The Attack, Four Years Later

Taken a month after the attack, holding my boy on his first birthday, arm in a purple cast, shirt covered in drool.

As you might know, a ways back two thugs beat the shit out of me outside my home Metro station when I lived in DC, and it was really, really bad, and it changed a lot of things for me. Of course, right? Well, last night marked four years since that event, and I thought it might merit some brief reflection here, because it’s impacted so much of my life, my thinking and, of course, my writing here.

To start, here’s my first telling of the event itself, a few weeks after it happened, around my 33rd birthday, wherein I mused at the idea of relative levels of misfortune:

I don’t feel “lucky” as many have said I should. It usually goes something like “You’re lucky you survived” or “You’re lucky they didn’t have a knife” or something like that. I understand the sentiment, but no, I’m not lucky. If I’m “lucky they didn’t have a knife,” that assumes a world in which the zero-point, the point of normalcy, is to be severely beaten by two anonymous thugs and then stabbed. Only then are you “lucky” not to be stabbed. Though I suppose it’s a good thing that my attackers were caught and convicted, I don’t feel triumphant. I know they will likely only come out of prison worse than when they went in. There is little vindication in this.

A few months later, newly transplanted to Maine, I recounted a kind of superstitious milestone in which I was surprised not to be beaten anew.

Speaking of superstitious milestones, as the first anniversary of the event passed, I experienced both anxiety and distraction:

What’s odd is that I had been kind of bracing for the first anniversary of the event, as though there was a sort of rent in the universe where it happened in time, and when the Earth passed through that space once more, as it will with every year’s revolution around the Sun, I would somehow feel it; almost as though it would happen all over again. Of course it didn’t, but even more surprising to me is that on the actual day, it barely registered.

Shortly after, I mused about the futile “what could I have done differently” question, the presumption of some that I should/could have “fought back”:

It’s an absurd question, really, because I know that I could not have. I was snuck up on from behind and hit extremely hard on the back of my head, which knocked me straight to the ground, after which I was pummeled mercilessly by two assailants whose faces I never saw. My neocortex knows there was nothing to be done but survive. My lizard brain, and a small handful of males in my life who I presume are well-meaning, tell me otherwise.

I totally forgot about the two-year mark. Which was kind of good.

After being “discharged” from my first experience with post-attack therapy (I still see a guy), I wrote at some length about the process of working through all of the pain and fear, about how there already existed a roiling undertow of PTSD in my psyche, and how the attack brought it raging to the fore:

Therapy, if you’re doing it right, will get to work on the problem you came in for, yes, but will also address whatever might surround the event in question, other things in my life and mind that gave the attack the meaning that I would come to give it. I think we did it right. The work we did in therapy certainly targeted the assault — heavily — but managed to clean out a lot of other cruft that had built up over the years, over the decades. The attack was an extremely traumatic event, of course, but it had been colored by myriad other events from my past, a sickly array of self-conceptions and assumptions that I had spent a lifetime inculcating myself with, being miseducated about by the world around me. We targeted that stuff, too.

We didn’t fix it all, but we shrunk it. We got me to perceive those things as closer to their actual size, to their actual power. I didn’t lose all my misperceptions about myself or how others see me, but I learned to at least acknowledge that they may not all be true. Guys, I’m telling you, that’s huge.

About a year ago I looked at how PTSD was portrayed in Iron Man 3, and I was mighty surprised how true it felt to me, and how seeing someone else experience the panic, even in a fictional setting, was somewhat triggering:

We see a lot of troubled superheroes. Too often, though, their traumas exhibit themselves in brooding or vendetta. It was extremely refreshing to see a trauma manifest clinically in a superhero character, in a way I as a fellow-sufferer recognized.

And now it’s been four years. It’s obvious to say “so much has changed,” because, well, of course! It’s been four freaking years! But so much has changed directly because of the attack. Perhaps Jessica and I would have eventually decided to move to Maine anyway, it’s certainly something we’d been thinking about, but we certainly wouldn’t have moved when we did. We knew we wanted a second child, and eventually we did, but of course it would have been a different child than the one we got (who is awesome).

But as I talk about in my piece on therapy, I wouldn’t have done the work that I clearly needed to do (and continue to do) regardless of the attack. I had shit that needed dealing with one way or the other, beating or no beating, and I might never have begun to deal with it if I’d not been pushed so terrifyingly far.

I’m not glad in any sense that it happened. It was a nightmare. But it did happen. And here’s where I am now.

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