Albuquerque, NM – 1994
It was January and Dan and I were on winter break from school. Christmas and New Years had passed and we had a week before school started. It must have been a Saturday because my dad was home, but we didn’t have church. The weather was rainy and cold, not good for skateboarding, so we were bored. We had twenty dollars between us and decided we needed to buy some pot.
We called our normal hookups but they were all dry, which forced us to explore new options. We had a casual friend named Robbie who lived further away than our normal circle, but we had nothing else to do that day than to score pot. He told us he’d make some calls for us.
Shortly he got back to us saying that he’d found us a hook up. We were to meet a couple people at a junior high school close to Robbie’s house. We agreed and set out on our bikes.
The spot was about three miles away; it seemed outside of our loop. We arrive and spotted a group of older teenagers in an alley. We walked our bikes towards them and the leader greeted us: “You guys Robbie’s friends?” he asked. We confirmed that we were and indicated that we were ready to make our transaction.
I was standing next to my bike smoking a cigarette. The leader noticed me smoking and asked if I had another cigarette he could bum. I said yes, looked down and stuck my hand in my pocket. As I fished about in my pocket his fist slammed into my face. I reeled from the blow and knew instantly what was happening.
Several more blows crashed about my head and neck. I covered myself and looked up in time to see Dan speed away on his bike. Mine had toppled over several yards away and I was now backed against a wall with three much larger youths standing in front of me.
He asked for my wallet and chain which I promptly gave up. He noticed my brand new shoes that I had received for Christmas just a week or two before. I had wanted these shoes for months before Christmas and was thrilled to get them. He ordered me to take them off and left me standing in socks in the January rain. Another boy picked up my bike and rode away.
The other youths wanted to beat on me too and ran at me swinging wildly. For a moment I put up my fists with the intention of fighting back, but I saw a pocket knife in the third youth’s hand and heard one of them say “No no no, you better stand still.” I dodged and blocked what I could and tried to move away, but someone held the collar of my shirt while they all punched and kicked me. I absorbed every blow. It felt like an eternity.
Finally an opportunity appeared for a fast break and I took it. I broke free and ran with all my might. I made it to the other side of the school and out onto the main road. I thought about waving down a car but I couldn’t imagine how that might turn out or what it would accomplish. In the distance I saw Dan and he sped toward me on his bike. He caught up with me and asked what had happened. He knew as soon as he looked at me and stared with wide eyes.
My nose was bleeding badly and my lips were swollen and split. My eyes were puffy and I was limping. My shirt was torn at the collar down to my shoulder, my wallet, chain and bike were gone and I was standing in wet socks. I had a reasonably deep cut that ran about four inches across my upper back, which I gathered came from some contact with the pocket knife.
Dan dismounted his bike and walked it next to me. We walked in virtual silence the entire way home. At one point Dan took a moment to kick a street sign out of frustration, which startled me badly. I wondered why he was so mad since I was the one who got beat up. By the time we were close to home my socks and pants were soaked to the knee with freezing rainwater. We had no idea what to do next, and we didn’t really think it through.
We were stuck in the awkward position of wanting support for our situation while having to obscure the circumstances. Worse yet we had not prepared consistent accounts between us. But we were too young and shaken to consider such details.
As soon as we walked into Dan’s house his parents saw something was up. “What happened??” they asked. “We got jumped!”Dan exclaimed. Just like that, without any premeditation we had to explain ourselves.
My parents were called and arrived within minutes. The police were called and an officer arrived to take our report. We proceeded to modify our story for two hours while five adults interrogated us and tried to piece it all together:
“Where were you going?” they asked.
“To Robbie’s house.” we replied.
“And where did you encounter the gang?”
“At the school by his house.”
“What were you doing there? That school is not on the way to his house..”
“We were just going to Robbie’s.”
“And the boys that approached you, they asked if you were Robbie’s friends? How did they know to ask that?”
“I don’t know.” We were not lucid enough to recognize the implications of our own story.
I am confident the officer taking our report knew exactly what had happened. Our parents seemed more confused than suspicious, but they were ultimately concerned for us and angry at our perpetrators. I remember my dad being very angry, not at me but at the situation, and I felt that his anger wasn’t supportive. I had hoped that this situation would bring us together in a caring way; instead he was mad for the rest of the day and spoke hostilely toward me and everyone else.
I encountered the leader of the group who jumped me on a second occasion under similar circumstances. I was walking with a friend to his house through the same neighborhood. A car drove by, then drove by again. It stopped ten yards behind us and let this fellow out. He demanded my friend give up his La Jolla jacket. He followed us for several blocks pushing and punching my friend who refused to take his jacket off. We kept our heads down and walked quickly forward.
Our assailant then produced a miniature baseball bat from his coat and swung it at my friend’s head. He ducked the blow and we ran from the neighborhood out onto the main street. He continued to follow us and threaten us even on the main street, but shortly his ride picked him up again.
We walked in humiliation onward to my friend’s. Obviously shaken by the incident, his voice trembled as he asked, “What the hell man? You can’t even help a homey when he’s getting jacked?” I had no response to this question. I felt guilty but relieved it was over and glad no one was injured. I still don’t know that I would have done anything differently.
These early experiences informed much of the context of my later life. For years, and even to this day I feel nervous walking from one place to another and expect trouble. It led to a form of hyper-vigilance. Only in my full adulthood have I come to recognize that not every walk on the street is a threat.