Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Before and After

Certain events in our life leave an indelible impression. The sort of events and experiences that feel like everything else, maybe if just for the present time, is defined in terms of “before X and after X.”

October 20, 2006 was definitely a before and after. I’m not a parent yet, but I imagine the first kiddo leaves a certain impression.

When I realize where I’m going with this train of thought, it seems almost irreverent to combine weddings and precious new life with what happened. But for me, the last two weeks have been defined by “before October 12 at 10:07” and “after October 12 at 10:07” – for good or for bad, and I’m finding the two aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive.

I was slightly uneasy as I exited the subway station near our place. Noah and I are constantly together, almost to a comical point, so the otherwise two short blocks felt strangely exposed without him by my side. I kept a definitive pace toward our building, noting individuals who passed and keeping careful watch of the empty sidewalk that trailed behind my stride. I rang Noah in the apartment, and just as I did, a man stepped in off the sidewalk and joined me in the vestibule. Immediately, I felt uncomfortable. And though it can be potentially unpleasant to ask a neighbor if they actually live in the building, I asked. In the split second before the beeping gave away the unlocked door he responded in the affirmative and we made our way into the foyer.

Still unsure of his presence, I glanced over my shoulder a few times, wondering if he seemed to have a destination – a first floor apartment? The stairs? And though I rarely opt for the elevator, I found myself walking toward it as he asked if I needed help with my bags.

“Oh, they’re really not heavy – thanks. Have a nice night.”

I guess subconsciously, I hoped my dismissive response would mark the end of this uncomfortable exchange. But as I called the elevator, he made his way toward the elevator to wait with me. I dug for my phone, dialing Noah to chat during the six floor summit – we wouldn’t have had much to say, I just wanted this guy to know someone was expecting me in about 45 seconds. Someone tough. And huge. And mean :).

The elevator approached, the man held open the door and rather than lingering for the phone to connect, I stepped into the elevator. Before I could turn to hit the 6, I felt two arms reach around me, pinning my arms against my side and pulling the ringing phone away from my ear. I didn’t know if it had connected, but I knew if it did connect, I’d better start screaming for all I had. I screamed until he yelled at me to stop and adjusted his grip from my shoulders to my throat. At first I panicked, my adrenaline begging me to thrash and fight, get air and get away. But in that moment, I had the most overwhelming impression to just calm down and everything would be all right.

I came to on the floor of the elevator – but without peripheral vision, it took a few moments to recognize the scene, much less remember the role I had played. I focused on my feet first and in the otherwise eerie silence, heard the shuffling of someone still in close proximity. I noticed my bags strewn about, the glossy tan paint of the cold metal walls. I stood, still foggy and grasping for periphery when he backed out of the elevator. I know we were facing each other because our last exchange consisted of my reaching desperately for the phone I saw at my feet and his demanding I give it to him.

I committed the 3 on the placard outside the elevator door to memory, and took some comfort in the fact even an old, slow elevator couldn’t take more than 30 seconds to climb two stories. Still shaky and confused, I pounded the 6, pushed my way out of the elevator, rang our bell furiously and found myself telling my sweetheart with more composure than I think I actually had, “I was just mugged in the elevator…”

We rode in the back of the police car to the precinct, all the while keeping our eyes peeled for “anyone who may look like him.” But when black puffy coats and dark baseball caps are practically dress code in the neighborhood, it’s downright overwhelming.

I tried my best to keep my composure until Noah and I ascended the stairs back to our apartment 2.5 hours later. Sheer exhaustion combined with raw emotion as I eyed the 3 on the placard and it sent me into what started as a whimper and quickly escalated into heaving sobs by the time we reached our place.

Noah was my rock.

The next few hours were some of the most memorable I’ve shared with my sweetheart in the time I’ve called him “my sweetheart.” I married an angel. Some is too personal to share through this medium, but we were so closely aligned with what we needed, what we wanted, what we prayed for and what we knew our Heavenly Father was capable of blessing us with.

We knew we stood at a bit of a crossroads. This guy had done what he came in the building to do, and now he was where? Probably not thinking about this the same way we were. Probably not replaying it and wondering what could have gone differently. He had a handful of cancelled credit cards and some M.A.C. eyeshadow and we had an emotional recovery staring us squarely in the face.

