I’ve always been a city kind of kid. I like the sidewalk singers and the chalk drawings on cement, and I like that you can always find somewhere to buy Skittles at 3 a.m.
I like the noise — the sirens, the garbage trucks, the sound of your neighbor watching Netflix on the other side of the kitchen wall. I like the sort of affectation that people get when they talk about growing up in New York, not the Upper East Side or Brooklyn but the real New York stripped of stereotypes and clichés. I like the grime.
So I can’t say I was really fazed by Yale’s freshman year security warnings. I figured they were aimed at my classmates coming from middle-of-nowhere Montana. I laughed when my friends from high school called it “pistol wavin’ New Haven.” I walked home from the library at 5 a.m. Sometimes I went on midnight runs, zigzagging along Chapel and Crown more focused on my Spotify playlist than on any potential safety threat.
I felt like New Haven quickly became my home (corny, but real). I grew to love this city, the food and texture and colorful, fraught history. I guess I sort of did it by separating out my own experience from news articles and crime reports. I drew a line, detaching my version of the community from my classmates’ somber conversations about town-gown relations and the murder of Christian Prince ’93.
Which all worked out okay until this past February.
It was 11 a.m. on a Tuesday and it was gross and gray and my friend and I were pretty proud of ourselves for deciding to go on a run. We started out on Orange and jogged up toward East Rock. Heading up Farnam Drive, we were grabbed by a man passing by who pretended to have a gun. “Hey, I need to talk to you,” he said, gripping our arms. He then demanded we give him our cell phones.
That was it. It all happened too quickly for us to really be scared. Later, sitting in a cop car, we collapsed laughing and realized our mugger was pretty attractive. The police officer looked deeply confused. That evening I forwarded Chief Higgins’s email to my roommates and enjoyed the brief moment of celebrity. It felt kind of cool, like “CSI: Miami” meets “Broad City.”
That’s not to say it wasn’t scary. I spent a few weeks convinced that even the mildest senior citizens passing me on Elm were trying to rob me. It still freaks me out getting emails that notify us of muggings at 11 p.m. right by central campus.
Feeling any sort of fear, though, brought on a kind of guilt. Is an East Rock mugging really the worst thing in the world? I don’t really think I have the right to get worked up. Not when other residents of this city fear street violence on a daily basis, fear even calling for the police because they haven’t been given reason to trust the law enforcement in this city. It was all a reminder of my own dumb naiveté, and also a reminder of my own privilege.
But it was also a reminder of something more important. Anyone can go around pretending that their experience of New Haven doesn’t overlap with the stereotypes and textbook readings on town-gown tensions, but that only works for so long. It’s easier to make a city home by pretending its crime and grime and corruption don’t apply to us, but that also isn’t real. You can’t live one version of New Haven and then have lofty philosophical debates about another. At some point, those two visions of this city are going to bump up against each other.
And you can’t really get attached to just one dimension of a place. Cities are complicated. That’s what makes them worth sinking into. At the end of the day, maybe the price of this city’s color and complexity is a stolen phone or two, but that’s alright by me.
Emma Goldberg is a junior in Saybrook College and a former opinion editor for the News. Her column runs on alternate Mondays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .