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“Being Mugged”

Stimpson, Catherine | American Scholar, Summer, 1998


pp. 75 - 84

On Saturday, July 19, 1997, on the way to the Staten Island Ferry in lower Manhattan, Catherine Stimpson was mugged by a young man, who ran up from behind her in a hit-and-run mugging, and who cracked and chipped her humerus (bone from shoulder to elbow) in the act. Everything changed. She had been independent. Now she had to be led and helped. Now she needed her right arm immobilized for a couple of months. Now the smallest acts (writing a check, opening a wallet, brushing some teeth) needed to be deliberately relearned by trial and error. It’s hard to tie sneakers with one hand, or section a grapefruit. She needed lots of medical care, endured terrible pain for several weeks, and felt especially a sense of having been violated. P. 78: ”Every assault victim viscerally learns that that the successful criminal dominates the scene. Being a victim means being in somebody’s power. Job done, the criminal moves on leaving the victim to struggle in the wake of his act.” Trouble is that a cure creates more that needs a cure–a healed shoulder that has been immobilized is also a frozen shoulder. Now months of physical therapy starts. And everything costs money. Ambulance, hospital, doctors. Lots of time and energy lost. Phone police, change locks, replace all licenses and cards, cancel plane tickets, set work back, hire help, etc. But especially the psychic costs were high. Catherine became dependent. Capacity for independent action atrophied right along with her arm. Everybody on the street now looks suspicious. Everybody in a supermarket could painfully bump your arm. Lots of strangers avert their eyes from an ugly disability, wishing not to be reminded that it is in the world. And what of my mugger”? He willfully hurt Catherine. Caused her all this commotion and pain. If he wants to, with her wallet, he can know exactly whom he has ambushed–name, SS #, telephone, age, employer, even some of her thoughts jotted on a notebook. P. 82 “I doubt if I weigh heavily on my mugger’s conscience. I refuse to romanticize him as a young father desperate to pay for his baby’s milk. On the contrary, I surmise that he wanted drugs, clothes, or walking-around money, and that he would laugh, sneer, or shrug if told about the nights when codeine was nearly as impotent against my pain as my body was against his attack. Although he may occasionally regale his friends with the story of his excellent and profitable adventure, I have probably slipped through his memory as fast as my cash slipped through his fingers.” P. 83: She refuses “What if?” forms of self-recrimination. She knows now that “civilization is a veneer over greed, violence, and chaos.”