I literally was. And it's not like me to shy away from a dramatic encounter, but I've been dreading this. Still, for some weird reason I want to put it in writing.
I posted my last blog entry at 15:29 on Wednesday. Thirty minutes later, I left work, walked to the tube station and boarded the southbound Northern Line to go see my therapist. Usually, I cycle to her house every Wednesday. I quite enjoy the twenty minute blast of air - it's a useful chance for me to get my thoughts in order before I spent one hour and £45 discussing them with a paid professional. Wednesday night, though, was to be book club, and I still had thirty-odd pages of the book left. I thought I'd use the tube journey to try and finish the last section.
I got to her stop, took the lift up to street level, and began the familiar 8-minute walk to her house through a mixture of quiet Victorian squares and across a couple of arterial main roads. Gripped by the final few pages of The Wisdom of Whores (well, gripped plus my usual I-can't-believe-this-writer-is-such-a-dick scoffing), I approached my therapist's house while looking down at my book, a biro and my iPhone (to tell me whether I was on time or not - I don't wear a watch) in my left hand, my handbag over my left shoulder. The streets weren't busy - I saw a father and son walking home from school, and an elderly woman coming back from the shops - but I was pretty free to walk along reading without worrying that I was going to bump into anyone.
At 16:29 I was about two doors away from my destination when a man seemed to jump in front of me and grab me round the neck. I was utterly terrified and simultaneously completely confused. My hands shot up to my neck to prevent him from hurting me, and I tried to back away but his hands came with me. I couldn't see what he looked like, his head was up close to my shoulder, and helpfully I think I closed my eyes in fear. Within a couple of seconds I was screaming and thought very clearly, "Jesus CHRIST that is a lot of noise you're making." It wasn't a dramatic, Hollywood heroine scream, but rather an uber-womanly, gutteral noise, like when Pippa The First found out she'd lost her baby in Home & Away. I wasn't enjoying the fact that this was the sound I made under duress, but I couldn't stop. I screamed and screamed, and threw in a couple of desperate "Get off me!" attempts at the guy, but he didn't give up. I'd known he wouldn't give up, but I wanted someone to hear me shout - I hoped they might come and help me. It was a quiet road but I didn't know what else to do other than make a racket.
Give it to me," he started saying after a few seconds of struggle. "Fucking GIVE it to me." I couldn't feel the blade of a knife but I knew he might have one. I was absolutely prepared to give him what he wanted but I couldn't work out what it was: his hands were near my neck, but my bag was still over my shoulder and my phone was still in my hand. Then it clicked - he wanted my necklace. At pretty much the precise moment I worked it out, the chain finally gave way, and he hared off up the street. It had been about ten seconds, fifteen at most. I was left alone, sitting on the pavement, my glasses three or four feet away, my book out in the street, my splintered biro across the road by the wheel of a parked car. My neck was stinging a lot and there was a cut from his fingernail in the flesh of my left hand. Without all the screaming it was eerily quiet.
I thought about standing up but then realised I didn't want to. I stayed there. A few seconds later, a woman approached from the left.
"Are you OK?" she said. I didn't really know what to say, so I didn't say anything. I just stared into the gutter. "You're not OK."
A man came out of another house, saw what was going on and went back to get his phone to call the police. I just sat there, shocked and upset that I was going to waste a good chunk of my urgently-needed therapy session on this stupid guy who took my necklace. The woman introduced herself. I managed to confirm that I was basically fine, that I'd lost some jewellery. My wool dress was ripped and she said I had bad scratches on my neck. The man passed the phone to me and confirmed that the police were on their way. I gave a few details and handed the phone back. Then I rung my therapist's doorbell. She'd heard the screams, but hadn't known it was me. In London, you hear screaming at night, it's drunken morons - during the day, it's stupid kids. You don't react to screams. I don't.
The police pulled up, only about three or four minutes after the guy had called them. Two male officers got out of the car.
"Get in," they said to me. "Let's go see if we can find him."
The tears started in earnest then. I knew I'd not got a good look at the guy and I really didn't want to go after him. My main concern could have been so easily explained if I'd managed to articulate it: what are we going to do if we find him? I'd be in the back seat. Say we find the guy - then what? He gets into the back seat with me and we sit side by side? You put him in the back seat and I get out and sit on the lap of the police officer in the front? You leave me at the side of the road while you drive back to the station with him? I didn't want to see my attacker again. I didn't want him to be able to identify me, not ever. I just wanted it to go away.
