Well, it happened again. My otherness was showing. Or, I got caught with my otherness out. Or something like that. I confess I haven’t seen “The Green Book” (I haven’t seen any movie since God was a child) though in complete honesty I did see the first 10 minutes of the movie (Emily and I had a date night and got a sitter. Literally 10 minutes into the movie both our phones started blowing up. The babysitter letting us know that Ruby was throwing up. That ended that) So while I know the premise of the movie, I don’t know details. And apparently, according to those I’ve chatted with recently, the premise of the movie is similar to what I’m proposing here. And my very sketchy understanding of the movie is that the proposition in the movie was met with mixed reviews at best.
But I should back up and catch you all up. Otherwise you’ll have no idea what I’m talking about. I was in a rural town in Vermont recently for a few days. The phone reception was quite spotty and my phone battery was depleting rapidly because it was constantly searching for network access (or so I, in my extremely limited understanding of anything technical, assume). One early evening I was heading somewhere and noticed my battery percentage was under 10%. I needed my GPS for directions as I had no idea how to get where I was going (never mind where I was). So I pulled over on the side of the road, turned the ignition to auxiliary (do they even call it that anymore) and sat in my car to let my phone charge. Anyone with half a brain knows at this point that of course I drained the car battery. After about a half hour I noticed that the lights on the dashboard were no longer lit and the phone was no longer charging. So, even though the phone battery had only gotten to 17%, I had to call AAA.
And, don’t get me wrong, while I’m grateful on all sorts of levels that I have AAA in addition to the privileges that allow me to have AAA, there is a huge amount of shame that comes from, well, that comes from being me (presenting as I present in the world) and having to put myself out there and ask strangers for help. I can full stop there. But the combination of my presentation in conjunction with who (in general) tow-truck drivers are increase my shame exponentially. Actually, it is a fear and shame combo platter. And while this may be a gross generalization (about tow-truck drivers), and while many would say to me, “oh don’t be silly”, it has ever been my experience to be judged and deemed offensive, defective, wrong, yucky, whatever in these situations.
The AAA answering service was polite and efficient. They would send someone my way as soon as possible. The woman told me to please keep my phone on and near me. She also asked if I was in a safe place and if I felt I was in any danger. My anticipatory shame over the truck driver’s potential reaction to me on top of my dwindling phone battery got me off the phone with alacrity. I sat in my car fighting off waves of panic and anxiety.
My phone, at 12% battery, rang with an unknown Vermont number after about 45 minutes. The driver was on his way. He was extremely sweet and solicitous on the phone, promising to find me (because I honestly had no idea where I was) and joking about how well he knew the back roads of the area and his ability to find a needle in a proverbial haystack. He described his flatbed truck and asked for details of what kind of car I was in and what I saw around me. He was a calming presence; kind and attentive.
Until he got to me 20 minutes later. He pulled up behind me and as we each got out of our vehicles, I swear I saw his face harden right before my eyes. A burly bearded man in plaid, he asked me to pop the trunk without a single word of greeting. He walked around my open front door in what felt like an exaggerated effort to stay clear of me. Writing this, even weeks later, safe in my house, my stomach is doing flip-flops just remembering.
With his head under my hood, I tried to make small talk. Which he either ignored or didn’t hear. As he passed by me on his way back to his truck he again seemed to create a wide berth between us. He couldn’t actually ignore me as he walked by with the jumper cables, though he did avoid eye contact, as he said with strained neutrality, “You drained the battery. These cars have such small batteries all it takes is 10 minutes or so. Next time have the car running.” I responded, intentionally engagingly, that I was, “just trying to save the planet” or something like that. To no response.
With my car running again, he closed up the hood, wiped his hands and stashed the cables in his cab. As he got into his vehicle he said, “you should drive around for a little while before turning it off again to give the battery time to recharge.” And with that, he drove off.
I sat in my car, fairly close to tears, shaking a bit with anger, shame, fear, I’m not even sure which. The mirror held out to me by such people hurts. Over and over again. And clearly stays with me long after the actual encounter. Maybe I’m more susceptible and sensitive to the pain and shame of seeing myself through the eyes of less-accepting others because I don’t recall having the foundational experience that most people have of seeing themselves through the eyes of a deeply loving mother. The way I look at my children I know was never the way my mother looked at me. At best I was the thing that took her own mother’s attention away from her. At worst I was the most ungrateful, uncontrollable, infuriating extension of herself(sic). That lack of fundamental formation doesn’t seem to allow me to fight off or even withstand the enmity of others. Or maybe it’s not all my mother’s fault and I’m just a thin-skinned wimp.
I did some deep breathing into the experience and put myself back together. Perhaps he wasn’t racing away from me at all, but racing home to his family and dinner. Whatever the case, I calmed myself and drove around a bit as he’d suggested. I started thinking about my initial call to AAA and wondering whether there was a way to circumvent such experiences. I mean, not like having the AAA answering service ask, “Are you in a safe place? Are you in any danger? Are you in any way offensive to others?” I would have waited another half hour (at least) if I could have requested someone kind, open-minded, welcoming. Perhaps when requesting AAA assistance one could flag themselves by saying, “Code Rainbow”. Or something equally fun, engaging, fantastic and gay. I know those in opposition to this idea (like the green book) would say that everyone should be welcoming and kind etc. Of course I agree with that. But the reality on the ground is not quite so nirvanaic (yes, I just made up that word. Don’t bother to look it up). I’d rather give the haters a pass than have to suffer their displeasure. If you don’t want to deal with us, perhaps we shouldn’t have to deal with you. Send someone else.