I attended Ramapo Sr. High School in the years 1975 to 1978. It was a school with a pretty good reputation — certainly not perfect. We had our share of bad teachers, certainly a few troublemakers among the students. But, for the most part, those were good years for me, particularly after the hell that was my Jr. High experience. I had a small circle of friends who shared a love for some of the same things — science fiction, computers, board games, going to conventions. And we were all good kids, with a decent, if not perfect, study ethic. And we all aspired to going to a good college, maybe getting scholarship. Keep in mind that this is back when the government actually considered it a good thing to have a well-educated citizenry.
I was in the school library, at one of these desks they had set towards the back. I think that I was working on a paper for my history class — I have no idea what the subject was. The library was just about empty, except for the librarian, and some random student that he was helping.. I know that this has to be time distorting my memory, but when I try to envision it, the small desk I was at, working with my books was miles away from the front, where the librarian was — in my mind, the library was huge, but the front desk, where the librarian was, was so tiny because of how far away it was.
I remember there was some noise — a couple of kids who I didn’t recognize came in at the front. I totally ignored them as I was digging through the books I had assembled at my desk. To this day, I could not recognize them. They’ve always been faceless in my mind, a couple of punks looking to have a good time in the library. And I was alone in the back — they didn’t single me out because of anything in particular. Ramapo was a big enough school that its no surprise that I didn’t know these guys. I doubt that they knew me either. I’m 100% sure that we travelled in different circles, probably never even shared a lunch hour, much less a class.
So there I was studying, and next thing I know, one of the guys came up from behind me with a knife. The second punk grabbed me. They were laughing, having a good old time. I struggled and got my arms free. And when I did so, I felt the knife pressed up against my throat. I’ve heard other people describe the feeling — I’m not sure if my memory of those other stories were true, or from fiction. But I’d heard that the steel felt cold against their skin. I can only envision warmth.
I grabbed at the arm that held the knife, and I managed to push it away, but then the other guy grabbed me again, and I was struggling against both of them. To this day, I’ve speculated why I didn’t feel fear — maybe it was the adrenaline. Maybe I was hardened by the bullying I’d experienced through the entirety of my Jr. High School experience. Maybe the reality of the situation never actually hit me. Maybe it was a combination of all of those things. In retrospect, I could have died. I like to think that those kids had no intention of actually harming me, that they just thought it was fun. But I felt like I surprised them by fighting back.
I have no idea how long the incident lasted. Probably it was no more than 30 seconds, but it could have been as long as 5 minutes. At some point, I decided that it would be a good idea to make some noise. I talked back to them from the start, but I decided to be a lot louder, and eventually I heard a loud “Shush!” from the librarian. This sudden attention scared the punks, and they rapidly made their exit.
I don’t know why I never reported the incident. I just didn’t. Part of it was that I couldn’t describe the guys faces. The whole time, I was focused on that knife. I never wondered why. These guys were bullies, and I’d dealt with bullies before. But they were different than the bullies I’d dealt with in Jr. High. The bullying never previously involved an actual physical confrontation. And somehow, the fact that it was physical made it better in my mind. Had I been attacked in Jr.High, that actually would have been better. Being ostracised, being made the butt of jokes, being made fun of — that was worse. It seems weird, and certainly it’s because I never actually got hurt, and because I fought back and because I scared off my attackers… but assault with a knife was no where near as bad an experience.
Anyway, I don’t talk about this experience much. I’ve been in therapy for years, and I think I may have mentioned it once in all those years. It seems like it SHOULD have been more traumatic to me. But it wasn’t. It certainly has embedded itself in my memory. It’s a part of who I am. I think that’s what stands out to me the most, not that it happened, but that it never caused me much stress. There are so many things that I can think about that illicit feelings of depression or anxiety. This is not one of them.
Why I’m writing about it now is that I was reminded of the incident while reading a New Yorker article on trauma. It’s a decent article, and if you’ve ever experienced trauma in your life, or if you know someone who has, you might want to read it. In some ways, writing for me is therapy. Writing this article in particular certainly has been. Thank you for reading it.