Video contains NSFW language
“We can do this the easy way, or the hard way.”
My mind couldn’t comprehend the precipitant, nor the severity, of the situation. Psychologists often refer to this phenomenon as jamais vu, translated as “never seen.” I had sat in my car at a million stop signs before, but the pure fear of what I was experiencing made everything seem strange and unfamiliar.
A dark, monstrous hand reached through the drivers’ side window of my 2005 Mazda 6 and quickly yanked the keys out of my ignition. In the midst of all the chaos, I remember thinking in a brief moment of clarity: is this really happening to me? My brain was finally beginning to catch up to fill in the blanks — I was being car jacked.
The year was 2008. I was in my hometown of Kernersville, North Carolina, visiting my family for the holidays. It was a few days after Christmas and I had plans to rendezvous with friends I had not seen since high school. The bar where we planned to meet was in Winston-Salem, about 20 minutes outside of the small town.
The night turned out to be exactly what I needed: a few drinks, good friends, and old memories of simpler life. It passed all too quickly. Before I knew it, it was time for me to call it a night. I remember the old gang playfully giving me hell for leaving so early, but I had to drive back to my parents’ house and I did not want any problems (especially with the police) on my way home.
Unfortunately, I have never manged to have any sense of direction and this night was no different. This was before the days of smartphones and GPS apps; I was totally on my own to get home, and the place I once knew so well suddenly seemed unfamiliar after dark. I was so turned around that I ended up in a very dangerous part of town, but even I didn’t know the severity of danger in would soon be in. I came to a stop sign in a desolate neighborhood that was bizarrely reminiscent of a Scooby-Doo ghost town. Some of the houses were uninhabited, their windows boarded up. I stopped at a stop sign and decided to put my car in park at this point to assess my situation and determine what to do next. Looking back, my lack of awareness of my surroundings was the biggest mistake I made that evening because shortly thereafter, total pandemonium arrived.
He had approached without warning as I sat there like bait on a hook, planning his attack. As he screamed at me to give him the keys, I realized that I had never prepared for this! There wasn’t a secret lesson in Drivers’ Ed or a survival handbook that was going to free me in this instance. Everything happened in blindingly quick fashion. The “jacker” swung my door open with such velocity I thought it might would come off the hinges. I never had a moment to regain composure, never had the chance to catch up to the reality of the moment, almost as though the entire event were taking place outside of the space/time continuum. Oddly enough, I remember having a rational, somewhat calm internal voice inside my head narrating the whole occurrence.
What happened next definitely made things VERY real and extremely petrifying for me. My attacker forcefully grabbed hold of my hair and, with one swift and forceful motion, yanked me out of the car. I instantly felt the cold, damp asphalt beneath my limbs as I tumbled into the street. Panic seized me; it occurred to me that I was about to be separated from my car. This made me feel instantly and completely vulnerable. As a woman, my car is essentially my form of protection; it is my shield from all the danger that lurks in the night. Without my car I am exposed, unprotected – I have no way to defend or safeguard myself. My car is my shelter from the unpredictable atmosphere surrounding me. My car is my weapon in the rare situation that requires me to fight back for my safety and survival. The narrator in my head was no longer calm. I was overwhelmed by sheer horror. I began to fear that he wanted more than my car from me. At 5’4″ and 105 pounds, I knew I had no chance of fighting him off, and feared that attempting to do so would agitate him even further.
His violent grasp of my hair never ceased, and as he half dragged me and I half crawled along the pavement, I watched the tail lights of my stopped Mazda 6 get seemingly further and further away. We were roughly two car lengths away when everything went hazy; the “jacker” had slammed my head into the street. When I finally came to some sort of consciousness I saw my taillights for what I thought would be the last time, glowing in the distance. Not only had he taken my car, he had also taken my purse and cell phone, leaving me utterly alone and without resources to get help. Not to mention the fact that I still had no idea where I was, leaving me completely and utterly abandoned.
