Black Bubble Jacket Birthday

I watched the black bubble jacket jog down the hill as the tension in my chest threatened to crack in half and force me to my knees.

And then, “Thanks for making this a really great birthday!”

Lamest comeback ever. Couldn’t I have added in an “asshole” or inserted a “fucking” before birthday or something?  Couldn’t I have found something to throw at him – maybe the stapler in my schoolbag?  But then my stomach started reacting to the hardening of my chest, and I knew I had to get up the stoop’s two flights before I lost it.

I dropped my keys twice as I tried to unlock the foyer door; I had already started weeping. Loud, ugly, torso-shaking sobs that didn’t let me hide the fear that I had so boldly wrapped in calm and sarcasm for the man in the black bubble jacket.

I closed the door behind me and scrambled up the stairs to my apartment door. It was still dusk, not even five o’clock.  Call someone, I told myself.  And I dialed my husband’s cell phone, even though he was states away.  I left the most incomprehensible, terrifying message on the voicemail – something about a knife, mugging, I’m okay, and more sobbing.  After hanging up the phone, it occurred to me that maybe I should call the police.  But do you call 911 if there isn’t a crime in progress?  Should I even bother – he didn’t hurt me, after all.  It was only a few dollars, after all.  Is it worth it?

About four minutes of deep breathing passed before I called.  The urgency on the other end of the line made me start crying all over again.  “Ma’am, why did you wait? We’re sending a car right away.” What? Why?  He’s gone. Oh crap, what if he saw which stoop I went up?  I should have waited until he turned the corner.

The doorbell rang. I went down still holding the cordless phone against my stomach.  I wanted to go to the bathroom.

A female officer was half-way down the stoop, gesturing for me to follow her. What? Why? I have to get my keys.  Ran up. Grabbed keys, coat. Ran down.  Locked door. Still clutched the cordless phone to my stomach.

Once in the squad car, it was all questions.  What happened? What was he wearing? What did he look like? How tall? Skin tone? Scars? What did he say? Accent? Sneakers? Hat? Describe the weapon.

It looked like a kitchen knife. You know, the kind you chop or dice carrots with? Or at least that’s what I would do with it. About, I don’t know, a five-inch blade? How long is a five-inch blade? It looked like my big kitchen knife, with a black handle.

Let’s get your information. Name and address? We’ve got gender. Caucasian? Date-of-Birth?

I gave that day’s date, but a different generation’s year.

What? Are you kidding me? We’re definitely going to get this guy. It’s your birthday? Christ. And the other officer: That sucks.

Yeah, it sucks. But I have work tomorrow, my husband’s out-of-town, and I didn’t have plans anyway. But yeah, it kind of sucks.

We scooted around a five block radius – and I was mildly chided for waiting even an extra 30 seconds to call.  I was told to look for him. For the black bubble jacket. But I knew I wouldn’t find him in the sea of black bubble jackets.  We drove right onto the park grounds and up to the basketball courts.  Two guys were wearing black bubble jackets.  One was Black, the other was Chinese.  Those aren’t the guy, I said.  I told you he was Latino, probably Mexican.  But both of the men were still questioned.  It was because of the black bubble jacket.  It didn’t make sense to me.  But then, the face of the guy in the black bubble jacket was already fading, and I wasn’t so sure anymore if his sneakers were all white or if they had blue stripes on them.  Are any sneakers all white anymore? I thought they had been.

In the end, we didn’t find him.  I was taken back to the precinct and made to look through four books of gang members.  The guy in the black bubble jacket wasn’t a gang member, I said. I know kids who are gang members.  This guy just wanted money to buy more liquor. He smelled like liquor.  “Just look.”


The photos of the gang members were my birthday cards.  For two hours I settled in and decided to chalk up the images to another year of growing up. I looked at their scars, I squinted in to count their tattoos – lots of blue-tinted tears and stars on their faces – and I read their names and aliases.  “These are the people in my neighborhood…” I hummed to myself.

At the end of the night, I was given a ride home by two detectives. They told me they had been assigned to my case and handed me a business card.  Call us if you think of anything else.  We’ll get in touch.

