It’s painful to even recall the moment when I put my fingers in my mouth and discovered most of my teeth had been smashed out of my face, but it’s something I likely will never forget. I also remember the copious amounts of blood that seeped through my clothing leaving along crimson trail behind me as I limped my way back home. More troubling, I remember, was the suspicion that my roommates, the people that were renting rooms in the house I was living in, were somehow connected to my assault and potential murder.
This is one of many on a long list of reasons that I refuse to return to life in the US. Every time I think about the country, it takes on the conceptual likeness of an alcoholic parent crouched in the dark den of a house, shouting at a television set. First comes the cursing, then the hysterical tears. It became apparent to me early in life that the US should not be antagonized lest it decide to fight back at given moment. And while you may feel my negative appraisal is a bit hyperbolic, I can explain this my view in a bit more detail.
For the last five years I’ve been living in China and believe it or not, I’ve been much happier here, despite the various issues this country obviously has. It might be mind-boggling to some, but I’ve never left, not even once to visit home. While I may miss family, and cheap Mexican food on occasion, there is nothing else I pine for strongly enough that I would even consider going back to live there again. Those sweet memories of my homeland are often intermingled with those of fear, coercion and distrust reaffirmed every time another violent crime scene explodes upon the national and sometimes international media.
Back between 2006 and 2010 I had been renting a basement in a house in Philadelphia while putting myself through college. The story, as it was written back in 2009, follows below.
I wondered, how I could have been such an idiot. How could I have ever put myself in the position that something like this could happen to me.
As it turned out, I made a few serious mistakes. The first mistake I made was allowing myself to become too comfortable in my own neighborhood. Being that I’d never witnessed any criminal activity, I sort of assumed that the neighborhood was safe. Elsewhere perhaps, maybe even nearby. But not in the lazy stretch of suburbia that I’d been living in for the last couple of years. As I came to discover later, that area had not been without its fair share of troubling incidents, but that’s beside the point.
The second mistake I made was listening to my iPod at night. What a foolish thing to do. I’d just come back from a night of drinking and music, with a few-beers-buzz on and I thought it reasonable to enjoy some jams on the walk home. By listening to music, I was easily caught unaware when my attackers made their first move. At the time, iPods were a popular item among the violent thieving black “youths” due to their resale value, so that didn’t help either.
My third mistake: I was decently dressed. I was wearing a white button-down shirt and some stylish faded jeans. I was clean shaven and clean-cut. This is what I would call a failure to adapt to my immediate surroundings. Never one to follow local trends, I liked to dress the way I wanted to rather than trying to blend in with those around me. My suburban appearance helped feed my attackers’ erroneous assumption that all clean-cut white dudes are loaded with cash and valuables. Certainly I was likely better off than my attackers and I did have a thing called a “credit card”, but I think that would hardly qualify me as loaded. Maybe I’m giving them too much credit by assuming that they had any rational motives at all.
This is how it all started: I was just a couple blocks away from home, coming back from a bar when I got the vague impression that someone was following me and closing ground quickly. I didn’t have a chance to move before something struck me so hard that I saw bright white as I fell forward. The palms of my hands tore on the pavement before I felt multiple sets of arms grasping at me, pulling me back up to my feet.
The next blow was hard, but it was followed so quickly by another that I barely felt it. At least two of my attackers restrained me, while another two continued to pummel my face. I couldn’t determine what they were hitting me with, but I was certain it had to be bats due to the flat, dull ring they made as they collided with my head. Tenacious fingers clawed through my pockets. They had my wallet. I suppose they were dissatisfied with the twenty dollar bill they scored. There had to be at least six of them in all.
A series of hard, wet thunder cracks rocked my head back and forth as I was beaten. I didn’t have a chance to see who was striking me, or to count them. I vaguely remember one of them coaching the other three through the ordeal, telling them “if you hit him hard enough, he’ll just go down.” I suspect that was the source of their frustration. They hadn’t given me the concussion they were hoping for. The “coach” uttered a sound of frustration before he decided to join the fray and finish the job himself.
That was when the hardest blows were dealt. The next caught me squarely across the right half of my face, causing my whole jaw to fracture in a clean, swift break near my chin. I felt my right cheek shred open across my teeth. The next one should have knocked me unconscious. I’d never been hit so hard in my entire life. Another deafening blow landed across my jaw, shattering it even more severely. I instinctively fell to my knees.
I remember them asking each other if I was “going.” “Is he going? Is he going? Good!” When I collapsed on the sidewalk, I was still fully conscious of everything that had just happened. They dashed off in every which direction, off to relish the treasures of my stolen debit card, iPod, and cell phone. I put my fingers in my mouth for a second, feeling the broken bits of bone and spurting blood and I recall looked around thinking, “Aren’t you gonna kill me?”
I slowly got back on my feet and started walking home. Something was definitely wrong with my mouth. I didn’t want to know what it was. When I got back home I called to my roommates for help. My upstairs roommate was in the middle of some private business upstairs with a lady, so he didn’t want to be disturbed. When I started screaming at his bedroom door, he finally called the cops and handed me his cell phone.
I went through the process of explaining everything to the dispatcher over the phone, telling her I needed an ambulance. As I did this, I went into the upstairs bathroom and took a look at myself in the mirror.
The most upsetting thing was when I opened my mouth and saw that I no longer had any teeth in my mouth past the broken right portion of my jaw. There were still a few stubborn teeth poking up where they were meant to be, but they looked freakish and bizarre with so many others missing.
I remember the next morning cancelling my debit card and credit card and finding charges for gas and snacks on my statement. It looked as though they filled up a few different tanks. I wondered how routine all this was to them. The charges weren’t even that much. Was it really worth breaking my jaw in three places and potentially ending my life?
I can also clearly remember going to my first day of Mandarin class in college with my jaw wired shut. There I was, eager to learn a new language that I thought might provide for future prosperity and employment, and I couldn’t even speak. At home with my homework, long afternoons were spent trying to suck mash-potato flakes and cheddar through a straw. I was left with permanent nerve damage through my lower lip and chin, and it still feels a bit like rubber to this day, as though a small part of me is already dead.
My purpose in sharing this story is not to garner sympathy, but rather to share the perspective that abandoning life in the West is not a crazy pipe dream but sound, rational self-interest. I eventually overcame this ordeal and went on to write books while living abroad. Sometimes I consider the fact that I never would have made any of these achievements had my life been stolen from me that night in July. All of the contributions I’ve made or will make to the world would never come to be.
Later, I tried to find some news coverage of my attack but there was absolutely no mention of the incident anywhere. Eventually I found a vague reference to a man getting his jaw broken in a YouTube clip about Philly “flash mobs,” which is to say “groups of asshole kids that run down the street after school violently assaulting anyone in their path.” It turned out to have nothing to do with my experience.
There wasn’t any outrage or interest among the general public about what had happened to me simply because it is such a common occurrence. Another white guy nearly beat to death by some urban “youths”; that’s not a story, that’s just “dog bites man,” and everyone knows dogs bite men. The more I listen to the things people are saying in the West, the more it sounds like some would have viewed what happened to me as perfectly acceptable behavior, considering my race and ethnicity. I refuse to be a part of a society that feels the best way to resolve inequities between different groups of people is by punishing those that are perceived to have it better, whether real or imagined.
Check out The Single Dude’s Guide to Survival for tips and advice about how to avoid situations like this.