Last Friday, I was having a great day. I had one more work shift to get through before a relaxing weekend. The day before, I decided to enter a giveaway on Instagram, and I had just found out that I’d won! My husband had an interview at his dream company, and he came to visit me at work afterward and to buy me a coffee. Basically, everything was going much better than normal, and I was practically giddy as a result. With a fresh cup of coffee and an empty store, my job was particularly easy that day. All I had to do was smile and greet the few customers that were coming in from the great weather outside.
I work in Brooklyn, and I’ve had the same retail job for four and a half years, so I can spot a shoplifter the second they walk in. This guy was definitely a shoplifter. He walked in without acknowledging me and was talking on a flip phone. He was carrying a big shopping bag, and his conversation seemed fake. Every box was ticked off on my mental shoplifter checklist, and I remember I went so far as to slip my phone into my purse so it couldn’t easily be snatched. It seemed strange that he wasn’t looking at me to see if I was watching him, which shoplifters usually do, and it was even stranger that he left after a minute or two without trying anything. I figured he had seen me perk up and start to watch him, and that he’d decided not to go for anything at my store.
I don’t think anyone else came in between the time he left and when I saw him coming back in the door; he had probably been watching me and the store. When he came back in, he rushed to the side of the counter, right next to me. Of course, I was really surprised, and as I was about to ask if he needed help, he turned around and was pointing a large kitchen knife at me. I can perfectly remember my sharp intake of breath, and the high pitched gasp that came out. The exact sequence of what happened next isn’t super clear to me anymore, but I remember being backed up against the wall behind the counter with the point of the blade pressing into my stomach. Then, I was shaking and stuffing everything I could think of into my purse as he threatened to kill me. I reached for the computer mouse to click the button that would open the cash drawer, and I remember him telling me I was too slow. I managed to put all the money into my purse, and then he told me to get out from behind the counter and to stand in front of the back door. He made me go through the door and then into the little bathroom and told me to empty my pockets, but I was wearing jeans with no front pockets, and I only had keys in my back pocket, he put his hands all over me anyway. He told me to stay in the bathroom or I would die. I heard him go back into the store and rummage around, then put whatever he had taken into the hallway. He yelled at me to sit on the toilet and wait for 10 minutes. Maybe it was ridiculous, but I thought, “What if he is going to shoot me through the door?”, so I sat on the toilet with my entire body tilted to one side. I heard him rummage around again, and then when he came back, he told me to wait for five more minutes. He went back into the store one more time, and I heard the lock from inside the store click. He had locked me out of the store. I sat waiting for a while, and all I could hear was Cat Stevens coming from the speakers.
When I heard a little girl’s voice from inside the store, I knew he was gone. I had to knock on the door and shout for her mom to unlock the door, I had just been robbed. I called 911 and the police were there within two minutes. By this point, I was shaking convulsively. I’m shaking again as I type this. Two officers asked if I wanted to get in a car and canvass the area for him, and I said yes. I’m not sure how, but I was able to think clearly enough to be able to lock up the store and even to type in my Apple ID on the cop’s phone to sign into the Find my iPhone app. My phone was at a McDonald’s about half a mile away. Two guys who matched my description were stopped, but I couldn’t be sure it was either of them. Whoever had my phone turned it on for a few seconds a couple of times within the next 36 hours, but nothing ever came of it. And that’s pretty much where we are with the crime. Since my store did not have cameras, there’s no footage of the incident, and it would have been next to impossible to find him even if there had been. I know that much from dealing with several shoplifters throughout the years.
So, I’m trying to figure things out now. I told my boss that I don’t feel comfortable going back to my job. I’ve been trying to take it easy, but at the same time, I don’t want to let this get to me too much. It was difficult to sleep the first couple nights. I didn’t leave my building alone until today. I’ve been wondering if my reaction to the incident is normal. I didn’t cry at all; I mostly just shook…a lot. Then I wonder if maybe I’m actually stronger than I thought I was, and that doesn’t seem right either, but maybe it’s true. I’m angry that it happened, but glad that it wasn’t worse. I’m pissed off that I’m now jobless, but it’s allowed me to focus on a lot of things I’ve put off for years.
I’m not sure why I decided to put this on my blog. It’s been cathartic to write it all out. Even though he will probably never be caught, I’ve made it through the experience without letting it break me. I’m going to be okay.