Sydney Gregory, Guest Writer (sgregory@wwc)
Walking back alone from the Cole Study room, 4 a.m. I’ve been working on a paper all night, but that’s not why I’m mad as hell. I’m walking quickly. My Kleen-Kanteen, a formidable bludgeoning weapon, in my left hand, and in the pocket of my coat a small can of mace with my right pointer finger ready to press. I’m mad because I’m scared and I used to have no reason to be. Not at such a peaceful place as Wilson, and usually not anywhere. They took a small piece of my faith in myself and in others and now I’ve got, in its place, this god damned fear and anger.
I was dressed as Elton John, I haven’t resolved whether or not this aesthetic flamboyance is related. It was the Saturday before Halloween. There were three females, one male. The main assailant was shorter than me, but about one and a half times girthier. She had a thick accent and was dressed as some sort of slutty something, as were the other two. The husband was inheavy boots and I’d age them all in their early twenties.
I had friends from home visiting. It was a little after midnight so I went to meet them in front of Kittredge. Yes, alone, and no, I didn’t have to be, but I’ve been in other, more suspicious places, in other countries, and felt secure. I was standing on the wall because my friends had missed the turn and I was sure they’d see me there. A white car pulled in abruptly – I could only describe the headlights to the sheriff later – and stopped with the tail end of the car barely out of Warren Wilson Road. I approached the car and asked, “That you, guys?” The male responded, “Hell, no! We ain’t pickin’ your ass up. Get the hell outta here!” Maybe it was my fabulous outfit: leopard-print shoes, electric purple tights and a silver bra under a rainbow-sequined jacket. I walked back, responding, “Well, alright then! Happy fuckin’ Halloween! Go the hell on!” The driver got out of the car. I realized I had made a mistake. She was yelling all sorts of “bitch,” told me I was “talkin’ shit ‘bout her husband.” My trying to reason was my second mistake, but how far was I going to run in 4.5” platform heels? Two girls emerged from the back seat. Smaller and slimmer than the first, but nonetheless blond and sluttied up. And certainly not any less intimidating. I wonder, now, if they did this often. How many other people saw these lifeless, empty, scary faces? How many others had apologized and pled? How many others had she asked, “You wanna die?” It was after she asked me this that she grabbed my hair. I think I pulled it out myself, trying to turn away. My phone was flung from my hands as she swung. I hit the ground, fetal position. Took the blows, tried to cover my head. It was over quickly. The last one to hit me was the man. He gave me the most sizable knots above my left ear and on my forehead. The forehead was his boot’s doing. I know they all had much more rage than I have now, and probably much more fear, locked up someplace much tighter and darker than I’ve ever known.
I’m not sympathizing with them. I judge them for what they acted as: cold, disgusting things. They beat me for a reason I’m glad I don’t understand. There are few things you can take from random acts of violence, and one of them is a deeper sense of what the world is like out there. Car-fulls of people carrying so much in their hearts – insecurity, fear, deep unhappiness and dissatisfaction, some grudge of disempowerment – that they live in constant states of reaction. How tired these bodies must be and how sad their souls.
This piece doesn’t really fit in anywhere chronologically, but two bicyclists passed between me and that car right before things escalated. This is a detail I try to forget because it makes me the most angry. To those students: I know you heard my screaming. I feel very hurt but am trying to understand, if nothing else, for my own peace of mind. I am really sorry you didn’t turn around and I hope you’re never in this position again, but if you do find yourselves there, I hope you decide to do something different.
I wasn’t going to do anything with my story, until a good friend of mine told me about a girl – a student at UNCA – who was downtown by herself when two boys picked her up, took her to a wooded area to rape her and left her on the outskirts of town. These senseless acts are things for which justice, in any shape or charge or sentencing, can serve meager purpose. Damage has been done, and is being done every day, not only by those who act violently, but perhaps more significantly by those are simply unaware.
The original point of writing this down was self-healing. I’ve told the story many times, probably all in the exact same ways, and though I’m quite sick of it, it is still there whether I like it or not. Even weeks after, it’s still very much a process and right now, it’s anger and fear. Tomorrow it could be grief for those wounded people. The next day it could be outright hatred. I’m trying to feel all of it because I know that pushing all of those “ugly” emotions away won’t get it out of me. Then there’s this part of me that needs to tell it, because I want something of greater good to come of this. I want others to become more aware of their individual safety. Another good friend of mine told me that there is power in bringing to light horrific and brutal events so people may know the possibilities and history, to create a new story for the future, and not repeat things.
I want this community to be a safer place, where we can rely on each other simply because we are all here. Because we live in such a different place than what’s found out there in the real world and because we have committed ourselves to such a unique – and rigorous – set of ideals. We must all have some sort of common ground for understanding, some places of aligned consciousness. Aren’t we all working our asses off on our own brilliant and exceptional journeys? There must be some sense of protection of each other, even if we know nothing about someone other than who they sit with at Gladfelter. I’d like to be able to say that this support is real, because this place and the people who call it home are special, unlike most of the planet which is just lots of scary human shit. We’re very worried about increased enforcement around here, but these occurrences of violence have nothing to do with enforcement. What I think we should be having are real conversations about what safety feels like and how we envision creating that together. Why it is important to think about safety as a much bigger idea to all of us than busting parties or breaking fire code? I want to talk about how to better protect ourselves and others and why Wilson students are targets for incidents like this. I’m asking for these open dialogues to happen because I don’t like using ugly words like “assailant,” “attack,” “incident,” “security” or “safety,” but they exist in a very real way whereas they didn’t, to me, before. I’m asking you to raise your own awareness, to speak and listen to others, because I want to live in a safer community and more compassionate world.