Photo by xxnu.

Photo by xxnu.

Someone punched me in the face.

I was out at a nightclub in London with a group of Princeton friends who were visiting for the summer to take classes at LSE. They had planned out the evening and had managed to secure entry for our group to a place called Cirque le Soir, a high end nightclub normally frequented by soccer players and minor celebrities. Much to my surprise, it was almost completely filled with other American college students studying at LSE or enrolled in similar programs– I even bumped into an old family friend and crush of mine, Olivia, now at Georgetown, whom I hadn’t seen in years. It was a strange atmosphere, although being out with drunken college kids my age was familiar, as was going out in London. The amount of foreign students was quite overwhelming, especially since they seemed more comfortable than me in my hometown. I had come into the night with the confidence that I could help show my friends a good time and was disoriented by the fact that they seemed to know everyone there from boarding school or summer camp. It felt like the time I visited my sister at Dartmouth. I found myself wandering around tables dominated by confident guys who were happy to be introduced to me but far more interested in getting girls to come and drink their alcohol. The nature of the club made the atmosphere even more bizarre. Demonically dressed dwarfs and transvestites were performing various circus acts around us, trying to both entertain and unsettle. Naturally, I spent some time catching up with Olivia whilst, unbeknownst to me, I was sitting at a table that her boyfriend and his friends had paid a lot of money to use.

Later on, I went to the men’s room at the same time as this boyfriend and one of his friends. He accused me of “creeping” on Olivia, not knowing about our prior friendship, and demanded that I pay him and his friends for being on their table for so long. I cheekily told him that I would subsequently stand when talking to Olivia and, perhaps rashly, belittled him for wasting an obscene amount of money showing off to his friends. There is a brief gap in my memory after that in which I know I was punched just below my left eye. I was shocked by what had happened and didn’t retaliate in any way. I just stood there looking at him until two bouncers burst into the room, picked him up and dragged him out of the club.

The punch left me with a cut beneath my eye that was quite obvious for the next week.  Almost everyone I saw asked me if I punched the guy back, yet this seemingly obvious reaction never crossed my mind at the time. I think going out at Princeton had conditioned me into a fairly naïve mindset about interacting with strangers in that kind of alcohol-influenced social situation. I was so used to meeting new people in that state who were friendly and easy to get on with because of our inevitable shared experiences and relationships. I assumed the same kind of mutual trust would exist between this guy from Georgetown and myself because I had come to associate the idea of an American college kid with this generic quasi-friendship I feel towards most people I meet at Princeton. I would have never felt this kind of association with a fellow Englishman, but the small sample of Americans that I had met in my first year at Princeton had completely altered my subconscious feelings towards any college-attending American. I guess because the sample of Americans I know are almost exclusively Princeton students, I had felt that these other guys and girls would interact me like I interact with someone I meet for the first time at Princeton. Olivia’s boyfriend, however, just saw me as some random British guy who was trying to hook up with his girlfriend. And while I still have a favorable disposition towards American college kids I meet, I no longer regard them with the expectation of friendship that I feel towards someone with whom I have a lot of mutual friends.

I think if someone had asked me before that night when the most acceptable time to punch someone would be, I would have said right after they punched me. I see myself as courageous and of above average strength, so wouldn’t have ruled out a situation developing in my life in which I became involved in some kind of fight. Now I realize that courage is definitely not the right adjective for describing that kind of behavior. To me, courage implies the ability to do something previously intimidating. Having been in a position where it was perhaps more acceptable than usual to trigger a sequence of violent behavior, I know that doing so would have in no way been courageous. Its also strange how people who noticed the mark on my cheekbone and asked about what happened told me I was really brave for handling it. I only qualified for this trait by being a bit cheeky after a few drinks and obviously didn’t have a choice to not take the punch—it had already happened before I even realized it was a possibility.  I actually now feel apathetic towards both the puncher and the event of being punched. I don’t even really feel like it happened to me. Even though it was such a purely physical act, there are no physical traces on me of it ever happening and I can’t even remember what the pain felt like. Growing up I remember often hearing the adage “sticks and stones will break your bones but names will never hurt you.” I know that the punch wasn’t a bad case of “sticks and stones” but it was the most I’ve ever suffered from outside of sports injuries. But it’s strange how I still feel more resentment towards some people who have said hurtful things to or about me—even if they were said long before last summer–than I do towards the only person who has ever purposefully tried to physically harm me.