At about 9:40pm on a recent Friday night, I learned what getting punched in the face feels like.
I had just watched Gorillaz perform at San Francisco’s Outside Lands Music Festival in Golden Gate Park and was happily walking along Fulton, alone, to my car. I had left early, trying to beat the crowds—and I did. There was no one around as I crossed 42nd Avenue. I was in a good mood—I had interviewed some amazing artists, saw some great shows, and drank a little wine.
A car turning left from Fulton came at me, stopping about a foot short of hitting me. “What the hell?” I said, throwing my arms up to my side and locking eyes with the driver. She looked at me, then squinted into the distance, seeming to think hard, then looked back at me and said: “Get the fuck out of my way!”
It was so opposite of what I was expecting that I lost control. “What the fuck, you almost hit me, and now you’re yelling at me?!” I stood in front of her car for a second, trying to force remorse out of her. But she looked right at me and said it again: “Get the FUCK out of the way!”
Instead of walking away like a smart (if angry) person, I stood there, blocking her car. We both yelled more words and I was blinded by her head lamps, which were connected by a long skinny light that reminded me of the Millennium Falcon. The car was white, but don’t ask me the make or model because I was more concerned with proving to this stranger that I was right and she was wrong.
I moved around to her side window, which was rolled up. Her eyes were wide and clear. Her skin was smooth and light brown. I thought she was pretty but that didn’t soften my feelings. Her hair was pulled into a top knot which seemed to stretch her eyes wide.
We both yelled some more and I don’t remember what else we said but it wasn’t nice. I don’t remember smacking her window with my hand, although I probably did, and that’s the reason she gave for why she punched me.
I finally walked away, feeling self righteous and in control as she drove away, or so I thought. But she pulled over and got out of her car. The passenger, another woman—they both seemed to be in their 20s—yelled at her to stop. But the driver was on a mission and I idiotically stood my ground in the crosswalk (I am 5’4 and not imposing in any way).
She approached purposefully and quickly. I imagined throwing a foot to her chest to stop her, kickboxing style. (AND THEN WHAT DID I THINK WOULD HAPPEN??) But before I could do anything, her left, closed fist tore into my right brow bone and eye socket—later everyone agreed she must have been wearing a big ring.
In the movies I always thought, jeez! That’s gotta hurt so bad! But I don’t remember pain from the impact. Instead, it was all the feelings—embarrassment, anger, desire to correct the injustice of being attacked.
My body swung 90 degrees from the impact and the first thing I thought of were my Celine sunglasses which had been thrown to the street. Fighting my (idiotic) urge to bend down and grab them, I turned back towards her—luckily she was headed back to her car and not coming at me for more. Her friend was yelling, “Why did you do that?!”
“Because she hit my car, that’s why! She touched my car,” she said loudly and evenly with a tone that said she felt 100% justified.
As she drove away I yelled: “You’re in trouble!” like an 8-year-old on the playground would. “I got your plate number!” I called out the numbers as the car got smaller, and kept saying them to myself as I fumbled for my phone in my bag and dialed 911. But I was shaking and freaking out and I lost confidence in my memory. Was I inverting the numbers? Was I remembering 8 instead of H?
I tried not to cry so the operator could understand me, but she still thought I said 22nd Avenue and I had to say FORTY SECOND 500 times. I hung up and looked down at my phone—it was smeared with blood. That’s when I noticed pain, and started worrying what sort of injury was unfolding on my face. I pictured a boxer-style purple and swelled-shut eye. How would I explain it to my 5-year-old? I took comfort that I could see. My contact lens seemed to still be in my eye and my vision was just a little blurry.
A guy drove up, rolled down his passenger window and asked if I was OK. “Not really,” I said. “I just got punched in the face. I’m bleeding.” “Why did she punch you?” he asked and I told him that it was apparently because I hit her window. He asked if I’d called the police and I said yes. I called my husband, whose voice was a comfort (“I’m so sorry baby! Are you OK?! Should I come get you?”), and when I looked up again the guy in the car was gone.
As I waited for the police I watched blood drip onto the water bottle in my right hand. I wanted to touch my eye to feel the injury, but I was afraid of getting it dirty or making it worse (or making it hurt more). It figures the first time you wear your fancy new studded army jacket, you get punched in the face. I angled my head so the blood would drip on the sidewalk instead of my clothes.
When the cops finally arrived, they were professional and polite. They asked me to sit down on the curb—if I’d known this would happen I wouldn’t have worn high-waisted skinny jeans, which were not meant for low squats, I’ll tell you that much. They took some pictures and asked me what I remembered, which was pretty much nothing that could actually help find the woman who hit me.
