Victim (noun): target of an attack, or one harmed by a crime, tort, unfairness, or other wrong
You may know that I've suffered a root canal, but you may not be aware that I'm also the victim of a crime. Yes, a crime! A couple years ago in a Washington, D.C. park, a man exposed himself before me, my one-year-old and my young nephew. "Poor idiot," was my first thought before I informed a nearby cop, who promptly arrested the man and took my statement. Then sleep deprivation was kind enough to (temporarily) wipe my memory clean, so much so that when - a year later - my mom said a lawyer was trying to contact me back in New Zealand in connection with the July incident in a D.C. park, I said, "You the mean the fireworks?"
The lawyer said the D.C. government would pay to fly me back to testify against the silly man, who turned out to be an excellent candidate for the next episode of America's Most Wanted. Victim Support took my passport details and preferred flight itinerary, profusely apologizing for the traumatic experience I'd suffered while visiting the capital city.
"Oh no, you see, I'm from D.C.," I said. "I'm used to it."
But please don't feel sorry for me, neither for having grown up in the D.C. area, nor for being the victim of seeing something I really would have preferred not to see (or for the misfortune of having regained an overly graphic memory of it). Because the real tragedy here is what happened just as my toddler and I were departing for Washington from Auckland International Airport.
First, I'd like to say in my defense, that I had very very little time to pack. But I'd be lying under oath if I said that I hadn't realized, moments before passing through security, that a pair of tweezers was indeed in my make-up bag in the red backpack. However, because they were quite dull and therefore not an ideal weapon with which to hijack a plane, I thought I'd take my chances. And, I thought, if the worst came to the worst and a security officer took my tweezers off me (the best pair I've ever owned, with superb grip), would it really matter if I went a bit Greek for a few days before I could make it to a drugstore? Would the jury even notice?
My fears came true as I was putting my shoes back on and a security officer asked me to step aside, holding my red backpack. Oh God, they'd spotted my tweezers. Guilt shot through my veins faster and stronger than a double espresso.
Shielded from prying eyes by a Plexiglas screen, the officer threw the bag on the table before me, signalling me to open it. "You have a knife."
"A knife? No." I didn't think the tweezers were that sharp. Then I preceded to play dumb by looking vacantly into the innocent part of the backpack storing sesame crackers, the Pip the Penguin book, night diapers and a pair of Spiderman underwear. "Nothing here," I said, trying to appear confused. Then I mustered an expression like a lightbulb had just gone on. "Oh, could it be something in here?" I unzipped the front pocket and then my make-up bag. "You don't think it could be something like this?" I had pulled out a dangerous-looking metal eyeliner sharpener.
"You have a knife," the security officer said with just about as much animation as a busy signal.
It was over, I knew it. I pulled out my tweezers. "Do you mean these?" I said as innocently as I could, but I was already handing them over.
To my astonishment, he repeated, "You have a knife."
That's when my knees went weak, but the adrenalin kept my hands steady. A vague memory flashed before me as I unzipped the inner front pocket. Oh my God, a knife! Damn backpacks and all their little pockets. It was the pocket knife we'd taken with us camping two months ago, probably still sticky with pear juice. But like any good weapon, it was shiny, cold and heavy.
"It's a knife!" I think I cried out, glancing at the blade engraved with the word 'Excalibur'. "Looks kind of dangerous, doesn't it?"
"It's got a switch blade too," said the officer in a rare moment of personalization.
Oh, this was infinitely worse than being a victim: I was a criminal. No, worse: I was the victim of being thought of as a criminal. Me, a mom with avocado smeared on my shirt! But I was too afraid to be indignant. What was the officer going to do next? Call over his colleagues? Interrogate me in a windowless room? Take away my passport, in which I looked coincidentally like a terrorist? How would we catch our flight now? And how would my toddler cope without a mid-afternoon snack?
But in the end, nothing happened. The security officer took the knife and left. Now having been robbed of my victim status and lost my husband's camping knife, I did what any self-respecting woman would do: apologize. "Honey, I'm sorry," I said through the cell phone to my husband waiting outside. "I lost your Excalibur!"
Victim (noun): someone who is wrongly accused of planning a crime, and undergoes the unfairness and embarrassment of having goods confiscated, while just trying to do the right thing, but gets to keep her tweezers as compensation