“Can you just wait until I turn on the light upstairs?” I asked. “I can’t remember if I locked the door.” Sure. Sure, we will.  My cordless phone was in my pocket, not against my stomach, as I walked up my stoop.  My hands weren’t shaking anymore, and I unlocked the door with ease.

When I got inside my apartment, I turned on the light and went to the window. The detectives were just pulling away.

Happy Birthday to Me, I thought.   And many more.


About That Unique* Weblog

Adjusting to car culture, dealing with leaving a career I loved, and spouting off along the way. Do The Most Good.
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59 Responses to Black Bubble Jacket Birthday

  1. Wow. I’m so sorry that happened to you. You had me on the edge of my seat. I sure hope that the rest of your birthday was better. If not, I say you get a “do over.”

  2. Mical says:

    Thanks for posting! I couldn’t help thinking of the time two teens tried to mug me on my street. The cops were so nice to me, responsive, sympathetic, anxious to get the guys. (I also couldn’t ID any pics & we didn’t spot them on the street as we drove around the projects. Coz that’s where we immediately went — the projects.) One of the things that really burns me up about the Bloomberg-Kelly doctoring of crime stats is that it’s putting cops in a position where they are discouraged from trying to help people in this situation. I mean, I’d prefer it if they had better training and didn’t target people of color. But actively discouraging officers from pursuing criminals at all is cynical and repugnant. Anyway, today I wore my hoodie into the city and got some interesting looks. I realized I don’t know what my rights exactly are if they do choose to stop & frisk me.

    • Absolutely. Despite the horrible stories we hear of abuses, I do still believe that the vast majority of cops are there for the right reasons. Just as in teaching (or any profession, I suppose), it’s the egregiously bad ones who get all the attention. And stats do influence behavior – especially when they influence promotions and pay. That’s one of the big reasons I’m so against tying scores or quotas to advancement. A cop with a good relationship with a neighborhood will have fewer arrests due to respect and appreciation. Perhaps that’s too naive and hopeful. I hope not.

  3. I felt like I was reliving that night with you.

    So glad you are okay and were not harmed more than the obvious emotional impact it has left with you.


    • This happened almost ten years ago, and I lived happily in the neighborhood for six more years. I even bought my son a black bubble jacket when he turned one! I think I purged it pretty completely. 😉 Thank you for the kind words!

      • Wow. The writing was so descriptive that it felt for certain like you were still reliving it at times.

        That’s why we shouldn’t assume anygthing eh?

        Glad you were able to leave it behind.

        • Weirdly, I think seeing those photos of really hard core guys helped. The guy who mugged me was an amateur comparatively. Well, except he got a few dollars from me, so technically he is professional since he got “paid.” 😉

  4. raymmmondo says:

    So sorry this happened; so glad that you were/are OK, though.
    Very compellingly written—thank you.

  5. sisterhoodofthesensiblemoms says:

    I hate how victims are chided. Ugh. And then more is stolen from them as time ticks away going through the motions of police work. I’m glad you’re okay, and that you were able to enjoy more years in your neighborhood. Ellen

  6. Lottie Nevin says:

    What a terrifying experience for you. It was brave of you to write it, as it must have brought up all kinds of stuff.
    It really sucks that it was on your birthday too! That’s the pits. Hope all your birthdays from that day on have been/will be wonderful 🙂

  7. dadofthedecade says:

    Holy moly. How terrifying, and infuriating, and compelling. So sorry you had to go through it.

  8. tara pohlkotte says:

    you wrote this uh-mazingly. I mean, I’m so sorry it happened, but not sorry that I got to read it in your wonderful words {it feels weird to say that when the content is not pleasant…}

  9. Anna says:

    horrible. sincerely hope that ever birthday since and in the future is way, way better!

  10. Is it me, or did the police officers make it a bit worse? OK, so next time you’ll call right away, right? Nevertheless, I am sorry you were the victim of a crime on any day, but especially on your birthday. Considering the subject it seems odd to say, but this is an excellent post. Well written. Full of emotion without unnecessary filler. Cinematic, too. Thank you for sharing your talent here…I am grateful.

