One Eye Open
I really, really love music. I love that it can be such a creative and motivational tool for all of my endeavors. I love music so much that I walk around my house and have one-man dance parties to it practically every day. It was my saving grace in high school.
I was the millennial love child of Family Matters character Steve Urkel and Jimmy from the 90’s cartoon Ed, Edd, n Eddy: hyper, dramatic, talkative, nerdy, a little flamboyant and very giggly, in a very, VERY annoying way if you aren’t a friend of mine.
I wasn’t getting thrown in dumpsters behind the school, but I certainly wasn’t Prom King. But who cared? I had my music.
It just so happened to be my buffer when it came to commuting in the halls between classes, my barrier from the outside world, so to speak. It helped that the soundtrack to my life was listened to on my walks home from school, ranging from alternative ballads to hip-hop classics.
These walks were to my quiet neighborhood on the north end of Bridgeport, the streets lined with various trees that bloomed in different shades in the springtime. The sidewalks were jagged and uneven, but wide in space. The houses that must have been there for well over 50 years. It was my block, my neighborhood, my home.
The end of the school day was just like any other. Classes were over, and I had begun my journey home. An old childhood friend offered me a ride home, but me, being prideful and all, kindly rejected. I didn’t want them to go through the trouble and I was painfully shy with the idea of riding with other people seeing as his mom was giving his other friends a ride home (thank God for the mini-van).
It was sometime in late spring and my sophomore year was coming to an end. The walk was a 30- minute travel, down the busy school street and through some quiet neighborhoods. I turned around to see two guys following me as we treaded an uphill street.
I paid no mind to it as it wasn’t uncommon for a few students to take the quieter routes home. What did I care? I was in my zone, in my music. No care in the world.
I had ten more minutes to go as I was coming up on Madison Ave. when I felt someone directly next to me. I turned to my left to see the taller of the two men walking alongside me. This was weird. Why had he decided to walk by my side, me, a simple stranger?
Nevertheless, I tried to be friendly. I unplugged the ear facing him and greeted him with a simple, “‘Sup?” But then, he was facing me, blocking my path.
We looked just alike. His skin dark like mine, his lips were wide like mine, his nose bulbous like mine. He was taller, I’ll give him that, and his eyes were slanted, snake-like, and hazel toned, the shade of grass left unattended.
“Run your shit,” he tells me. I’m frozen. I play it off with a smile, still confused.
What?” I laugh, but as I turn to my left I see the other guy standing across the street, dressed head to tail in purple, but he was the furthest thing from royal.
It didn’t matter that he was dressed in that color. What scared me was the purple bandana tied over his face, leaving only his eyes exposed, which was covered by shades as well. It didn’t matter since I knew who he was from school, I knew of him at least. I told you, I notice everything.
I gripped my mp3 player tighter in my hand, but he had already snatched it away from me, and was just…walking away.
I was in terror, shock, and utter disgust. I saw them just walking off, without another word. I say something to the effect of “Come on, dude, please!”
I realize how pathetic I sounded and apparently so did the thief, because he laughed aloud as he walked out. But I guess something struck his accomplice because the next thing I heard was, “Just give him his shit back, man.”
He looked back at his friend, annoyed that he was even giving my feelings and plea any more thought. A beat passed.
He looked to the sky, still annoyed, and handed me my “shit” back. I don’t know what possessed me to say, “Thank you” but those words left my lips.
Before I could take the first step on my walk home, the feeling of a fist colliding with the left side of my face sent my world askew. I didn’t know which way was up, or why this was happening.
My feet were on the ground but the street was spinning. I tasted the coppery blood in my mouth. My face was tingling and my eyes were on fire.
“DUDE WHAT THE FUCK?!” I shouted, but him and his boy were already leaving. I barely remember the walk to my house. I didn’t even put my headphones back in. The whole walk was was just…a dead walk.
As of matter of fact, I must’ve put my headphones back in because I couldn’t hear my mom calling me when I walked in the house. I didn’t say “hi” to her or my older brother in his bedroom.
I slammed the door behind me in my room and collapsed on the bed, my eyes stinging and my throat thick with tears. My mom pushed the door open and was ready to give me an earful. “Didn’t you hear me calling you?!”
“Someone just punched me in my face!” I shouted, hating my tearful voice as I screamed at her.
You know that feeling when your voice is quivering and shaking and you are so scared to talk when you KNOW you are about to cry because even the smallest word could just open the floodgates to an hour long cry session? Yeah, that.
My protective older, senior, brother was sure to let me know that if I ever saw the guy who punched me again around school, to let him know so he could kick his ass. My dad – the usual tyrant macho dad most island dads are – was actually sympathetic towards the situation.
“Someone tried to rob you for your stuff,” he stated, as if I didn’t know that when I got glocked in the face.
My brother would tell me the next time we walked home together how he was praying that we would run into him again.
The walks were never the same. I couldn’t count the times I looked over my shoulder whenever I walked home, especially around the houses where the incident happened, never truly feeling safe.
My heart was paranoid and everyone was a suspect, especially if they bore the same skin, a fact I hate to this day. Why did I become cautious around my classmates for what one asshole did? Nobody is ever who they seem after all. I saw him at school, but I always looked away from him. It really was pathetic.
Time passed and I got a bit more comfortable walking home again. But my naivete, my optimism towards people, never really came back. It was the idea that someone could intrude my space like that.
Obviously, there are numerous ways for someone to get into your bubble or your cocoon; whether it is a simple as a parent barging your room without knocking or a predator barging into your body without asking. It comes in shades of gray and it lives where it lives.
I say all of this to say: hold onto your optimism and hope for others as long as you can.
Blast your music in your car. Have wild dance parties by yourself until your iPod dies. Take an extra minute to take in the fresh air from your walks.
It’s a short life. But be vigilant. Try not to be too trusting. And watch your back whenever you can. It never hurts to sleep with one eye open, after all.