New York Magazine

The Nightmare Comes True:
A Victim’s Story

By Ellen Count

There are so many muggings in New York that every hour a dozen people have their private world violently invaded by a predator. The encounter may be fleeting, the material losses few, but a life once self-contained remains ruptured. Mistrust, humiliation, and self-doubt endure.

A young woman — wife. mother, and social scientist — who was brutally mugged recently near her home on the Upper West Side agreed to let her story be told.

Kate* snowsuits her little boy against the December wind, muffles and bundles him till he looks like the abominable snowball. Once they get to Grandma’s, she’ll peel him out of all the layers, like unwrapping an early Christmas present. It will do Grandma good. Help her get well faster, Kate thinks. It’s only a few blocks up Central Park. She pulls the stroller out of the hall closet.

Robbie is antsy, so his mother lets him walk to the elevator. Downstairs, he dashes across the big lobby; Norman holds the door as Robbie bursts through it, a few steps ahead of Kate. It is 5:30 in the afternoon and dark as midnight. She rushes out after him, grabs his mittened hand, and unfolds the stroller. By the time she squeezes the squirming bundle into the seat and gets going, she is at the comer of 91st. A car is coming, so she bends down for one last pat. The car passes. She straightens up and leans forward to get the stroller off the curb. Just as the stroller begins to move, a blade gleams in the night, reflecting the streetlight. She stares at it, not breathing. Then a fleeting impression of a dark face, a knitted cap pulled way down. Eyes. Her grip tightens on the stroller handles. Robbie seems miles away. She jerks the stroller toward her, but all she can see is that silvery blade. Her bag bumps off her shoulder and catches in the crook of her arm as the mugger says. something like “Give me your purse — I won’t hurt you.” Giving it to him means letting go of the stroller.

“I didn’t think about whether he would really use the knife. I only heard myself screaming ‘No,’ and then just screaming in fear and protest that someone could invade my nice neighborhood and take my neat, smooth life and mess it up like this so easily. I couldn’t stop screaming. The blade came toward me, I put my hand up to ward it off, and then there was blood on it. 1 don’t know what it felt like to be knifed — I have no memory of it. But somehow I knew I’d been stabbed twice.”

Her bag thumps to the sidewalk at her feet, and she feels s a weight hit her right side, the man lunging past, already running, stumbling for a second, then running very fast diagonally downtown through traffic toward the park. Robbie whimpers, not understanding Mama’s screams.

“Then a taxi stopped short in front of me, and a woman got out.”

Kate picks up her bag and automatically folds the stroller. The woman helps her into the cab with Robbie. “Mama.” He reaches for Kate.

“As I opened my arms to take him, I felt a pain in my side. I couldn’t get hold of the slippery snowsuit fabric to keep him in my lap, so I just had him cuddled against me. My hand was bleeding. I said, ‘I need to go to an emergency room.’”

The woman notices bits of down on the front of Kate’s parka. She tells the driver to go to St. Luke’s.

“Robbie had hiccups that wouldn’t stop. All I could do was unzip his suit and tell him to hold his breath. Then I realized, Oh Lord, Mother will be frantic. I started d thinking about all the crime-prevention stuff I’d read. I thought I knew all the tips by heart, I’d read them so many times. How could I have been so dumb?”

The taxi goes up Amsterdam in sync with the timed traffic lights. In the low Hundreds, a police car turns into the next lane, and the cabdriver lowers his window to signal the officer. “Woman got mugged on Central Park,” says the driver, gesturing toward Kate with his head. “Taking her up to St. Luke’s.” A siren whoops, and the patrol car speeds ahead, its lights flashing and turning. A minute later, the policemen are opening the doors on each side of the taxi. “I felt wetness inside my clothes. I couldn’t lift Robbie. The woman — Harriet — and the cop had to get him out of the cab.”

The cop pushes open the swinging door.

“The lights seemed very bright, and there were a half-dozen white coats rushing toward me. I wondered how they could spare so many people for one case.”

The officer calls Kate’s husband. Harriet picks Robbie up so Kate doesn’t have to bend to kiss him. “It scared me to think how this incomprehensible violence might affect him. If only he were old enough to really talk about it.”

By the time Bill gets to the hospital, Kate has been X-rayed and prepped for surgery. “I worried that all these doctors and nurses had been looking at me but my pretty underwear had so much blood on it that they couldn’t see that it all matched.”

Bill just wants to know where she hurts.

“My side is sore, and my stomach — from the knife. My ribs are bruised too; the doctor said the guy must have bashed me in the ribs. I guess he did — I remember he lost his balance. But I don’t remember the sensation of being stabbed.”

The nurse comes with a tranquilizer shot. The doctors are in a hurry to find out what internal damage has been done.

Soon after she left the recovery room — her liver had been lacerated — worries about how her mugging would affect her family engulfed her. “Robbie started wetting even though he’d been trained for months. He also woke up at night more than he used to. The change of routine had to be a strain on Bill, and he couldn’t even get a good night’s sleep.”

Two detectives came to see Kate while she was still a little groggy. They brought her several photos of suspects. “I knew certain ones were not right — but I couldn’t pick out one that was. I knew what that knife looked like — but the man’s features just didn’t stay in my mind. I felt miserable, trying to concentrate on those pictures and drawing a blank. The first time the detectives asked me to go over what had happened, I didn’t tell them that I had not given him my bag. I felt it was such a stupid risky thing that I’d done, I had a hard time admitting i to myself. When they came back another time with a different group of photos, I still couldn’t pick one that looked right. Finally I did tell them I had resisted.

“They were very patient, and they didn’t criticize. They told me that there’s never any guarantee you won’t be hurt even if you do cooperate. I still couldn’t stop feeling guilty. I just figured I must have done something to deserve it. And how could I have had the incredibly bad judgment to scream? It had to scare him and make him want to shut me up.”

When her mother called while Kate was still in the hospital, she asked the same questions over and over. Didn’t Kate usually give Robbie supper at that hour? Where was the doorman when it happened? Why hadn’t she just asked him to get her a cab in the first place.” Didn’t she know you should always keep some money in your coat pocket?

“I just answered yes or no and told her I’d call her back when I felt stronger. I cried after every time she called. This wasn’t just my ordeal. It was hers and Bill’s too.”

Kate has lots of girlfriends, and they all came to see her. She needed their sympathy. “But they needed something, too. They’d ask me why did I suddenly decide to take Robbie out that evening? I just couldn’t take the questions from them either.

“The worst thing was not being able to play with Robbie when Bill brought him. I was too sore even to really hug him, and I knew this was the time he needed mothering most.”

Just after she came home, there were several sensational, violent incidents in the news. “I couldn’t seem to turn off the TV. And then I’d cry and be depressed and not sleep even though I was so tired all the time.”
When she was physically well enough to begin going out during the day, she did go — but with eyes and nerves wired. “I wondered how long it was going to take to put myself back together mentally as well as physically. I’m trying to believe I’ll come out stronger for having survived this.”

*All names have been changed