If baby boomers are old enough to reflect on the decades that have passed and how their lives have taken the impact, New York City executive and essayist Bob Brody has reflections that the rest of us are lucky not to have. He wrote a long piece about it for New York’s Daily News, and abridged it for BoomerCafé.
Forty years ago this month, only five weeks after I’d moved to New York City, a stranger came at me with a knife and stabbed me in the chest.
It happened around noon on a hot Saturday in Manhattan’s East Village. I’d left behind my family’s split-level in the suburbs of Northern New Jersey and, freshly graduated from college at age 23, moved into a $150-a-month studio, complete with roaches as roommates.
The stranger with the knife cornered me at the end of a hallway in front of the door to my new home. He held the weapon to my face and demanded that I let him in. I refused, afraid of what he might do to me if we stepped out of public view.
He poked me with the knife just below my right pectoral, just hard enough to inflict a shallow wound and draw blood that seeped through my shirt.
That convinced me to revise my admission policy.
Within 10 minutes, the robber made off with my television set, radio, clock, watch, suitcase, and my few dollars in cash.
Soon I lay on a gurney in the emergency room at Bellevue Hospital Center, diagnosed with a collapsed right lung. I was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit for 48 hours of observation.
A week later, a lineup was scheduled at the criminal courts, only to be canceled at the last minute. Then it happened again, the scheduling and the cancellation, and then again and then yet again. Some four months later, I finally attended the long-delayed lineup and peered through a one-way mirror. But, with my memory now faded, I was unable to pick out my assailant.
Whoever had stabbed me had gotten away with it.
For decades now, I’ve all but blocked the episode from my memory, much less reflected deeply on its consequences. Only recently have I thought through how getting stabbed shaped me, for better and for worse.
To begin, I quickly grew more wary, more guarded. I adopted a more confident walk, affecting a swagger for good measure, meant to convey that I would be no pushover. If I happened to pass a tough-looking guy on the street, I always looked him in the eyes. If anyone ever stared at me on the subway, I made a point to stare back. Though often afraid, I never acted it.
I turned more confrontational too, even combative. If a car blocked a crosswalk on a red light, I slammed the hood as I passed in protest. A cab once swerved around a corner as I crossed a street and almost clipped me, forcing me to leap clear. I chased the cab down the block to the next stoplight and pounded on the driver-side window, yelling at the cabbie that he could have killed me.
I promised myself never again to let anyone physically get the best of me in case I faced another threat to my survival. I stayed fit, mostly through pick-up basketball in local playgrounds. If anyone ever fouled me too hard, I made a point to foul him right back, sometimes harder. I also shadowboxed, as if in training for a showdown, sometimes pretending to be pummeling my mugger.
All in all, I developed a serious problem with letting anyone get away with doing anything I considered unjust. For years I could nurse a grudge with the best, and my hardened attitude won me no fans. Unyielding in my self-righteousness, I dropped friends and shunned colleagues over what should have been mere slights.
At one point I even went ten years without speaking to my mother.
But in the end, the incident otherwise appears to have made little difference in how my life turned out. I married the right woman 36 years ago and we have two children, now fine young adults. I pursued a rewarding career, cultivated new friends, and reunited with my mother.
Would my life have come out the same if no one had ever attacked me in my doorway that day? Maybe. I’ll never know.
This much I do know. You can take precautions against danger, but nothing in life is ever guaranteed, least of all your safety and peace of mind. You lose a job you love. Your father dies suddenly. Your 3-year-old daughter is hospitalized, gravely ill.
Eventually we all get caught unawares. All of us get mugged. All that matters, really, is what you do next.
Brody, an executive and essayist in New York City, is author of the upcoming memoir, “Playing Catch With Strangers: A Family Guy Reluctantly Comes Of Age.”
Brody’s full story about being stabbed 40 years ago can be read here at the New York Daily News.