I told them I didn't want to go, that I didn't want to see him and that I was pretty sure I'd be unable to recognise him even up close. The policemen looked really frustrated and I realised then how pumped up they both were. The adrenaline was flowing and they wanted to go catch a thief. I just wanted to forget about it, sit in a wingback chair and discuss my existential crisis. I knew I was being unhelpful but I left the two helpful neighbours talking to the police and, with a few apologies, took refuge in my therapist's sitting room.
I cried a lot over the next thirty minutes or so. The session was a write-off and I came out of her house pretty rattled, terrified. I didn't want to go home so, as planned, I went to Emily's house for book club. On the tube I took a photo of some of my scratches. I'd not seen them in a mirror and I wanted to see what had happened. They made me feel sick. And then I wrote down what I could remember. How my first thought was about wasting my therapy session. How annoyed I was that the guy had been black, how time and time again the stereotypes are backed up, how hard it gets to blame the police for being racist. How I'd wondered if I could call my recent ex and ask him to meet me at the tube tonight, and how straight away my grown-up voice had come into my head, saying, "You manipulative BITCH." How I knew straight away I'd be using my vulnerability to get his pity and affection. How the police's hunger had scared me almost as much as had the attack. How I started worrying that the scratches would fade before book club and I wouldn't be able to show anyone my war wounds. How one minute I'd thought it would make a good blog entry, and the next I was shuddering at how terrified I felt. How I had always been able to say that I'd never been mugged, and how I'd always thought it was because I was tall and strong-looking, and how maybe this meant that I'd lost so much weight that I now looked vulnerable, and that in a way it was a bizarre compliment. And how fucked up that made me, that I was in a tiny glad to be mugged because it meant I looked THIN.
And so I got to book club, and I told Emily, and then I told Kate when she arrived, and then the others came I really didn't want to talk about it any more, and then I had a lot of white wine and felt a lot better, and at the end of the night, I walked back to the tube with Ness, and a guy came up to us, close up, and asked if we could spare any change, and I leapt into Ness like Scooby-Doo into Shaggy, so then I had to explain to her why I was so jumpy. And I got home OK, determined to walk into my flat alone even though Ness had offered to accompany me, and I got into bed and turned off the light, and all I could feel was my scratches stinging and all I could hear was his whispered, urgent voice going, "Give it to me, fucking GIVE it to me," and so I put on a podcast and slept fitfully.
Yesterday I got up and went into work, and the police came and took a statement, and then later in the afternoon, a forensics guy came around and photographed my scratches and the cut on my hand, and although I knew it was no big deal, after he'd gone I think the tiredness overwhelmed me and I did a fair bit of crying. Today I've had a row with my insurance company, and it just doesn't seem to stop. But I know it will.
The necklace was my favourite. It was a long gold chain with a gold pear at the end, the pendant given to me by my parents, the chain handed down to me by mum, although it had been given to her by dad when they were first married. I remember being in my mum's arms as a toddler and playing with the chain, and as a grown-up I've loved wearing it. The guy didn't get the whole chain - it snapped in two places and I was left with a small section of it. I never want to see it again. My ripped dress is in the bin, next to my laddered tights and the biro he must have crunched underfoot as he ran away.
I couldn't sleep last night either - it's one of those times when you tell yourself not to think of elephants. I was up late playing crappy computer games on my phone, trying not to replay the details, wonder why he'd not stolen my phone, or ask myself whether he'd seen me on the tube and got a good look at the necklace so decided to follow me along those streets, whether he'd still have grabbed me ten seconds later when I would've been two doors further down and in my therapist's front garden. I know it's just bad luck, that it could have been so much worse, that this is what you get in modern life, that he was desperate, that the memories will fade, that I'm healthy, that the scratches don't really sting now, that there won't be any scars, that it wasn't near my house, that it was only a theft, that it happened in daylight, that I will sleep well again. But right now, I'm still pretty wobbly, and I don't like it one tiny bit.
Anyway. It's done now. I've spoken to the police, the insurers, my parents, my boss, and my Faithful. It's over. Just hope my crappy Alzheimer's memory selects this as one of the 97% of all events it chooses to forget. Wishing you all a happy weekend. Be a bit vigilant. Love all the people.