I’ve put a lot of time in this final post of 2016. There are a lot of things I could write about because this was a very big year for me in terms of mental and emotional growth. Sam and I traveled to a bunch of beautiful places, officially moved to a new city, learned a lot about each other, learned a lot about the world, and truly lived this year to the fullest. How could I possibly sum up everything I learned in a year into one blog post? I already have a tendency to write too much, but come on. I wouldn’t even want to read that.
Instead, when I thought back on everything that happened in 2016, I realized that essentially everything I’ve felt in the last 12 months can be honed in on a specific day. To be more accurate, the entire summation of this year comes down to approximately 15 seconds around 9:00 pm on Sunday, July 24.
For 15 seconds, a gun was pointed at my chest. Then Sam’s chest. I knew everything I’ve ever wanted to know about myself in that short period of time.
We were approximately three blocks from our apartment in Chicago. We’d spent the majority of the day in the car with our friends John and Ryan, driving back from a weekend in Traverse City. It was a fun weekend of easy living by the lake, but after those hours crammed in the car Sam and I decided to take a walk around the neighborhood.
We’d lived in our apartment since May 1st. Sam lived with some good friends when he moved down in October 2015, and then I lived with them when I moved down in February of this year, and at last we had our own place at the beginning of May. Even so, it still didn’t really feel like the right place. There were aggressive shouting matches a few houses down. Our building was a dump and our apartment wasn’t much better (it was cheap, but still). We didn’t always feel safe where we lived, but we chocked it up to being small-town folks living the big-city life. We’d start to feel more comfortable the longer we lived here, and we were still adjusting to the process.
Here’s a video I made the night of May 1, when we first moved into our new apartment. Aside from my rambling at the end of the clip (I was exhausted from moving all day), this video conveys the uncertainty and fear I felt the day we moved into our new place.
Even though we were really excited to finally live together again in our own place after eight months apart or sharing with roommates, we were also nervous about the place where we lived. Something about it felt off, despite our best efforts to sequester those feelings. We tried not to stay out late or walk home in the dark (and we LOVE walking), just to be on the safe side.
We were still abiding by these rules on July 24th when we were robbed at gunpoint. It was around 9 pm but still dusk-like outside. Walking around in the evening after a long car ride felt good, and we were enjoying the sights and sounds of summer in the city. Admittedly, we were playing Pokémon Go, but we were still alert to our surroundings. Our phones were out, but we weren’t glued to them or ignoring the world around us.
As we approached our street, a man came out of a car and approached us quickly. Sam, ever more alert than I will ever be, saw him coming first. He assumed the guy had some place to be, so Sam moved in on the sidewalk, away from the road so the guy could walk around us.
Instead, he stopped directly in front of both of us, holding a gun in a power stance with both hands, and pointed the gun directly at me. For a few seconds, I could not process a single sound, thought, or vision aside from the gun and the whites of the robber’s eyes. This moment is the scariest thing I have ever experienced. I would not wish this terror upon anyone.
“Give me the phones, give me the phones,” he said, quiet but assertive. Or, rather, I realized this is what he said in the few seconds following my senses shutting down and slowing rebooting. I could hear myself asking, “What? What?” but I still couldn’t move. That’s when this man pointed the gun at Sam, and my heart nearly lurched out of my chest in agonizing fear.
As I’ve already mentioned, Sam is far more observational and alert than me. He also has an uncanny sense of knowing exactly what to do in any kind of emergency. When everyone else is freaking out or scared or panicking (aka when I am doing any of those things), Sam keeps a level head and makes logical, calculated decisions. Despite being drunk at his company’s holiday party, he still knew precisely what to do when a coworker fell down the stairs and split her head open, Sam held her neck steady, applied pressure to the gash in her forehead, and tried keeping her calm until the ambulance arrived. When a new co-worker had a seizure, Sam bolted out of his chair, ran across the room, and held him upright to make sure he didn’t fall while everyone else in the room stared, still in shock about what to do.
