Last weekend a stranger punched me in the face for no reason and broke my eye socket. I was walking in one direction and he was walking in the other, and as our paths crossed, he punched me. While I’ve feared many things since moving to New York several years ago, this was not of them. Sure, getting attacked was always an option. But in a subway station at night. Or on a quiet side street. Even traveling home while drunk. But not at 6 PM on a crowded street when it’s still sunny out. Not when I was walking through my own neighborhood that I’d walked through hundreds of time. And most certainly not when I’d watched every episode of SVU and thought I’d seen all the ways you could get attacked in New York City. Random assault in broad daylight was certainly not one of them.
One second I was walking home and planning what I was going to wear to dinner and the next second I was sitting on the sidewalk crying. I guess there were seconds in between where I got punched, where my sunglasses cut my face, where my face hit a parked car, where I scraped my leg, where I fell to the ground. But my memory fast forwards through those seconds now. I prefer to remember it as I was walking and then I was sitting. I was upright and then I wasn’t. I was on my way home and then I was on my way to the emergency room. I know that in time I have to think about it, I have to cry about it, I have to accept it. But for now I’m fast forwarding. I’m trying to forget the fact that someone put his fist into my face with all his force for absolutely no reason.
Instead I’m focusing on what happened next, what happened after a stranger punched me, what happened after I got assaulted. And that is that people rushed to my aid. Someone ran to get ice, someone rubbed my back and someone wiped blood off my face. Someone called 911 and someone helped catch the guy who did it. Someone offered to call a friend and someone offered to come with me in the ambulance to the hospital. During the scariest moment of my life, strangers rushed to my aid. And I honestly cannot express in words how comforting that is after something like this happens to you. To know if that if one bad stranger hurts you, several good strangers will help you. For all the complaints about New York City being a cruel and heartless place, it really pulls through when you need it the most. And I needed it the most as I sat on that sidewalk trying to figure out exactly what just happened to me.
I owe a lot of thank yous to a lot of people and I don’t even know who they are or how to reach them. So instead I plan to pass it on, to be a better stranger to people around me, to be more aware of people in need. It’s corny and sappy, but I like to think that getting punched in the face is as good of an excuse as any to drop the snark and be a nice person. Even if it’s only until my black eye heals.