I’ve done some pretty scary things in my life. I ran off a mountain in Venezuela’s Colonia Tovar to set in motion a paragliding tour in the skies under which I was born. I’ve white water rafted down the Class IV Sarapiqui River in Costa Rica…without knowing how to swim. More than once, I have spoken in front of an audience of over 3,000 people. And while I thoroughly enjoyed the combination of adrenaline and panic, I’d never really ever been scared. I attribute this fearlessness to the upbringing I have had.
I grew up in Allapattah, one of Miami’s oldest and most eclectic neighborhoods. Lining the Miami River, adorned by shipyards and thriving with mercantile appeal, Allapattah is home to some of the most honest, hardworking middle-income families I have ever met. Located just west of the recently gentrified Wynwood neighborhood, it is also home to an equal amount of low-income families struggling to provide for their own. Infused with Caribbean cultures and flavors, the streets of Allapattah are unique in their versatility and potential. Perhaps that is why I always felt most at home in Allapattah. Perhaps, this is why I returned the day I became an adult.
I’d never felt more understood than while perusing the store-front windows of La Calle Veinte, haggling with merchants, negotiating bargains on items already priced at cost. With pride, I’d boast of the dirt cheap prices you could find and brush off the concerns for my safety. I’d never felt unsafe here. I felt Allapattah was tough but worthy, like me. I felt her. We had so much in common; because although there was so much ugliness deep inside us, we were always bursting with enthusiasm and the passion to prove others wrong. I felt there was a certain beauty in having dirt underneath your nails, it proved you worked hard to earn what was never handed to you. And no one knew hard work like Allapattah did. She raised me to be strong and fearless, to face life head first and unafraid, and to work for what you want without stopping until you’ve had it. She taught me never to let anyone diminish my potential, like so many tried to do to her. In my eyes, Allapattah could do me no wrong.
That is, until she did. The scariest experience I’ve ever had, surprisingly, happened a couple of weeks ago, in Allapattah. A few blocks from where I grew up, on a street I’ve walked hundreds of thousands of times, in a place I called home, I was held up at gun point during an armed robbery. And just like that, she and I will never be the same again. The experience lasted minutes, a lot less than the amount of time I spent gliding in my Venezuelan skies and rafting down Costa Rican waters. The amount of adrenaline lasted days, more than I had ever felt in any of my previous adventures. And then, days later, the anxiety hit me (I realize now it’s somewhat like PTSD) Pain in chest, paralyzed limbs, heart beating fast, mind numbing anxiety hit me out of nowhere. Suddenly, the fearless girl in her thirties was damaged and shattered, and irreversibly so.
The people who are experts in the physiology of fear will tell you that fear is a protection. It signals our brain that danger is imminent, and in turn, our brain signals our body to protect itself. When faced with the possibility of losing your life, losing everything, often times your most subconscious desires surface and you are forced into accepting emotions you may have once subdued. When facing life or death you may not be prepared to find out who you will cry out for. As adrenaline fills your system, you are willing and able to do most anything or nothing. I did the latter, staring blankly into the cold lifeless steel that could kill me and entranced by fear, I froze. She was supposed to have my back, instead I felt set up and betrayed in Allapattah.
Some have asked me what was taken from me that day, what the assailant stole. With the cock of a Glock, he took my confidence. When he dismounted me from the car I was riding, he rode off with my enthusiasm. And when the anxiety hit, I lost the fearlessness with which I used to wake up every morning. Now, any sudden sound startles me, shadows confuse me, and I see malice in the eyes of strangers. Constantly and unexplainably, my heart palpitations will increase and I experience delusions of danger. I am unable to be outdoors without my arms and legs tingling or having pain in my chest. At home, I am constantly and compulsively locking and re-locking doors and hiding in darkness. My time is taken up by obsessive rituals ensuring my protection and yet never really convincingly so. The logical part of my brain reasons with my heavy heart persuading the stress to subside. Most times, it does. And while these episodes of panic have been decreasing, there is something that can never be reversed. It is the one irreplaceable thing taken from me on that day, the one thing I will never get back; the love I felt for Allapattah. That so much beauty could be obscured by fear, saddens me.