Pat Brothwell believed being a well-built guy made him impervious to random violence. Then one morning he ended up nearly swallowing a gun.
I’ve never been the type of foolhardy person who believed that being a male made me invincible. I’ve always locked my doors when in certain metropolitan areas, and I knew which streets to avoid walking alone on in the dark during college.
Still, I mostly didn’t worry about myself. I just always assumed I’d be OK. I’d walked alone at night plenty of times in college, sometimes in alleyway shortcuts and often while impaired. Even living in a urban area at the moment I still walk places alone that probably wouldn’t be safe for a girl my age. There were times I’d felt I was being followed, or eyed up, but always assumed I wasn’t deemed fit. I’m not a huge guy but I’m 5’11″ and clearly take care of myself.
But there are no rules when it comes to random violence. Sometimes you’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time. And it doesn’t need to be dark. It could be a sunny Saturday morning.
I was mugged two summers ago in Belfast while on vacation. My friend Kelly and I had been in Ireland for over a week. It was my first time out of the country and I’d saved two years to be able to stay for two weeks. We’d spent a week and a half down in “the Republic,” as the Northern Irish call, it before making our way to Belfast. Kelly was in a wedding and I was set to be her date. Up to that point the trip was everything I’d wanted, and Belfast hadn’t disappointed thus far. We’d spent Thursday night drinking too much Guinness and dancing to a traditional Irish fiddle player, and we took an eye-opening tour of the peace murals Friday afternoon. Friday night we’d taken it easy, Kelly was supposed to wake up and leave for the wedding early with the bridal party. I was set to catch a bus at noon.
I took advantage of finally waking up not feeling like the Jameson plant had exploded in my brain and took my first jog in two weeks. I came back to the hotel, showered and rewarded my run with a nice Irish breakfast, including a couple of pints. It was a wedding day after all and the whole when-in-Rome nonsense.
After breakfast I visited the post office. They get the best exchange rates in Northern Ireland. I paid for postage for 14 post cards I’d been hoarding and gave the clerk $500.00 in American money. It gave me approximately 300 pounds.
I took a seat on the wall outside in order to stamp the postcards before dropping them in the red mailbox. I caught my reflection in the mirror. I looked good, classy in a Cape-Cod-formal sort of way, in my khakis and navy sport coat combo. The only problem was my hair was starting to look a little too collegiate. I checked the time and I had a half hour to kill. I consulted Siri who informed me there was two barber shops within ten blocks. I instructed her to send me to the closest.
I stared down at the little blue dot representing my progress on the screen when I got the brilliant idea to take a little shortcut. Siri didn’t like what I was doing but after two failed attempts to reroute me, settled in. Even dumber was how blindly I followed that little dot. I didn’t check my surroundings. I was only vaguely aware that I’d left the main road and was walking down a series of alleys, dressed up, foreign and with a wallet full of new bills. How’s that for hubris?
You know how people always talk about the “sensation that you know you’re being followed”? That didn’t happen to me. I just heard someone yell for me to stop. Two guys, kids really, were about fifty feet behind me. The taller one, who wasn’t as tall as me, nodded his head indicating it was he who’d spoken.
I was going to answer but thought better of it. Both guys were shorter than me, but looked like they might be on something. The alley was narrow, with a brick wall with back doors on one side, and wooden fencing on the other. I started getting nervous and walked faster as they implored me to stop again. They looked drugged out. I decided I wouldn’t indulge them unless I get somewhere more crowded. They told me stop again, angrier this time, saying that they just wanted to talk. “Too good for us?”, they yelled. I was fed up and my heart was beating. I didn’t want trouble but was still confident I could handle myself if need be. Fueled by liquid courage, I gave them my most American of responses.
I told them to F*$# off.
I turned to walk away, when I was felled by a swift kick to the genitals. They moved quietly. “You got some balls man, talking to us like that in my home, yeah?” I looked up in time to see the smaller of the dudes, a malnourished looking fellow with a red sweatshirt, pull back his leg. He kicked me right in the sternum. His friend was behind me as evident by the pounding my back was taking. This went on for some time till I managed to get up on my hands and knees. That’s when they pulled out a gun.
It pointed between my eyes. I stared at it like an idiot.
“Empty your trousers mate.” Evidently I wasn’t moving fast enough. “Listen when I feckin’ speak to you.” The gun wasn’t dangling any more. It was pressed up against my forehead. Still on my hands and knees I slowly backed into the brick wall. I got up on my haunches, moving slowly backwards and crouched down into a sitting position. The gun stayed trained on my forehead. “Open your trouser pockets front and back.” I pulled my side pockets inside out, letting their contents fall to the ground. The little guy scampered in and started picking things out. “Back now.” I reached around and threw my wallet down. The little guy picked it up, opened it, and flipped through approvingly.
Then came the curve ball.
“Open your feckin’ mouth.” I tried to process what was being asked. “I said, open your feckin’ mouth.” I complied and he slid the gun inside. My mind went blank. My life didn’t flash before my eyes. The only thing I was conscious of was that I was how hard I was trembling, and that I needed to especially keep my facial muscles tight. It tasted metallic, not unlike blood. I was choking, but trying not to show it, and trying my damnedest to harness my weak gag reflex. “What you say now?” I had nothing which he must’ve liked because he removed the gun from my mouth, slowly, and struck me across the forehead with the butt.
“Face on the ground” he yelled. I complied, kneeling gingerly, as for some reason I was still concerned about staining my pants. I felt a foot on my back. “Count to 500 before you get up.” One of them gave me a kick, light this time, in the ribs and I heard them run off. I waited until I couldn’t hear their footsteps anymore before I picked my head up. I was dizzy, felt like I was going to vomit, and shaking more than I cared to admit. Change and ticket stubs were scattered around me. I didn’t bother to pick any of them up. The day began looking up when I noticed that two feet away, sitting in a tuft of grass was my phone. I must have dropped it when I first got hit. Neither of us had registered that.
I walked to a nearby park and sat in a daze. The worst part wasn’t the lost possessions. I’d saved a lot of money for the trip. It’d hurt my wallet for sure, but it wasn’t going to ruin me. It wasn’t the goose egg on the side of my face either. It was the loss of control, the complete and utter compliance I’d given them as soon as I’d seen the gun that bothered me. I like to be in control—some of my friends might even label me a control freak. Taking that away, becoming that submissive, is not something I’m used to or comfortable with.
I was embarrassed as well. It hurt my pride. Like I said, I fancied myself tall enough and strong enough that no one would bother me. It was emasculating. I’m glad I didn’t fight back. I believe I handled the situation as smartly as I could, but part of me still thinks, Pat you could’ve taken them.
I was reluctant about filing a police report and telling anyone my story. It’d be one thing to get my wallet pick-pocketed, but I was straight up mugged. I got the shit kicked out of me and allowed someone to make me lay on the ground with my face in the dirt and count to a designated sum. In the end I swallowed my pride when the hotel clerk insisted we call the police. They were helpful and treated me with respect. I kept saying things like “this is embarrassing me being a guy and all” and half-expected them to scoff at someone like me letting something like this happen, but they didn’t. They kept assuring me to not even make that an issue. It was equally as embarrassing when I realized I couldn’t give them great descriptions, or even pinpoint the exact alley in which it happened. I’m normally great with details but my mind was shot. I do wonder if cops here at home would’ve treated me the same way, or if I would’ve encountered some condescension.
And it didn’t ruin my trip. I’d go back to Belfast in a heartbeat.
And I ended up telling my friends, because I’m never one to turn away from some self-deprecation, that I was pistol whipped by a guy who called me a yank.
Photo: The Knowles Gallery/flickr