I literally had no idea what to do next. I ran from door to door in the neighborhood, banging on doors, pleading and crying for help, but nobody would answer. Finally, an older Hispanic gentleman answered his door, but he spoke no English whatsoever. Somehow, through the tears and the terror, I managed to convey to him that I needed to use his phone. I called the police first, and then I called my parents. The gentleman who lived there, despite our language barrier, was incredibly kind. He offered me some water and sat with me until the cops arrived, which didn’t take long at all.
However, the two policemen that arrived weren’t doing anything like what I expected. In fact, they seemed much more interested in interrogating me than in pursuing my attacker. Why was I in that part of town? Who was I meeting there? Was I buying drugs? I began to fear that, in addition to having been brutalized and carjacked, I was going to be arrested as well. Two more police units showed up. More questions. Lots of standing around doing nothing.
“Are you looking for my car?” I asked, over and over. Nobody would give me a straight answer. I began to feel more and more alone and afraid as time went on and the police continued to treat ME like the suspect, not the victim.
Finally, after roughly 30 minutes, one of the original officers said to me, “We’ve got your car. We need you to come identify the thief.” An unusual combination of joy and dread filled my heart. I realized that my purse was still in the car. What if the jacker had looked at my drivers license? What if he knew my name and my address? I didn’t want to be the one responsible for putting him behind bars. But it seemed that I had no choice; if I wanted my car back, I would have to do as they asked.
I rode with the officer in the front seat of the cruiser for nearly five miles in total silence. When we arrived at the scene where the jacker had been stopped, I shrank down into my seat, trying my best to hide behind the dash.
“Is that him?” the officer asked me, pointing to a man seated on the curb, his hands cuffed behind him, his chin down against his massive chest. My God. He was huge. A wave of trepidation overcame me as I came face to face with my attacker for the second time that evening.
“Yes. That’s him.” It was like another voice was coming from my throat. I just wanted the whole thing to be over with.
But it wasn’t; not by a long shot. I was taken to the police department, where I had to fill out a police report that rivaled War and Peace for length. By the time I finished filling it out, it was nearly five o’clock in the morning. The police had retrieved my car, but I wasn’t allowed to take it; they had to dust it for fingerprints. They took my cell phone as evidence, and to this day, I have never gotten it back. Never once did anyone apologize to me for the way they initially treated me. Never once did anyone try to make me feel safe.
My parents finally arrived to take me home, but I couldn’t sleep. I kept replaying the nightmare over and over in my head. My world had changed in the span of just a few moments. The youthful illusion of invincibility was gone. The carjacker had taken much more than my car from me. He had taken my sense of safety.
At 10:00 AM, the police called. I could come get my car. When I got to the station, my car was still covered in fingerprinting dust. The sight of the carjacker’s fingerprints on my steering wheel made me shudder. My car was my personal space, and I felt violated knowing that he had been in that seat. Touched that steering wheel. Maybe even listened to the CD I had in the stereo. It was all I could do to stand there and watch as my mother cleaned the dust from the surfaces of the car.
That was five years ago. And yet, to this day, it has affected the way I live my life, and probably always will. I know now that I can be hurt. Violated. I avoid eye contact with everyone, especially derelicts. I breathe faster when I see someone approaching my car. I instinctively lock my doors every time I get within my car. I drive miles and miles out of my way to avoid sketchy neighborhoods. When I get to a destination such as a hotel, a restaurant, even at my apartment complex, if I feel ANY sort of uneasiness, I will sit and just wait. I have even waited as long as a half hour before I felt safe enough to walk from my car to my door. I try to take my dog with me anywhere I can and as often as possible; when she’s with me, I am safe. I do odd, cautious things that most men would never even consider doing, just so I can maintain some semblance of security.
Because of that night, I suspect everyone and I will question everything. Because of that night, I will always feel like I am a sitting target, easy prey. My car was returned to me, true, but the girl who drove that car, free from fear and cheerfully exploring the world around her, won’t be back for a long time to come.