The Fear – Or, I Got Punched In The Face By A Teenager And It Was Kinda Awesome

Writing: Milla Tuokkola
Illustration: Vilma Soisalo
Ever since I was 14 years old, I’ve walked home with “Wolverine Keys”. That’s when you position your keys to jut from between your fingers, ready to be stabbed into the flesh of an assaulter if someone grabs you late at night. I’ve lived in “safe” cities like Helsinki and Gyeongju (South Korea) and “not safe” cities like London and Los Angeles, but regardless of the location: if it’s past 8pm, then I’m walking home holding my keys. Even though the majority of sexual assaults are done by people already known to the victim, I still have The Fear. The Fear of having my autonomy questioned and destroyed by someone else, a violent stranger. The Fear of having someone hurt me or a person I care about. The Fear of violence and threatening behaviour in general. For years now, I have had recurring nightmares where I witness the sexual assault of another woman but I’m too scared to help her. I’m so timid that I can’t even be a hero in my dreams.
The Fear has such a powerful grasp on me because I’m a super sensitive person. I have a tendency to wallow and worry over hypothetical situations. In these hypotheticals, I’m scared of what would happen to me after something bad happens. Would I be so badly shaken up that I could never fully recover again? I have a hard time accepting my own mistakes, so would I be forever blaming myself, fixated on thinking about how I could’ve avoided being assaulted? Once, my flight home for christmas was cancelled and it honestly traumatised me in such a way that I still sometimes feel the aftershocks of the event. That’s petty and frivolous, so what would happen to me if some true evil, hatred pouring out like hot tar, could touch me?
I consider myself lucky because my run ins with threatening behaviour and sexism have been limited to catcalls from cars speeding by, strangers sending me pictures of their penises on Snapchat and one gentleman in university who I overheard bragging to his friends that he had slept with me. The only contact I had ever had with that guy was working with him on a group project for two weeks. Still, I use the word “lucky” because based on the sheer amount of horrible experiences that I have heard to have happened to some of the people in my life, it seems that that kind of violence is so frequent that it can only be labelled as a random luck of the draw, who gets affected next. I took this theory to heart. I fretted because I believed that a random, violent act could be around the corner for me at any time. Since it has happened to so many people I know, surely it will happen to me too.
Then I got punched in the face by a random teen girl in a park.
It was exactly a year ago, I was contemplating getting an ice cream after dinner, and I was sitting at the park with a friend of mine. A random teenage girl came up to us and punched me in the face. I’m withholding some the details here to respect my friend’s privacy and also so I can make some big bucks with this in my memoir when I’m older. The book will be called “Strawberry, Chocolate or Fist in the Face? The Plight of the Modern Woman.” Still, the gist is that I didn’t know the girl, the attack was completely unprovoked and it was over very quickly. And the police caught her, don’t worry.
It happened so fast that there wasn’t enough time for The Fear to set in. I was alarmed, my nose was bleeding and there was enough adrenaline coursing through my veins that I probably could’ve lifted a car off a baby, but The Fear was absent. My reaction surprised, I think, all of us. I was jovial. I was laughing. I was making jokes with the policemen who came to take my statement. I identified my assailant with a cheery hello and “do you remember me? I’m the woman you punched in the face!” I sent giddy texts to my friends and called my boyfriend with such a blasé attitude that no one believed me at first. I went home and inspected my nose which was fine. I was fine. As a sensitive person who cries easily and in abundance, I was expecting tears to pour out once the adrenaline wore off. I assumed that The Fear would creep in, telling me that I didn’t need to be a hero, didn’t need to be brave. It would tell me that I was a victim of an assault and that was the only cape I’d ever wear. But days passed and I continued to be fine.
I was so fine with it that I became ashamed. I’m an advocator for speaking your mind and wearing your heart on your sleeve, so my nonplussed attitude almost insulted myself. I respect that everyone mourns and processes differently, but I was having a hard time accepting and understanding my own reaction. I talked through the incident with my friend who was there and I talked it through with a couple of other people close to me, but I never had a huge revelation or a cathartic release. I didn’t want to tell my parents because I knew that the love they have for me would transform into uncontrollable worry, which would then spill on to me, potentially forcing me to live through them vicariously and experience the feelings of sadness and anger that I didn’t naturally manifest. But at the back of my mind, I knew why I really wasn’t sad that I had gotten punched in the face by a stranger. I wasn’t sad because I had liked it.
Let’s be clear, I didn’t like it in a sexual way. The only way I’d ever want my boyfriend to punch me in the face is if we were taking part in a Japanese game show and were one punch away from winning a million yen. I liked it because it empowered me. So much so that I’ve now almost come to consider it a gift. It gave me an anecdote that I’ll be milking to my dying days. It taught me more about myself. Turns out I react incredibly level headed in a stressful situation, that’s going on the CV! Turns out I have a high tolerance for pain. Turns out I’m far stronger than I had always given myself credit for. But all of that is just loose change compared to the real gift it gave me: a new perspective on The Fear. It was soothed.
My sore red soul and the worry I’d carried for myself and my own fragility were all eradicated by one single punch. I know it could’ve been so much worse and that there are some truly awful people in this world, but a single punch from an angry teenager was all I personally needed in order to realise that something like this couldn’t ruin my psyche. It didn’t ruin my self esteem. It didn’t make me lose my faith in humans and it most definitely didn’t make me fearful of it happening again. Because it taught me that you can make my body bleed, but you’ll never stop me from laughing about it. And it’s very hard to be afraid when you’re laughing.

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