Work In Progress: We Fly With Our Own Wings

Robin's Story

I was in a wine bar with some friends having a drink when we heard some gunshots outside. This guy walks into the bar saying he has been shot and right after him a man with a gun walks in and shoots the guy again. The gunman then grabs me by my hair and takes me and the twenty or so other people at the bar back to the kitchen. He throws plastic ties at me and orders me to tie everyone’s hands up. As I am tying people up he pours kerosene all over me and pulls out a red barbeque lighter, starts flicking it and yells, “Motherfuckers are gonna burn tonight!” At that point I realize this is a life or death situation.

I have never have seen anyone filled with so much anger as he was. When he then grabs me and says, “You are coming with me,” I immediately think he is going to rape me. He instead uses me as a human shield as he shoots at the police who have arrived outside as he holds his gun to one side of my head and the lighter to the other. He starts talking to me and asks what are you, I tell him I’m Hispanic and we start speaking in Spanish. He tells me not to worry and that I’m going to be O.K. His whole thing that night was that he wanted to kill white people. I don’t feel comforted when he tells me this and I think that I can somehow diffuse his anger as he starts telling me about his son in Brooklyn.

He then decides he wants to speak to the police. At some point between fumbling with the phone, holding me, the barbeque lighter and the gun, he puts the gun in his belt. A woman who gets loose from her hand ties sees him doing this and when he puts the gun in his belt she tackles him from behind. I suddenly feel myself falling. We all end up on the floor and he is still somehow holding on to my neck with all his strength. The police rush in, I hear a gunshot go off and the next thing I know his blood is all over me. No one died that night but three people were shot.

We all gather outside and the police put us in this bus because they don’t know exactly what he poured all over us or what we have been exposed to. They take us to the hospital. After they clean me up a doctor tells me I have 45 minutes to decide if I want to take an AZT cocktail because they think he has AIDS. I end up taking the medicine. The situation gets even worse now as I have to wait 9 months to know if I am HIV positive. After two weeks of taking the cocktail I get really sick. It turns out my liver almost explodes as a result of the cocktail so again I could have died. A decision is made for me to stop taking the cocktail and that I would get tested every 6 weeks. My first test is negative but the HIV scare is far worse than the whole hostage situation. I thought to myself how could I have lived through that whole experience and still possibly get a death sentence? After 9 months I finally learn that I was not infected with HIV.

I was twenty when this happened. I am twenty-five now and I’m a lawyer. In dealing with this it would have been easy to compartmentalize the experience and just put it away. At times right after it happened I would have random memories of that night. I gave a lot of time to myself. That summer I would sit on my couch for hours and just think about that night and about myself as a person. That opened the door for me to think about my life in a different way. I had conversations with myself and I told myself I wasn’t going to pain myself because of what happened. My initial reactions were why me, why would this happen to me out of all the random people and random bars on a Saturday night. I quickly realized though that this was a life changing experience and I could choose to feel bad for myself or I could choose to accept it, deal with it and move on. At some point all those thoughts translated into an amplified sense of purpose. I allowed myself to think about things that I have never thought about before, I thought about what my reason for being here was and it put my life and career in a new perspective.

The twenty-first year of my life was amazing. I think that coming off of this experience I discovered a new found energy. I got a tattoo that year that says in Latin, “She flies with her own wings,” and that is how I plan on living my life. To me this translates into the independence and strength that I have. I know that I can do things on my own. I know that I can achieve the goals that I set for myself, and not without hard work and lapses along the way, but the whole thing for me is about rising above.

One of my biggest fears is to be vulnerable. I draw my greatest strength from my most vulnerable experience in life. It was and is painful but I know that I am fortunate to have lived these past few years with a sense of purpose that I don’t think people my age have. I am more in tune with myself and this has provided me the ability to put my strengths where they need to be. It has given me clarity and allows me to focus more on the things that are really important. I know myself better. Things are just easier to deal with now.

I am fortune to be able to go through life knowing that I have a chance to do what I thought was unfinished. It surprises me sometimes just how much this experience is a part of who I am. I remind myself of how far I’ve come. I always considered myself a strong person but this was proof. In the face of something that is absolutely insane, something you would see in a movie, I would never have thought I could have gone through that experience, deal with it and move beyond it.

I don’t see myself as a victim. I see myself as someone who has lived through an awful experience and was able to rise above and use the anger that was directed at me and translate it into something positive within myself. I go through life knowing that I am privileged to be here and I need to make sure that I act in accordance with that privilege, not only in the way that I treat people but also that I appreciate the opportunities that I’ve been given.

-Robin, New York, April, 2007