Noah embraced me as I asked questions, came to realizations, talked about what I was feeling and thinking and wondering at every 10 minute interval. I felt so empowered as I allowed myself not to dwell on what could have been different, but instead on what I did right. And I felt so, so acutely the perfect love of a Father in Heaven who watched over me, protected me and saw me home to my sweetheart.

After many tearful, grateful prayers we climbed in bed still unable to summon sleep. Noah suggested we listen to General Conference that had been broadcast to the members of our church one week prior. We selected the Sunday morning session and tears streamed down my face as I listened to the powerful message in the opening hymn, “I Need Thee Every Hour,” and listened to a beautiful invocation requesting Balm of Gilead for those who were in need – supplication offered on behalf of millions listening and watching one week previous and now, meant just for us in a dark bedroom in Harlem. I slipped in and out of fitful sleep and could sense Noah doing the same. But at one point, I awoke to hear just a few sentences from Bishop H. David Burton about acts of violence in our communities. I probably took his words of context in my half-awake state, but my interpretation in that moment was one of understanding, one of our natural, God-given capacity for integrity, charity, love and respect, the thought that the man in the elevator was also a son of our Heavenly Father and that He knew what I was going through.

In the days that followed, I felt so powerfully the blessings afforded Noah and me in this healing process. The very fact we work together, probably a short blip on the broader landscape of our eventual jobs and careers, meant I could literally stay within arm’s length of him until I was comfortable enough to be alone. We were able to spend time together in the temple – if there’s ever a place to sob uncontrollably for no apparent reason and just get consoling hugs from sweet old ladies, the temple is that place. The promises and the blessings received in His house always overwhelm me in even my most settled state, and to feel and try to comprehend those blessings in this context was more than I can express. Our incredible families, scattered literally across the globe – we felt so close to them through their prayers and fasting on our behalf. Our truly wonderful friends – within hours of word making the rounds, we had doors and homes opened to us, listening ears, and even more prayers and thoughts on our behalf. Our sweet neighbors, two men who’ve befriended and embraced the Rileys and wish us a good day each morning as we pass – after Noah shared what happened, we’ve come home each evening to their genuine concern wanting to know why we’re so late :). Even strangers, as people I don’t know have passed along their well wishes through mutual acquaintances, it’s impossible not to feel a support system like the one we’ve felt.

As I spoke with a dear friend last night, I recalled what an experience this has been – but that for the truly awful 1.5 minutes, and not so great next few hours, the days and now even weeks that have followed have been full of lessons and realizations and confirmation of God’s love for me. If I wouldn’t allow myself to feel this love and remember the supreme gift of Christ’s atonement – then it was just an awful experience.

I doubt I’ll forget October 12 at 10:07pm, but there is so much “after” that I hope I never do.

42 comments:

Rileys said...

Thanks for making me cry-again! You are pretty tough, not sure i could have handled this the same way you have. We're so glad that everything turned out the way it did. We love you guys and can't wait to see you in two days!

Michelle said...

WOW...you are one tough cookie Alison. I seriously, at one point, thought you were telling some scary Halloween story or something. Hope you are doing well.

Natalie | The Bobby Pin said...

oh my goodness... I'm so sorry you've been going through this! How incredibly hard and scary. It must be hard to ever feel safe again -- stay strong. And I'm glad you have Noah there!

Kari said...

Wow. I can't believe that. I have goosebumps.

Nicole said...

I'm so glad you're okay. (Maybe better than okay now that you know you can do anything?) Ever since I heard what happened I've been thinking about you. Thanks for sharing something so personal and reassuring everyone. You're amazing.

Dani said...

Allison! I'm so sorry, what a scary experience. Come back to Philly if you need to get out of The City for a bit. :)

Jon said...

Allison, I am so glad that you are ok. The maturity with which you have handled the situation and your thought process is one of a truly strong testimony and understanding in Jesus Christ. I am so sorry that happened, but so grateful you were willing to share it.

Wishing you and Noah all the best,
Jon

melissa said...

Oh, Allison! How traumatic and horrible. I hope you will continue to be brave and know that Heavenly Father is watching over you. Hugs to you.

The Barnes Family said...

