by Christy Sillman
Have you watched the show “I survived” on the Biography channel? According to the website, it’s a show that “allows survivors to explain, in their own words, how they overcame unbelievable circumstances.” They’re stories of survival in the face of death, and I have a survival story of my own. If you know me or my writing, you may think I’m going to write about my congenital heart disease again (I know I write about that a lot), but no, this is an entirely different story.
Years ago my best friend and I went with our two other guy friends to a party in Oakland. I had no idea where exactly we were going but I trusted my friends. It was a loft party and seemed safe enough. When we ran out of beer, the four of us decided to walk to a liquor store and was given directions to one two blocks away.
At first it seemed like we were in an industrial area of Oakland, but when we turned the first corner onto Martin Luther King Junior Boulevard it was obvious we were in a “not so good” area of Oakland. It was like a scene out of a movie – cars bouncing up and down on hydraulics, hookers, pimps, and gangs of guys just “hanging out”. There I was – blonde hair, blue eyes, 5 feet 2 inches tall and 110 pounds soaking wet. We were screwed.
We quickly ducked into the liquor store and proceeded to pick out our beer. All of a sudden the entire store filled with a gang of guys. I could feel my heart pounding in my throat and I did my best to put on an innocent smile but only got sexual gestures in return. One of my guy friends, who had been raised in a rough Sacramento neighborhood, told me if I looked strong and confident we would be fine. I wondered how strong and confident I could look with crap streaming down my legs.
We exited the liquor store only to discover that all the people who were “hanging out” across the street had moved to our side of the street and were waiting along our path. I thought, “This is it, we’re going to die — my Mom is going to kill me!”
Then, like advice from God himself, I got this catch phrase in my head: Freak them out before they freak you out.
What did that mean? What could freak them out?
Instantly, only one thing came to my mind.
I started dragging one of my legs and moving my hands in motions that resemble someone with neurological damage or a serious medical condition. I began drooling on myself and making funny noises.
I was drawing inspiration from Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance in “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?” in combination with what I imagined a tweeker or crack addict would look like and general zombie-like gestures.
My best friend gave me the craziest look and said, “What the hell is wrong with you?” Under my breath I told her to just go with it or join in.
As we approached the group of guys on the sidewalk I stepped up my performance, and all of a sudden the hard look on their faces turned to looks of confusion.
Instead of “Give me all your money” or a fist in my face I heard them say, “Daaaaaamn, what is up with that chick?” “She be tweekin’ yo!” and watched as they all stepped out of our way, dumbfounded by my new persona, and let us walk around the corner towards the safety of our loft party.
I kept up my performance until we got through the buildings doors. As soon as we entered the lobby my friends turned to me and asked “WHAT WAS THAT?!?”
I said, “I just saved our lives. You can thank me now!”
I may be small, I may be innocent, but dammit, I can be resourceful and dramatic. I have no idea what would’ve happened to us if I hadn’t doled out such a high drama performance, but all I know is that I’m here today to tell you my story of survival. Maybe those guys meant no harm, but I wasn’t about to wait and find out – I took action into my own hands.
I survived a liquor store run on one of the sketchiest streets in Oakland, California – and I didn’t even have to saw off a limb!