room, but I didn’t want to alarm her with the state my face was in. It was now past 10 pm, which would be 1 am for my East Coast parents. I tried to WhatsApp my sister. As expected, she didn’t answer because she was in India for a friend’s wedding. I even texted the guy I was starting to date, asking if he was awake and free for a quick phone call. But he didn’t check his personal phone that night and I knew he was likely busy with work during that time. Even as I heard my roommate’s TV playing in the room next door, I suddenly felt so alone. I clicked “Mom” in my Favorites as a last resort, with expectations that I’d hit another voicemail. But two rings later I heard the confusion in my mom’s voice as she said something like “Ai ya it is so late!”, and I felt a sense of relief. I started the recap to my mom with a big DON’T worry I am ok. Then, over video she saw my bloody inner/outer lip, chin, and knees. She comforted me, guiding me through some breathing exercises and suggesting I press a warm towel on my right jaw that was starting to hurt. After ending the call and cleaning my cuts, I proceeded to lay down in bed, softly hum some classic Disney songs to myself (there’s got to be a psychological explanation for why I had the urge to do this, right?), and stare at the ceiling with the lights on. I wanted to shed the feeling of being pulled back and pummeled, what I had felt just an hour earlier.

On my nightstand are a salt lamp, Lean In (which I borrowed from the library two weeks ago and have yet to read), and now a stapled stack of 3”x4”paper containing my case # and resources for victims of various crimes. I reflip through it occasionally and haven’t heard back from the officers since that night, but they said BART station surveillance cameras would likely have caught some footage of the group that ran away. As much as I want to move past this incident, I also want this to never happen to anyone else. If the officers were to reach out with any follow-ups, I would be ready to answer more questions. In the meantime, I’m focused on overcoming the fear of walking alone during both day and night.

From this experience, I am reminded that our mind and body are truly amazing: they can shut off pain in the initial moment and then gradually release it in the days after so we know where to be gentler as they heal. I’m reminded that human connection is also amazing as I’ve felt immense love and support across my communities —

  • Work. Teammates offering to walk with me from the bus station to my apartment and carpooling from the office back to SF. The entire team pitching in to buy a giant box of the most delicious vegan bakery treats, which my manager hand-delivered to my apartment. He was the first person I saw in person since the incident and I felt a lot of relief from talking a bit more about what happened the night before and talking a lot more about the most random topics. Sitting in my kitchen and eating cookies with someone I consider a mentor figure helped me start smiling again.
  • Friends. Actually meeting me at the bus station to walk together to my apartment. Walking me back to my apartment on the weekend after a group hangout. Messaging to simply check in on me every few hours. Giving me the space that I needed but didn’t explicitly request. Recognizing the value of change of scene and comic relief — the guy I’ve started seeing has also been my friend for the last six months, and this past weekend he drove 30 minutes north to pick me up from my apartment only to drive 30 minutes back south so we could hold hands (so pure, I know) and watch the second Jumanji movie (how did he know that I love Kevin Hart).
  • Family. Although on the opposite coast and physically distant, my parents and sister have checked in on me as if they were here. My mom called and video chatted me every night after work to check on the progress of my scabs — making sure that I dabbed hydrogen peroxide with a clean cotton ball — and that I’m rolling out the bruises that have surfaced and spread since last week. She has also unintentionally heightened self-confidence in my physical strength by saying quite seriously the night of the incident: “well thank goodness you exercise and have good bone density, because otherwise…”. Thank you mom. I am, now more than ever, grateful for and aware of my good bone density. 我愛你!
  • Strangers. The three guys who patiently waited with me for the police to arrive and who offered to walk me home that night if I refused to go to the hospital and the police couldn’t drive me. Thanks for hearing me out even though I was quite scary looking in that moment.
  • First responders. The two officers and two EMTs who came and whose voices and motions tried to comfort me in a moment when I was experiencing total discomfort.

There’s no point in a litany of hypothetical thought exercises (what if I crossed the street earlier, what if I wasn’t wearing all black, what if it wasn’t rainy weather). What happened is the past and there was no preparing for it or a single way to react. What I do wish to advocate for is public safety improvements. I’m also building compassion for the group of teenagers because deep-rooted circumstances likely egged on their sense to rob at such a young age.

A week’s passed since last Tuesday, and I am now catching ride shares to get around if someone I trust isn’t accompanying me. Tonight for the first time I ordered groceries delivered to my place. I’ve taken on an extremely privileged lifestyle I never wanted for myself — commuting by neither foot, bike, nor public transit and exercising my buying power through phone apps. However, I know this is a temporary crutch and that mental strength rebuilds over time. Reminder to self and others: exist in the moment for life is so precious and unexpected.

Last, I am ok — thankful to be alive and sharing.

*This marks my first personal blog post. Writing has always been one of my favorite subjects, but it’s been 3+ years of drafting nothing longer than work emails and photo captions. I’m glad to rekindle this personal expression.*