WOw....what else can you say? Heavenly Father loves you both very much.

Missy said...

Wow. I am so glad you are ok! What a terrible experience, I am so sorry.

Cliff, Kendal and Stone said...

OH. MY. GOSH. I got the chills, and my eyes watered up. I can't believe you had to go through this. But I love how you two watched conference afterwards, and how it calmed you, and how you heard exactly what you needed to. I've said it so many times, but I LOVE how you write. You have talent. I am so glad to hear things are okay. Keep your head up.

Jordan and Candice said...

I have been thinking so much about you guys the last couple of weeks. I'm so so sorry you had to experience that. I can't imagine how traumatic it was.

It is amazing how there is always silver lining in these trials and I am so glad you have been able to see the hand of God in your life and the tender mercies from the last couple of weeks.

We love you guys.

noelle regina said...

I'm so sorry to hear this ... for all of us who love Harlem - it's just a reminder that it's not all fun people-watching and culture-shock. So glad you're safe. Hope that karma kicks this guy in the @$$.

Rae said...

Oh my goodness, I am so sorry you had to go through this, and so glad you've been able to take what you have from the situation.
Thank you so much for sharing this, it brought tears to my eyes.
It seems like you did everything right in the circumstance, including the awkward "do you live here?" Good for you. I'm curious if the police told you anything that could have been done differently?
Even though we've never actually met, I'm so SO happy you are okay.
Thanks again for sharing this.

Raulz Kidz said...

Oh my word Allison! I am so glad your okay. I've had my run in with someone that broke my sense of security too. It is really difficult to get past it. If you really ever do. I am always sleeping with lights on and all the blinds closed in my house. Just now that you have an extra blanket of protection around you!! Keep safe while in NYC.

Tabbi said...

You've been in my thoughts everyday since and I'll continue to pray for you two.

xoxo
TABS

Abbie said...

Hi there. My good friend Angie told me about your post and I just had to comment.

I am so impressed with your strength. I feel like select people are supposed to live here. You really could have taken this and ran screaming from the city, but you didn't. You made a horrible situation something beautiful. Thank you for writing about it.

Sarah & Trent said...

Ahhh Allison, I have to say~ I've let out another big big sigh... and my heart is beating so fast! I just love that you can strengthen so many people with your amazing testimony after this incident-- Trent and I were just talking again about what a phenomenal writer you are too- Wow, to write about such a horrific experience with such literary genius!!!

Brandon and Danina said...

You made me realize this world isn't as safe as I think it is. I'm glad you are ok. Thanks for sharing your testimony of our Heavenly Father's love. It has helped strengthen mine. Know you are in our prayers!

Mike and Sarah said...

Oh my goodness! I'm so glad that you're okay!! Thank you so much for sharing this story and your testimony. You are one strong gal!!

Ash, Dev, & Coop said...

Oh Al, what a brave and strong girl you are!! What a great realization you have come to so soon. You're a great inspiration and you'll be in our prayers. I'm glad you have such a tight loving net around you.

Blake and Jenn said...

I read this and couldn't believe it. I'm glad you're okay! And you continue to be such an example to me-of courage and faith. The courage you had in how you handled the entire situation-WOW! And your faith, always attributing our Heavenly Father for His love and guidance He shows His children.
You are in my thoughts and prayers and thank you again, for being such an example!!

Traci said...

I was just sick when Spencer told me that this had happened to you. You and Noah were on both of our minds for days after that...
(p.s. On a different note, tell Noah we missed him when we went to insurance for Halloween today.)

Chase and Leah said...

I am so sorry to hear about this horrible experience. I can't imagine what I would do in such a situation. You are both in our prayers.

allegra said...

wow, what a story. even though i'm just a friend of a friend who checks in occasionally on the blog to hear some witty stories and your amazing writing talent, i'll definitely pray for you!! i'm so glad you're ok!!

i'm not going to compare my story to yours or say i know what you went through by any means at all, but i can say i've had that "uneasy" feeling in an elevator too! must just come with living on the east coast. it was boston. in the subway. (they have elevators in the subway in boston), and max and i had gotten in the elevator to go up to the street. just as the doors were closing, a weird looking man pushed his way in. the second he looked at me, i just knew he was a creep. not so much a mugger perhaps, but one of those dirty old men with a perverted mind and he wouldn't stop staring me up and down. i can't explain how i felt, but the spirit definitely told me he was NOT good news and i felt VERY unsafe. after the doors opened, i walked as quickly as i could home with my sweet boy and cried to the hubby. i know, nothing happened to me, and it's not the same as your situation, but i'm just saying i know how you felt being embraced, and feeling safe at home with the hubby!! what a blessing!!

blakeandcourt said...

Allison! Blake and I are so glad you are okay! You guys are in our prayers!

melissa oholendt said...

Oh Al. I'm so sorry. What a wonderful husband you have!

Angie said...

I can't believe this happened to you, of all people. You seem like the sweetest person on the planet. I'm so so sorry you had to experience something so traumatic. I'm glad you're okay! And thank you so much for posting this, I feel like I'll be better prepared if I ever find myself in a similar situation. You're so brave!

Sara said...

wow Allison! i had to read and re-read your blog over --initially because I began skipping through waiting for the "...and then I woke up" part to come in. really that is so scary! I hope you are doing better now. . .

Whitney said...

i am so glad you wrote about this allison. i have been thinking and praying for you for weeks. you are so brave and your testimony is so strong. i am grateful to have read it and to know the journey and strength you have drawn from this horrible experience. thanks for sharing it, i have learned so much from you and your example. you are a strong, amazing, sweet, and wonderful person! i am grateful i can call you a great friend. :)

jessica said...

I can't believe you had to go through all of this! You are a tough girl! You guys will be in our prayers.

sorensenpower said...

You are great - both of you! I'm glad you're okay.

Kami said...

Oh Alison! I am so sorry this happened...I'm sick just thinking about it. Bless you for your maturity and your ability to see the good even through the toughest situations! You and Noah will certainly be in my thoughts and prayers...

Jen said...

Hey Al,
I read this right after you posted and it has taken me this long to respond because I have been too stunned. My boys have spent the last five days figuring out karate moves for you. They have offered to give you lessons :) Vermont is always here for you if you need a getaway.
Love and Love!

Lynze said...

Wow, that's so scary! I'm so glad that you weren't hurt.

Lincoln and Alisia said...

What incredible insight. Thank you.

Melissa said...

Oh Al...ever since I stumbled on your comment on facebook I've been dying to know what happened and how you are doing with it all. I just read this for the first time, and I'm so glad you wrote it all down, and as always, that you did so beautifully. My heart just leaps out of my chest for you at the thought of that moment in the elevator, the moments after, the thoughts in between. You. Are. Amazing. A close friend of mine was attacked here almost 2 years ago, and I wished I could undo that night for her so many times as I watched her have to face her "after." I was so happy and impressed to read how you've taken it all in and turned to the Lord because you knew 100% that you would find peace there. Just another reason I love you and absolutely admire you. Your perspective is eternal, your testimony is unwavering, and your ability to share it all is moving. I just wish I were there to hug you! I'm so sorry you had to go through such an awful experience, and so glad Noah was there to hold you afterward. You two are incredible, what a beautiful relationship you share. Can we talk soon? Miss you.

allyn said...

allison, i read this last week and have been thinking of you ever since. sorry i didn't comment then. i am so grateful that you came out of it virtually safe. i will keep you in my thoughts and prayers.

Hawaii Monkeys said...

allison- what a scary experience, I'm glad you are tough and equally that you have Heavenly Father close and feel his love. That is a wound to heal; glad Noah can be there with you too. We love you!

emily kate said...

You probably don't remember me, we were in the Harlem ward for awhile after you moved in. I just saw this post referenced on another friend's blog and had to come read it. What a terrifying experience for you! But I am so impressed with how you handled everything. So glad everything turned out ok!

Robby Spratt said...

What a terrible experience. I'm glad you are ok. I am impressed at how you and Noah responded and were able to deal with the situation. You two are really an example to me. I know I don't really know either of you very well, but I've always looked up to both of you. I hope everything will be better after this.

Jaci said...

Kami mentioned this to me over lunch a few weeks ago. So, so sorry you had to face such a scary moment. You are so tough. So blessed. And I'm so happy you are okay!