I often replay the 60 seconds back in March 2011 when everything about my life changed. The incident, as I remember it now, through these multiple reconstructions, is as follows:
The 11th, somewhere around 10 AM, as I was walking with my friend toward the High Line on 13th St in New York's West Village, and a young man, younger than I was, suddenly came up from behind me and faced me. He didn't call me fag, and I don't even remember him saying anything, but after three successively brutal blows to my face, I tumbled onto the ground. I remember, with wrought iron in my periphery, screaming for help. And how I saw him bolt away down some narrow street, before struggling to get up, so dazed, wondering why nobody else did a goddamn thing.
Almost two years later, I don't really know what happened. The young man who attacked me, who was never found, is not someone I knew. He never took any of my belongings. He never called me "faggot" or any other gay slur. But for the purposes of the present narrative, given my knowledge of the string of hate crimes at the time, I call it a gay bashing. The name, however, is less important than what happened in those 60 seconds and what has happened as result of those 60 seconds invading every moment of my life, including as these words hit the page.
At the time of my assault, out of shame and fear that the police wouldn't take the time to listen to my story, I didn't report the crime. Instead, I went to a queer health clinic, which was unable to notice a severe blowout fracture in my face due to the intense swelling. Only later, when blood started pooling in my eye and I realized part of my face was paralyzed, did I go to the hospital. Due to being uninsured, I also had to go to the police office because, under New York State law, victims of violent crimes are only subject to emergency medical compensation if they have officially reported this crime.
After an emergency MRI revealed I needed surgery to install metal places and screws to ensure that, when the bones reset, there was no potential for adversely impacted nerves or vision, I thought things couldn't get worse. When I finally made it to the West Village precinct five days later, the police accused me of fabricating my story. They actually threw me in an interrogation room like any other criminal and, later that evening, from an unknown number, threatened me with jail time.
Of course I was right. Truth was on my side for what felt like the first time. After handing over the medical records I pleaded to have expedited, they cooperated. However, even with this new gesture of goodwill, I was left feeling more isolated and alienated than ever. All of these terrible government policies and systems were disappointing me in way that felt real for the first time. My fear suddenly vanished into anger, and I just could not stop myself from speaking out in the loudest way possible. There was no way that something like this should ever happen to anyone else, even if these moments are bound to be endlessly repeated.
Like any trauma against the body, one emotion doesn't stick around for long. After the police situation was handled, I had to go in for my first ever major surgery. It was a success (my surgeon, after all, operated on hundreds of children who were born affected by radiation from Chernobyl), but the recovery was unexpectedly exhausting. I remember those first few days, propped up on a mound of pillows and bundled up in four layers, like I was preparing for an Arctic expedition. I remember struggling to do the most basic tasks, like lifting a spoon of applesauce into my mouth or showering.
What surprised me most was what ended up being most painful. When I looked into the mirror for the first time, I did not recognize the person I saw. For a while the only word I knew to describe this thing looking back at me was ugly. I began wondering how, in the past, I was made to feel ugly in my own body, how I hadn't, up until now, really confronted how I had been holding myself back. About a week later, I had a proper shower for the first time, finally dressed up in decent clothes, and forced myself to go out and enjoy a nice meal, even if I had the impression nobody could take their eyes off me with every hesitant bite I took. Thankfully, two years later, I have moved so far beyond these early moments.
Though I am better, I must still confront the idea that what has happened is never really gone forever, even though I wish I could scrub that memory away forever. I wish there was a way to get rid of those punches and the feel of asphalt against my bleeding knees. I wish these 60 seconds would go away most any time I have to deal with them. Then I stop, breathe deeply, and flip through the daily headlines where I notice bashings. I see young kids committing suicide because they're called faggot and made to feel worthless. I see trans friends light candles because one of their family members can no longer dance again.
I want to let go, but in this grief I realize how selfish that would be. I realize that having lived through such an act of violence, I must tell a story of how 60 seconds can be remembered so much that they stretch into two years. A story of how using what you remember of being shattered allows you to recast the pieces so that the new body, your new self, is stronger than what it was before.