  11. mamamash says:

    “The photos of the gang members were my birthday cards.”

    Cheese and rice, does that ever suck. I’m glad you weren’t physically injured, but I know that the emotional and mental scars from moments like that heal up plenty slowly.

  12. Ugh. I hate this. I hate that this happened to you. It makes me very very angry when bad things happen to innocent people just trying to make this world a better place. 😦

  13. Lenore Diane says:

    KD, what an awesome writing job! I felt I was with you every moment. Scary for certain. Like you (and your husband), I am glad you made it through that night. Thank you for sharing this with us. Excellent job!

  14. Mayor Gia says:

    Ugh, so scary! I’m sorry that happened to you

  15. suzy016 says:

    oh, happy birthday to you… so sorry, that’s terrible. the writing, however, is wonderful – you had me pulled in and on the edge of my seat. hoping you’ve had happier birthdays since?

  16. Robbie says:

    That just sucks…..horrible to have had it happen at all..but on your birthday? Well THAT IS CRAP!

  17. Cynthia M says:

    Aw, baby, I just want to hug you!! I am so sorry this happened, and I’m glad you weren’t hurt physically. {{{HUG}}}

  18. Oh my, what a terrible thing to happen, let alone on your birthday!!

    You wrote that beautifully – you pulled me right in.

  19. I hope that birthday got better. Your writing is amazing.

  20. christina says:

    cripes i’m so sorry that happened!! how scary!
    but i love the way it was written.

  21. Sucky, sucky birthday. Sorry about that. But you DID create an awfully good piece out of the experience. Lots of nice images for me here but this one stood out: I looked at their scars, I squinted in to count their tattoos – lots of blue-tinted tears and stars on their faces – and I read their names and aliases. ”These are the people in my neighborhood…” I hummed to myself. I felt kind of kicked in the gut after reading that. Nice job, Erin

  22. Stacey says:

    This is just so well written. Such clear imagery and emotion. I’m so sorry you went through this, but man, did it make a good story.

  23. While you had an awful experience, it has lent itself to one fabulous piece of writing! You seem to have been able to truly captured all the horribleness of the evening with each word choice. Bravo!
    Sorry you had such a crappy birthday, and I do hope this was the worst of them all!

  24. Ado says:

    I’m so sorry you went through that – on your birthday. But you were strong.
    I get why you waited those 4 mins before calling – you were in shock. It happened to me once. Right afterward its like the whole world goes silent but loud, it turns into a question mark.
    At least you took action.
    It was v. interesting to read about the bubble jacket – I kept thinking of Trayvon’s hoody.
    And there you were – in a sea of black bubble jackets.
    Happy belated birthday (and many more!)

    • Yeah, I know. I actually don’t even know if it was only four minutes. In real life, my husband called me back right away and was worried sick (of course) and told me to call the cops – probably more for comfort than for reporting. Funny how the brain just wants to move on as soon as possible.

  25. I love the paragraph that begins “The photos of the gang members were my birthday cards.” These are the people in my neighborhood. Great image, very compelling writing.

  26. Oh my. What a terrible story (and birthday!). That sounds absolutely horrible. I noticed in the comments you said it was a while ago – I see where you’re from in your header and I live pretty local to you. I’ve heard there have been home invasions and such in our area and I was so hoping it wasn’t one of those (not that it makes those incidents or yours any better!!). Jeez… Very well written. Gave me the chills. Glad you weren’t hurt.

  27. Katie says:

    Great writing! I’m sorry you had to spend your birthday like that, but this just was extraordinarily well-written. I felt like I was watching a movie almost…you created this perfect picture in my head.


  28. Pish Posh says:

    Wow that is awful. I had a similar experience and it scared me for a long time – take whatever extra precautions you need, but don’t let yourself be overwhelmed by the fear. Everything still will be okay.

    Please have a birthday do-over.

  29. Kim says:

    Oh, my goodness, I am so glad you shared this the other night at blognow. And I’m glad you’re all right. I’m all tense and speedy!heartbeaty now.

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