Jessica, an American, was working for a Danish aid organization in Somalia in 2011 when she was kidnapped by land pirates and held hostage for 93 days. Jessica suffered mentally and physically during that time, forced to sleep out in the open in the desert. She lost a lot of weight and developed a serious kidney infection. Then one night the Navy's SEAL Team 6 came out of nowhere and rescued her.
When they'd gotten away from the pirates' camp, one of the SEALs asked if she'd left anything behind. She said, "I can't believe I did this, but I had a small little powder bag that they had let me keep, and inside I had re-stolen from them a ring that my mom had made, and I thought, 'I can't leave it here in the desert.' [Her mother had recently died.] And so I ask him to go back and get the bag for me. And, I mean, these men are just, they're incredible. He goes back out, into a war zone basically, to go get my ring. And then he comes back with the bag."
So. About my "Navy SEALs" . . . I was 19 years old, and commuting to work from Queens to Rockefeller Center. Rush hour on the NYC subways is not for the claustrophobic or overly sensitive. Getting a seat was never an option for me. We had our choice of holding onto one of the handles above the seats or grabbing a pole. Envision multiple hands holding onto the same shiny white pole. I guess we chose our spot on the pole depending on our height. Like a lot of riders, I always had a book with me. One hand holding the book, the other clutching the pole.
Our "space" was simply what our bodies displaced. We couldn't claim any of the area surrounding us; that was taken up with other bodies. You can see why no one makes eye contact in a place like New York. We are intent on walling up our very limited territory.
Subway commuters discover that a remarkable number of people eat garlic for breakfast. They also learn that the daily shower doesn't appear to be in widespread use. You don't think about that sort of thing very much; it just goes with the territory. You can't exactly minimize contact with the other riders, but you do what you can not to maximize it.
Which was why it came as a surprise—more like a shock—that morning when a guy in back of me pushed me into the pole and yelled that I was leaning on him. Leaning on him? I turned around and he kept yelling, in Spanish now (I recognized puta). And then he ripped the pearls from my neck.
My dad had bought me that single strand of cultured pearls. Half of the strand dangled from my neck. A section of it lay on the floor of the subway car, and some of the other pearls rolled away between people's feet.
I was a city kid, but a sheltered one. I had no tough response to this attack. I felt violated and scared. I wanted to pick up the piece of my necklace, but was afraid of what the crazy man would do next. Then it magically appeared in my hand, given to me by a tall young black man in sweatshirt and jeans who gently led me away from the ranting attacker. He took me to the other side of the car, where his friends, four of them, surrounded me while he went back in search of the loose pearls.
If it happened today, I would go online to find out who they were and thank them, privately and publicly. Were they part of a college basketball team? Or maybe they were never as tall as I see them today, standing like a stockade fence between me and anything that had the power to hurt me.
But this was more than 50 years ago, long before the advent of the Internet. So they stayed with me until we reached my stop, and then, with most of the pearls retrieved, I exited, leaving them behind to disappear from my life forever. But not from my memory. My Navy SEALs. My saviors. If I were ever asked to recall a time when I felt safe, I would go there first.