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.