As I looked up at the police from the curb, it occurred to me that maybe I should be wary. Two officers stood over me in their dark blue uniforms, guns in holsters, asking questions and taking notes. Two others wandered around the area and the one interviewing me told them to look for cams. “Cams?” he asked. “CAMERAS,” my cop said. And I wondered how they could not have their jargon straight.
Gorillaz were still going strong and the sidewalks were empty. I thought of the police brutality in the news in recent years. I remembered that police shot and killed a homeless man who was sitting next to a tree I walk by twice a week on my way to dance class on Shotwell Street in the Mission.
But the officers waited quietly with me for an ambulance for an hour (!) while the sticky blood dried on my cheek. They let me move to their heated car where my jeans were more forgiving.
Instead of being scared, I wondered how my experience would have been different if I were a person of color. I have to hope the police would have been just as helpful. But as I write this on the Monday after the murders and white supremacy demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia, and as the week progresses and I revise this post over and over trying to not sound like an asshole while talking about white privilege, our 45th president has called the violent racists who organized the Virginia rally “fine people.” He has not extended condolences to the family of the woman who was run down in a car and killed by a white supremacist. And it’s taking me a really long time to finish this, so now it’s the day after 45’s disturbingly inane speech in Phoenix. How can anyone be sure of anything?
Until that night sitting on the Fulton Street curb, the benefits of being white in America were not part of my internal monologue. So I guess you could say it took a punch in the face to make me really think about white privilege.
I do have a potentially lame excuse: I didn’t entirely consider myself white until I recently I had my DNA analyzed (I’m adopted and didn’t have much information about my birth parents). As it turns out, I’m pretty white, genome-wise. And that makes me face the reality that despite how I feel inside, I benefit from having light skin.
So instead of bleeding and being worried for my safety, I felt only a bit disoriented to sit in a police car, tilting my head out the door so as not to drip blood on the upholstery.
One officer agreed to take a photo of my face with my phone. I needed flash because a selfie without it was completely dark. He flinched a little when he saw the blood on my screen but didn’t complain. The resulting photo showed a stream of blood from my brow. I made it small here so it wouldn’t gross you out and because I’m vain.
We chatted about how the Mission is the hardest district for SF police. One asked if I’d been wearing my sunglasses when she hit me, and I said no (they were propped on my head), since it was dark and I’m not that cool and we laughed. It’s a bit David Lynch-ian to laugh while blood cakes on one’s face.
When the ambulance finally arrived, a paramedic with a charming handlebar mustache cleaned up my injury. “This is gonna suck,” he said, because they no longer supply ambulances with peroxide and he had to use alcohol. As he peeled my hair away from my face it made a crackling sound and he said, “Sorry, your hair is stuck in your blood.” Now there’s a sentence I hadn’t imagined hearing ever.
And then he decided my injury didn’t even warrant a Band-Aid which literally added insult to my injury. As I walked away, the mustachioed paramedic yelled, “He’s an EX-boyfriend now, right?” I laughed until I realized how not funny it was.
When I finally made my way to my car two blocks away, I noticed the lights were on. I tried to turn over the engine anyway, but the battery was dead. Feeling extremely sorry for myself, I called a Lyft.
Two hours after being punched in the face, I was finally home in bed with my husband and daughter (yes, she still sleeps with us sometimes). Lying next to my 5-year-old little girl, I felt like the worst example for losing my temper and getting myself punched in the face. I thought about how embarrassed I’d be to tell the story to our 17-year-old, though it turned out he quite enjoyed it.
And since he is a kid with brown skin, I asked what he would do if he’d gotten punched in the face. First, he said he wouldn’t mouth off to someone bigger than him. Noted. And no, he would not call the police—not because he was afraid of them, but because he figured they wouldn’t do anything. “She already got away. She’s bragging to someone right now how she knocked out some lady who mouthed off!”
I always wondered what a punch in the face felt like, because I thought the physical pain would be awful. Turns out the existential strife is what bothered me the most, but at the same time I’m grateful for it.
I have a commemorative black eye that changes color every day (it’s currently yellow-ish) and it still hurts if I (or my five year old) touches it. But no one pulled a gun on me (and I keep telling myself I’m lucky the driver didn’t have one), my vision is OK, no bones are broken. I mean I didn’t even get a Band-Aid.
Oh, and my daughter’s reaction? “Mommy, what happened to your eye?” Me: “I got an owee.” Her: “It hurts?” Me: “A little, but it’s OK.” Her: “Can I watch a video?” Yeah, it could have been worse.