This instance, with a gun pointed at him, was no different. My gaze followed the gun’s aim towards my husband, the love of my life, and felt my fear amplified a thousandfold to what I felt when the gun was pointed at me. Sam had his hands up already, complying submissively the way you should when someone points a gun at you, and he didn’t say a word. When the robber asked for our phones, Sam handed his over quickly and put his hands back in the air. The gun swung back at me, and following Sam’s lead, I gave up my phone and put my hands in the air.
With both our phones in his one hand, the robber turned and ran back towards the car parked on our street. I heard the car pull away, but by this point, Sam already had his arm around my shoulder and was guiding me away from our apartment, back the same way we’d been walking. I could hear myself muttering something like “What do we do? What just happened?”, and I was staring at Sam desperate for him to know the right answer the way he always does. But he didn’t know the right answer. He didn’t know what to do. He just kept rubbing my shoulders, holding me close to him and telling me “It’s ok, it’s ok,” and guiding me along the street. We were both shaking, traumatized, but there was nowhere else I could imagine being other than Sam’s side.
We had no phones, and as such, no way to communicate with anyone. Sam’s instinct (again, always right), was to go to our friend John’s house and borrow his phone to make some calls. We walked the half mile to John’s house, but because we didn’t have a way to tell John we were outside his apartment, Sam snuck into the neighbor’s yard and spoke to John through John’s bedroom window so he could let us inside. Once inside with John, we called the police and our parents, trying not to freak them out (but of course, my mom knew in an instant that it was an armed robbery even though I omitted this information from the story). John was the best friend anyone could ask to have in the two hours we spent at his house that night, and we were so grateful to have him in our lives.
The cops showed up an hour later, and we worked with them for another hour while they did some paperwork and got everything sorted out. The officers were really nice, and they told us what we already knew: there was no way we’d get our phones back, and the odds of catching the criminal were slim to none. We rode in the back of the police car to our apartment. After everything we’d been through, we were emotionally and physically exhausted by the time we were finally in our bed. Thankfully, we fell asleep alright, but we both had to suppress the night’s events from our minds in order to finally sleep.
That night was a pivotal moment in our lives for a lot of reasons. Sam and I spoke more about our fears, our dreams, our goals, and our lives together more in the month following that event than in the six years we’d known each other. The Incident forced us to talk about things we avoid in day-to-day conversation. In the days following The Incident (which is what we still call it), we laid out three plans:
- Leave Chicago when our lease was up at the end of July (long story, but basically the apartment we moved into on May 1 was sold and we were being kicked out starting July 31). We don’t know where we’d go, but we cannot live in Chicago.
- Wait until next spring, and then bike across the country. After our bike ride, we’d leave Chicago and move somewhere else.
- Stay in Chicago for one year. Reevaluate our lives this time next year.
Option 1 was too flippant, even for me, but it was the one that sounded the best at the time. Option 2 was appealing, but it still meant running away and not having an understanding of what we really wanted and what we were running from. In the end, we settled on option 3, and it’s one of the most significant decisions we’ve ever made.
We spent a few weeks looking for property on the Old Mission Peninsula so we could buy a house and live there someday, but the more we looked, it didn’t feel right. We moved into our new apartment at the beginning of August, met our neighbors, and truly fell in love with Chicago. Both of our jobs started to take off and we were making friends outside of our core social sphere (though we still hang out with our core friends and cherish their friendships). From the moment we moved into our new place, we felt a tangible difference. Something about this felt right.
Being a victim of an armed robbery was awful, but it’s hard to imagine what my life would look like if it hadn’t happened. My relationship with Sam is stronger than ever, and there is no doubt in my mind that I am with the person I love more than anything else. I’ve grown up in ways I didn’t think possible, and I’m much more aware of the world and my surroundings. I’m still quick to trust people, but I keep my guard up at all times until I’m comfortable. Maybe I’ve hardened a little, but I think most people I know would agree that’s ok.
This experience didn’t just shape 2016. It’s shaped my life. I learned how scary the world can be. But on the other side of that fear, I found knowledge, love, and clarity. I certainly hope you’ve not had something this traumatizing happen to you this year, but I do hope you’ve found enlightenment in the things you experienced. Here’s hoping that 2017 brings all kinds of good things your way!