Six months after I moved away from home for graduate school, I was mugged at gun point in front of my apartment.
I grew up in one of those towns where everyone is super friendly but respects your personal space enough not to approach you unless they are your friend. So when you drop your phone getting out of the car and there’s someone standing a foot from you after you pick it up, your first thought would be, Oh, I know this guy.
But then I saw the gun.
This. Is. Not. A. Drill.
The gun turned out to be fake (though it was a very convincing facsimile) and my assailant was caught just two days later, mugging someone else right down the street.
My brain didn’t have time to process what was happening, yet I remembered every detail. When the cops came (I heard the sirens before I even hung up the phone), I was able to tell them everything, from the shape of his eyes to the style of his boots. I could have sketched his photo.
He told me he was sorry, but he had kids to feed. Had he just asked, I would have given him a few bucks or even some food from my pantry.
As he ran off with my purse – containing a debit card, my ID, and less than 50 cents in change – I remember thinking, Joke’s on you, buddy! for at the time, I was making about $400 a month as a graduate assistant.
That thought was quickly followed by a sinking feeling. The purse.
I am too practical and frugal for designer bags. The purse I carried that night was worth next to nothing in terms of money. But its sentimental value goes back to a time when selling it meant one more meal for a family of four.
In refugee camp, not surprisingly, there was never enough to eat. My entire family had to be resourceful: Brother (5 years old at the time) went to market to sell coffee and corn; Dad helped build temples; Mom made cross-stitched purses. I was an infant who could only cry from hunger.
The purse the thief took from me that night was the only one of its kind. Mom thought she might be able to sell it in America – after all, they had no idea how they would earn money once they got here. When I was old enough to be responsible for things, she gave it to me. It has accompanied me on many adventures, with many fond memories attached.
There are countless random moments when I picture that purse in a landfill or in the sewer – wherever that guy tossed it after he found nothing of value inside.
In the end, it’s all just stuff… isn’t it? I have tried very hard, but I haven’t been able to let it go.
I saw him during the court proceedings. I wasn’t allowed to approach him, of course. I sat in the back of the court room, aching to cry out, Please! Just tell me where you threw it away.
I never had the heart to tell Mom what happened. Brother knows. My parents would just worry, as if they weren’t terrified enough when I moved away from home.
I also think about Mom being able to salvage only a photograph of her mother during the migration – how heartbreaking that must have been. The skirts and blouses she kept safe over the years had to be left behind.
She still has a few cross-stitched bags, a different style. I have inherited them. She would say they aren’t worth anything, but I disagree.