A couple of weeks ago, my girlfriend and I are at the local Wal-Mart, finishing my grocery shopping. As we wrap up, I see a faded blue beat-up pickup truck. A sloppy, heavyset woman, determined to keep her back to me, is standing outside the passenger door. I spot the stuffed confederate dice hanging from the review mirror. One of these dice very prominently displays the word “Nigger”.
That explains the haircut, I think to myself. Her entire head is shaved, except for the top, which is oddly shaped into a ponytail. I wondered if she thought that was attractive.
Suddenly, I notice my girlfriend trying to urge me into the car.
The woman holds a baby in her arms; that’s when the anger hits me. