We planned to pick up some Kentucky Fried Chicken. I was hungry. Long day at work. My friend Mr. Vulcan got on the BART train at 19th Street and I got on at 12th Street. Our ride lasted ten minutes. We got off at our usual stop.
We walked through the station, crossed the pedestrian tunnel and then the parking lot to my car.
I had my cell phone stolen out of my right hand a few months ago from the same station’s parking lot, at the same time in the afternoon, by a young black man in a hoodie. He didn’t have a weapon. I ran after him, chasing him through the parking lot, screaming at the top of my lungs. The young man mistakenly ran right to a BART cop, sitting in his police car in the back of the parking lot. The cop was white. I didn’t press charges. I got my phone back.
After my phone was jacked, I stopped playing around. Phone in my purse until I got to my car, keys in my hand. Eyes clear and focused. Mr. Vulcan, because of his own life experiences, never lets his guard down in public spaces.
It was 4:15 in the afternoon. The sun was shining down on us, on our tired bodies.
We got to my car. I took my phone out of my purse and tossed my purse in the back seat, as I always did.
Mr. Vulcan opened the back passenger seat, placed his backpack on the floor, opened the front passenger door and dropped down into his seat.
I got in on the driver’s side.
I buckled my seat belt, turned the key in the ignition and rolled the window all the way down, because the car was hot.
I do not remember what we were talking about.
Mr. Vulcan suddenly barked, “Giselle, roll up your window.”
Mr. Vulcan does not speak to me in the tone that he used right then. I was surprised. I turned to him to give him a playful retort for ordering me around in that kind of voice.
What Mr. Vulcan saw, what I did not see, was a young black man who suddenly appeared and started his approach to my car, to the left hand side, on the driver’s side. Mr. Vulcan saw him pull up the hood of his sweatshirt over his head and reach his hands into the pockets of his hoodie.
That was when a young black man in a black hoodie appeared in my open window, the driver’s side window, a black gun in his hand. He said softly, “Give me everything.”
He was so still. His eyes were clear and focused. He had on tan pants. He did not shift or shake.
Mr. Vulcan, Mr. Vulcan who I know to be the mighty negotiator in all areas of his life, says softly to me, “Giselle, give him everything.”
The gun is still pointed at us, through the driver’s side window, into the car where we are both seated and buckled in.
I do not scream. I do not cry. I do not look at Mr. Vulcan. I look at the gun.
I pick up my cell phone to give it to the young man. I drop it by mistake and it falls between the cup holder and my seat.
The young man orders me softly to pick it up and give it to him, which I do.
He is so still. His eyes were clear and focused. He had on tan pants. He did not shift or shake.
I do not remember if I open the door, or the young man opens the driver’s side door.
But now the car door is open and the gun is aimed next to my left leg, the width of two fingers between my leg and the black gun. It shines in the afternoon light. It is small.
The young man asks for Mr. Vulcan’s wallet. What I did not know then, but I do know now, is that because Mr. Vulcan has been robbed two times before at gunpoint, he carries an extra wallet separately from his real one, and he gives the extra one up during moments like this.
The young man now asks me for my wallet. The gun is still pointed to my leg, two finger widths away.
Mr. Vulcan is young brown man with a Latino first and last name. He moves through this world with a physically imposing body, a body of a U.S. football player. He wears hoodies as well. He once told me what he does if he is stopped by the cops while in his car, so that he does not get possibly injured or shot dead. No sudden movements. Keys on the dashboard. Hands always visible. Calm speaking voice, narrating every move.
When the young black man tells me in a quiet voice to get my wallet, I apply that same logic. I put my hands up in the surrender position. I tell him that my wallet is in my purse in the back seat. I tell him, in a calm voice, that I am going to turn around to the back seat, bring my purse forward into my lap. Then, I am going to reach into my purse and take out my wallet and hand it to him.
He says so quietly to me, “OK. Hurry up please.”
The gun is still pointed at my left leg, his hand steady.
My wallet does not hold any cash, just my driver’s license, my ATM card, one credit card and my Clipper transit card. A useless Lotto ticket. A small, passport-sized photo of my husband in a blue, button-down shirt.
The young man tells me to hand over my purse, which I do. The purse hold the usual things. Lip balm. A phone charger. A costume jewelry necklace that I took off earlier in the day at work because the chain broke.
My white Apple headphones spill out from the purse in the exchange and land right outside the car.
Because your mind works in funny ways during these moments, what takes up all the space in my head right just then is me wondering why he did not take the headphones.
The young man says, “Thank you.” and walks off. Walks off, in the direction towards the subsidized housing that lines the outside of the parking lot.
I am breathing hard, gasping for air like I just held my breath underwater. Mr. Vulcan has the presence of mind to guide me and I start to drive, still gasping. He directs us to a BART cop who had just left the parking lot in his truck. We saw him leave as we approached my car. We stopped him outside the front of the BART station.
A million questions, it felt like we had to tell our story a million times. No one was caught. No one will be caught. Two white cops and a Filipino cop. One of the cops agrees to take me around to see if perhaps my purse was thrown somewhere. As we drive around, he tells me that there used to be a BART cop 24/7 in that parking lot. But because of BART budget cuts, it just was not possible anymore.
I asked Mr. Vulcan how he knew not to negotiate at that moment, when he simply told me, “Giselle, give him everything.”
He said that the gun was real – it was a revolver. There were bullets in the chamber. And because this young man was so quiet and still, Mr. Vulcan knew that he had pulled a trigger before with that steady hand and would have no problem pulling it again.
What was physically lost was replaced. My driver’s license. My credit card. My work ID. But I lost other elements that day that will take longer to replace. Feeling safe in a parking lot. Feeling safe in my car, particularly when I turn the key in the ignition. Feeling safe when I walk by a young black man in a black hoodie with tan pants.
In the time that I have been away from this blog, I started to actively follow and support the Black Lives Matter movement. I want to be clear here – I am not black. I am mixed race, Latina and white. I have a tremendous amount of all kinds of passing privileges, particularly in terms of race, gender, sexuality, class and access. I have light skin, predominantly white European features and a white-sounding name.
So when I talk here about the Black Lives Matter movement, it is from this place.
As I told people what happened, many of them asked me quietly, under their breath, “Was he black?”
Not one person asked me about any other race when they asked me that question.
What I want to say here is that there is a context, there are structures – economic, social, political, psychological and governmental structures that create the context that brings that young black man to my driver’s side window with a small black gun.
This is not an excuse for that young black man.
There was structures – economic, social, political, psychological and governmental structures that created the context that places my then-undocumented husband on a Greyhound bus, a loaded revolver in his waistband, the bus stopped by Ohio Highway Patrol during a routine check on its way to New York from Chicago.
That was not an excuse for that young brown man.
For the past week and a half, I veered between intense fear, intense rage and intense sadness.
I veered between wanting to break things and then put them back together. Between wanting to tell people and to stay silent.
And it was tough to go to sleep. I closed my eyes and saw the afternoon sun. The gun, first by my head, then the width of two fingers away from my leg.
I have a strong support network of loved ones. I am also getting additional help from wise and experienced alternative healers who were in my life before all of this happened.
During the session with one of those healers earlier this week, I was asked to go back to the moment, to go back to the emotions that come up. My mind went to the afternoon sun and the gun, the width of two fingers away from my leg. Through her guidance, I took out a big piece of the intense fear, rage and sadness that was within me on a cellular level.
We then moved into another phase, where, due to the energy that was coming out of the healer, due to the energy that was moved within me, due to what was being called on from both of our higher selves, the gun transformed into a white dove and flew out the driver’s side window of my car.
Myself, Mr. Vulcan and the young man were suffused in a white, healing light.
I sent Mr. Vulcan my love.
And I sent that young black man my love, the love that comes from our highest selves.
Now, when I’m falling asleep, the gun turns every time into a white dove that flies out the car window. The car is suffused in a white, healing, light.
And while I still have work to do on myself, I send that young black man my love. The love that comes from my highest self.
My healing is not done. Neither is the work in this world that must continue. But they both are in motion again, after a deeply anguished pause.