16 July 2011

this is a thing that happened

I just got home from the grocery store. I had a short list of 'stuff' to get & remembered a few other things while I was there (as happens) & was texting my brother as I did my shopping. At one point, I stopped near the newsstand/ book area to respond to his most recent text--I try to stand out of 'traffic' areas when I'm futzing with my phone.

As I was tapping out my message, I heard something that sounded like maybe my name. I didn't hear it clearly; maybe because I wasn't really paying attention, maybe the speaker wasn't clear, I don't know. I looked up & in the direction of the sound & there were a couple of guys looking at me expectantly. Maybe 20-ish feet away? I didn't recognise either of them. I figured I must have mis-heard whatever was said (even though it seemed clear they were talking to me) & went back to what I was doing. Did they just call me 'homo'? Is that what I heard, is that what I thought sounded like my name? There's a word for that cognitive process where you understand something perfectly right after you say, "what?", but I can't think of it now. It's not important. As I returned to the text, I mulled over what I may have heard. click clicka click clika on my phone as I worked on finishing my thought, while thinking about what just happened.

I noticed that the guys were coming towards me. The smaller one was pushing their shopping cart, leaning on it the way guys his age do when they'd rather do anything but shop for groceries. The other walked right in front of me. In my personal space. He looked right into my face and sneered as he walked past. Details are muddy; I didn't respond because I was busy & didn't feel like engaging with either of these guys. I noticed he had stopped after he passed me. Maybe 8 feet to my right & he was looking at me with an expectant smirk. The other one was to my left, just a bit further away than his mate was to my right. "Do I know you?" I asked with my best "back the fuck up" tone, before I returned to what I was doing. I heard him say something that included the word "fag". I didn't react. The two of them went back to their business, making a point to circle back & walk past me again as they left the area.

What the fuck? I thought to myself. What do I do now? What else do I need to get? I checked my mental shopping list & headed for the next thing on my list. 

As I rounded the corner to head down the next aisle, I caught the two guys in my peripheral vision, coming towards me, headed away from the direction I'd be headed. I didn't want to give them the impression that I felt like I needed to keep an eye on them, but I totally did. I saw them (or at least the one who approached me) watching me intently--the same sneer.

How am I going to get out of the store safely? I wondered. How do I get myself home? I was suddenly aware of how vulnerable I'd be walking across a not-terribly-well-lit parking lot after dark, then waiting for the bus alone. 

I updated my status on Facebook with my location & a brief description of what just happened. In case something happens, people will know where I was...

Surely they have store security, but... could they walk me to the bus? They couldn't wait with me, could they? Does the store sell mace? Why don't I already have mace? Can they even sell mace here? I wondered. 

I found myself thinking of how absurd it is that I lived at the edge of Bed-Stuy for a year & never particularly unsafe, not like this--not like I felt I was definitely the target of someone's misguided rage. I thought of options. Go for the throat. Go for the eyes. I told myself. You need to trim your nails; you can use that. Don't forget. I thought of Bellatrix jeering at Harry, "you've got to mean it, Potter!" [yes, I actually think things like this]. 

What if they have a knife? There are two of them & they look like they're not new to one-to-one violence. What if they have worse than a knife? What if I die tonight? Go for the eyes. Go for the throat. Claws. You have claws.

I thought of that asshole on the internet who tried to say that cultural appropriation is really okay & that it's a compliment & that you shouldn't get upset. I thought of all the rage I have for people who act as though they have more rights to be 'here' than they think I do. I very nearly got myself to "I wish a motherfucker would" status. I was very nearly to the point where I would mean it.

I paid for my groceries. I looked through the sliding doors at the darker-than-I-wanted-it-to-be parking lot. People getting into a truck. Not them. I pressed the numbers 9-1-1 on my phone, held it in my hand in my pocket, my thumb on the 'dial' button. Why did I leave my wand at home today, of all days? I walked out to the parking lot, scanned it, didn't see them. Thought of how fucked it is that people used to act like my neighborhood in Brooklyn was sketchy, but it's here in "beautiful", "friendly" Portland, Oregon where I'm thinking, "If  I can just make it onto the bus, then I'll be safe."

I got to the bus stop safely, but not without taking an extra glance at every pedestrian headed in my general direction. Who's sitting in that truck by the bus stop? Why are they there?

I made it to the bus. I made it home. I haven't cried yet.


  1. Oh the very mixed emotions of some small mind forcing their smallness onto you.The pain and unfortunate shame of such icky vulnerability. Im very sorry you had to sit in their misdirected self loathing. You are protected and loved. Please dont let this sit on you. Take a salt bath and let it drain away. This does not belong to you.
    Much love and light to you.

  2. I'm glad you made it home safely. People can be total pricks.

  3. I hate that this happened to you. Though I think you reacted in the best possible way. You stayed aware of your surroundings and you kept thinking on your feet. Although it's easy to second-guess yourself after you've gotten home safe, it is always best to assume people like that could be a real threat and act accordingly.

    I love that you thought about Bellatrix at that moment. That quote does seem like a good shorthand for the state of mind you'd have to get into in case you need to defend yourself.

    Do take care of yourself right now. It's really scary when things like this happen. It's not just the incident itself, but the reminder it brings of terrible things we try not to think about most of the time. I hope you give yourself time, ask other people for help, and do whatever you can to heal from it. Writing about it here is a good first step.

    And by the way, you probably won't be able to tell so I should mention that I'm Susan, aka berrystained from ravelry. I've been following your blog for a while now but never had occasion to comment before. If I can do anything to help during this time just let me know! xo

  4. I just read this and my heart cries for you. I really hate that anyone has to go through that fear, but especially because it happened to you. It sounds trite to say "don't let this get you down," and "you are a stronger person for coming out the other side," but it is true. You are loved and someday, incidents like yours will never happen again. Loves!

  5. I just wandered in from a random pattern search on Ravelry. I hope things have looked up for you since this post.

    Just really wanted to drop a line to let you know that I really enjoy reading your patterns.

  6. Hi there - I too just came across this blog coming from Ravelry, and I really wish you didn't have to live with fear like that. I'm stunned by your first hand account of how it feels to be discriminated against, and i feel really sad and angry at the same time.

    Thank you for sharing your point of view. I don't think i'll ever forget this post.