Yes, you read that correctly … strangled. Grabbed from behind, arm wrapped around my neck, forced into a full blown chokehold as I was walking down the street in Amsterdam. And not by some dangerous foreigner lurking in the shrouded shadows of an alleyway … but by a 21-year-old, white American male from Michigan who slept in the bunk next to me in the co-ed hostel.
The trip to Amsterdam started off great. I arrived at the quiet and luxurious Generator Hostel on my first afternoon in the city and promptly met my three roommates in the four-bunk dorm: two girls from England and one guy from the U.S. The girls were traveling together, the guy was solo. The three of us hit it off immediately. All extroverts, all new to the city, and each of us happy to have a cool little group to hang out with in the evenings.
The first night was flawless. Everyone in the group was jet-lagged and exhausted, but the enticement of a new city beckoned us to explore the after-hours parts of Amsterdam you could only do safely in numbers. It was great. Lots of fun, lots of giggles, and lots of, “Oh my, did you see that!?” We made it back safely to the hostel with smiles on our faces and stories to tell.
On the second night, things got weird. The evening started off great – another night of food, fun, dancing, and friends – but then something happened on the way back to the hostel. Timmy started acting strangely. The happy, mild-mannered boy from Michigan turned angry and belligerent. He started yelling. First at strangers, then at the English girls, then at me. His blurted out words turned into incoherent sentences and incoherent sentences turned into loud, angry guttural noises. Clearly something was off.
Now, I hadn’t kept track of Timmy for most of the night. Yes, we went out as a group — we arrived together and left together, as we had agreed upon for safety — but as adults and individuals who had each traveled to a foreign country on their own, the assumption was that everyone could handle themselves. Everyone knew they were traveling to Amsterdam — where stories and stereotypes of pitfalls and temptations were well-known, but surely people would prepare, plan, and act accordingly … right?
As Timmy became increasingly volatile, my natural peacemaker reaction was to calm him down. After all, he was part of our group. He was 21. And most importantly, he was sleeping in the same room as us. I had no clue what substances he had or had not taken, but I’ve dealt with drunks before and I thought surely he’d sober up a bit and just fall asleep once he was back at the hostel. I was dangerously wrong.
As our group walked down the street to catch a cab, Timmy and I got separated from the two girls. He FREAKED OUT. He started screaming at the top of his lungs in the middle of the crowded alleyway. His face turned beet red. Veins started to protrude. His eyes glazed over like a crocodile ready to pounce. And then it happened. Like someone flipped a switch inside his head, Timmy lunged at me with lightening speed. He grabbed my forearm with the force of a wrestler, spun me around backwards with one arm and wrapped his other around my neck. I couldn’t believe what was happening! At first I thought it was a bad teenage joke … really, a chokehold? Is this the WWE? What’s next, a pillow fight!? But then he started to squeeze. Tightly. Like a boa constrictor going in for the kill. Slow and steady. You know how time stands still in the moment of a car accident? That’s what this felt like. I was in shock that it was actually happening, confused by why he was doing it, annoyed he wouldn’t get off me. And then my slow-motion moment caught up to real-time panic. I suddenly realized the frightening reality of what was happening. He squeezed tighter and tighter. I got mad. He started to lift my body off the ground with the force of his forearm. Then I got angry. My fight or flight kicked in and I got violent. I jabbed him as hard as I could with my free elbow. He barely loosened his grip around my neck but released my other arm which had been pinned behind my back. I stomped his foot, he squeezed tighter. I took both of my hands, reached up to his arm wrapped around my throat, and gouged my short little nails into his skin as hard as humanly possible. That did it! He squealed with the voice of a second-grade school girl, “Ooww! You hurt me!” I broke free. I jumped from his clutches, spun around and said, “WHAT THE F*@! ARE YOU DOING!?!? I’m out of here … you’re on your own now!” His response, he lunged at me again! Only this time he didn’t have the element of surprise. He barely got a hold of my wrist. I started yelling, “Get off me! GET AWAY FROM ME! F*@! YOU!” People started to take notice of what was happening as I yanked myself away and fled in the opposite direction. Shockingly … he came after me AGAIN! This time, flight was the best option. I quickly maneuvered away from him and immediately ducked into a crowd of people waiting outside at a nearby club. Timmy headed for the crowd. I yelled, “Please help, I don’t know that guy! He just attacked me!” The crowd jumped into action and shielded me. The bouncer at the door stepped in and grabbed Timmy. Finally, some help! Two other men stepped in and hauled Timmy off by force as he fought and yelled the whole way down the street.
I stood there shaking. Thankful to be alive. Dumbfounded by what just happened and utterly appreciative it hadn’t been worse. A string of “what ifs” started playing through my head … what if I had been drunk, what if he had been bigger, what if this had happened IN the hostel!? The reality of the situation sank in as my adrenaline burned off and the crowd around me subsided. Then I realized, I had to go back to the same shared room. All of my things were there. But surely he wouldn’t be. Surely he had been arrested or detained or something and wouldn’t be waiting for me in the room.
I collected my confidence and headed back to the hostel. Sure enough, Timmy was there. He hadn’t been arrested. He hadn’t been detained. But at least he had been stopped. Bloody and groggy, Timmy mumbled incoherently from his top bunk as I stealthily gathered up my things and moved out of the room.
I never saw Timmy again.
The experience left me a little shaken but a little wiser to the world. Things CAN happen out there, and they will, when you least expect it by the most unexpected. Luckily, I was able to draw upon a few basics lessons I learned growing up in Texas: remain vigilant, use your voice, fight like a girl, say your prayers, and retreat but never surrender. I don’t blame the city – Amsterdam was absolutely wonderful. It turned out to be my best adventure and favorite place in Europe. And in the end, at least I survived … and have one hell of a story to tell!