I don't have a car, so I was walking to the store to get some groceries for my mother, whom I help take care of. She has a bad heart condition and is in hospice care. I had to walk by a gas station on my way. When I was walking by, a man yelled something at me; I believe he didn't realize at first that I was a guy. When I turned and spoke back to him, he apparently realized I was a guy and said something like, "Oh, my God, you're a faggot!"
I usually ignore people when they say things like that to me, but he caught me in an uncharacteristically bad mood that day, so I decided to defend myself. I said, "Damn right I'm a fag. What of it?" and kept going. I never stopped or even made eye contact. It's my habit to ignore the fact that the offending person even exists when I'm in a situation like that. I feel that if you make eye contact with a person bullying you, acknowledging that you are being receptive to their taunts, it can make things worse. So I kept on moving and didn't look back.
When I had left the parking lot and was about to turn the corner, I heard him yell from right behind me, "Hey, faggot!" Not really even thinking about it, I turned around, and he punched me in the stomach and knocked the wind out of me. When I doubled over, all of a sudden my vision went black, and I was seeing stars. He had punched me directly in the nose. I fell to the ground and felt him kick me before I passed out. I don't think I was unconscious for very long; I think I just fainted. But it was long enough for him to take the $20 from my pocket and get back to the parking lot to leave. It all happened very fast; it was over in just a couple of minutes.
I was gushing blood, and I sat there for a good couple of minutes before I realized what had happened: A man had punched me in the face, and that's why I was bleeding. I'd never been hit before. It was very scary and startling. At that point I put my scarf up to my nose and went back home, where I cleaned the blood off. My mom told me that I needed stitches and probably had a broken nose. I knew I needed to report it, but I felt that getting to the ER took precedence at the time. I called the hospital, and they said they'd call a police officer to file a report when I arrived at the ER.
So I called a couple of friends and found a ride to and from the ER. That night in the hospital, my nightmares were so bad that I bit my tongue and woke up with blood in my mouth from the resultant cut. I was in constant pain. And this might be my vanity talking, but what I felt was already my worst trait, my big Italian nose, was now even worse. My huge nose was now a huge, crooked nose. I needed stitches, but the staff at the ER said it was too swollen to do anything about it. They told me I'd probably have to go to a plastic surgeon to fix it. They gave me a number to call and set up a follow-up appointment, but I don't have insurance for anything like that and certainly don't have the money to pay for it. I don't work, because most of my time is spent taking care of my mom. We live on her alimony and barely scrape by as it is.
I've heard about these things happening, but it was always a distant thing that I never thought would happen to me. I keep replaying the what-ifs in my head: What if I'd waited five more minutes before I left home? What if I hadn't replied to that guy? What if I'd been more careful and noticed him behind me before he called, "Hey, faggot!" What if I had fought back?
An officer came to the ER to write up the police report. He seemed very uninterested. He asked me what happened, wrote it down and left. He was there all of about five minutes. I always thought hate crimes were much more serious, but I found out later that my state's hate crime laws do not apply to crimes committed against people on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. In Alabama? Go figure.
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