I feel like I’ve replayed the story over and over in head. That’s what happens when you’ve experienced trauma; a car accident, rape, robbery. It’s been a month since the incident. I call it an “incident” but it’s deeper than that for me. It’s the day my pretty world was turned upside down. It’s the day I questioned entrepreneurship. It’s the day I asked myself, “is this really worth it?” And though I try to forget, little details from the day, appears in the black when I close my eyes. From the sneakers they wore, to the cuff in their skinny jeans, to the size foot I imagined they had, to the dirty scuff marks on their brand new Nike Air Jordan’s that was just prerelease. It all feels like a distant memory, but a present thought. Two black boys, I think they were boys, not men. Their features didn’t present themselves as men; maybe it’s the khaki pants they wore that was reminiscent to me as a teacher for Baltimore City Public School for 5 years. Their demeanor and stature reminded me of the 16 year old, 11th grade boys who would hug me and say “Thank you for being the best teacher.” That’s what these young men reminded me of. They walked into my clothing store. It was mid-day, 1:40pm to be exact; I just looked down at the clock to be sure I wasn’t wasting too much time before I would be summoned to pick my son up from school. I had less than an hour to prepare for him. It was a beautiful day. Most days I don’t dress up or wear makeup to the shop, but today, his school invited us to attend their Thanksgiving holiday event and I was front and center, well dressed and ready to hear my baby sing his heart out. The morning was perfect and I bought fresh flowers across the street to brighten up the store. I opened around 11am and as usual, my door was “open” to the neighborhood. I’ve only been at the shop for 3 months, a newbie to the block. I was excited to be a young, black woman in West Baltimore, opening a store and servicing people who looked like me. I felt like I was cool to be 33 years of age and I could proudly tell pedestrians, this is my shop. I never felt unsafe in the neighborhood. I’ve “heard” about Baltimore City and though I’ve lived here for 8 years, I never really felt "it". I seldom looked over my shoulder and I never held my bag tight as I walked down the street. I’m from Brooklyn, NY, an immigrant to Jamaican parents and I too was “from the hood”. I labeled myself as a “successful budding entrepreneur” who left her 9-5, 6 figure job as an architect for Under Armour and followed my true passion to become my own boss. I was proud and this day like no other, my door was open and the world was mine to conquer. Carpe diem.
He walked in with a mask on, his friend behind him. “Bitch, get down on the ground”. I literally stuttered and said, “Who Me?” I was in shock, my body froze. I literally could not pick up my feet. It felt like my legs were embedded in cement and I was struggling to move them. “Yes you!” That’s when his accomplice placed the draw string bag on the chair and pulled out a long rifle; in that moment I knew it was very real and yes they were talking to me. I curled on the ground in a fetal position and all I could remember saying was, “Please, I have a little baby, I am all he has, please, don’t shoot me”.
They began to look through the shop and all they wanted was money. Money?, I didn’t have any. I’m a young entrepreneur; my business is only a year and a half old, and we mainly sold online. The robbers could not understand this concept and proceeded to look for the “stash”. The shop went dark. They turned off the lights and started looking for something to cover the windows and doors. This brought me back to a really old episode of Oprah, early 90’s, when she told the audience, if assailants try to bring you into another room, don’t let them, because if you do, it’s a harder chance for you to make it out alive. I remember watching that as a child and saying I would fight. In this moment, I didn’t know what to do. I had no fight in me, just fear. They began to get upset and threw my belongings out my bag, looking for my car keys and other valuables. I told them to take the car, computer, anything but my life. They found my atm card. Jackpot! They demanded my pin number. I willingly gave it and one of the robbers left out with attempts to make a withdrawal. The other stayed with the gun to my head. He demanded me to go into the bathroom and face the wall. I kept imaging what the shots would feel like. Would I have enough time to get out the shop before I would bleed out? I clearly watched too many episodes of ER in college. I inhaled the paint on the wall and squeezed my eyes shut as tight as possible and prepared my body for pain. I began to recite Psalm23 out loud and he told me to STFU. It felt like minutes for his friend to come back from the atm machine. I didn’t have any money on that card. He came back upset thinking I gave the wrong pin number. More words were exchanged and then they were debating on leaving, but his friend said “she has to have something”. The desperation kicked in for them; Baltimore City, over 300 murders this year. They had to eat and this was going to be how. They switched holding the gun and the other robber was going to go back to the closest atm. I just wanted to make it home to my son. I just kept praying, now silently. As the other left for the atm and I heard his counterpart searching and walking around the shop, he closed the bathroom door. I just kept my eyes closed. I remembered I had $100 in the car and I yelled out to the robber and he proceeded to head toward the door. I heard his footsteps walking away and he said, “stay in there”. It became quiet. Dead silence. In that moment I RAN. I bolted through the bathroom door and just ran into the street. I didn’t know if they were going to be outside the front door but I had to take my chance. RUN! I tried to get a car to stop and help me and no one did. I was frantic and crying and I’m sure I looked like a deranged, crazy, disheveled person. A man literally locked his doors and told me NO! I saw the two robbers coming back in the direction of the store as I was now in the street crying for help. I ran to a local barber shop I was familiar with screaming and crying and asking for someone to please call the police. I did not want anyone to touch me and I just cried. It took me almost two weeks to stop crying every day after “the incident”.
I felt so violated and hurt through the nightmare. I was a good citizen and a good person. How could something so bad happen to me? I enjoyed being in Baltimore City. I had dreams of helping young black men not commit crimes, but teaching them about entrepreneurship; how to make t-shirts and acquire legal success. I wanted to show them something different, but maybe I was naïve. The detective on the scene asked me, why wasn’t your door locked? I had no idea that at 2pm as a business owner I should lock my doors. More diverse neighborhoods in Baltimore didn't require their doors to be locked or chains and buzzers as you entered. I wanted to be that business that welcomed everyone. I never wanted to be fearful of people that looked like me. How could I be? I created a black boy. I gave birth to a black boy. I too am a product of my environment. The robbers and I are both hungry for the same success, but in different ways. What could I have expected? The drug epidemic in Baltimore has shattered many families. Heroine is present through most communities. It feels like I can’t wake up from my bad nightmare. No one told me after something so traumatic that it becomes so hard for you to function and restart. Being alone makes me uncomfortable, the dark scares me, and I am frequently looking over my shoulder. My dreams were shattered in that brief moment. I questioned if this was worth it. I could have lost my life that day in the shop. My views are different, my world is different, and I feel different. My dreams were interrupted that day but I have to decide to not live a nightmare daily. My business has made 10x’s our gross sales of that in our first year. I was the winner of Wells Fargo Blogalicious Business Pitch Competition and I was a finalist for Black Enterprise Elevator Pitch Competition. I have had celebrities like Lena Waithe, Awesomely Luvvie, Bozoma Saint John, and Yvonne Orji, to name a few, proudly wear my brand. A brand I started with my two hands and just a dream. “What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore, and then run? Does it stink like rotten meat? Or crust and sugar over like a syrupy sweet? Maybe it just sag like a heavy load. Or does it explode?” (Langston Hughes, Harlem)
I am looking forward to exploding in 2018.
iFundWomen, crowdfunding platform for women-led startups and small businesses has launched a campaign to relocate Mess in a Bottle into a safer neighborhood and new studio space---> bit.ly/ifundmib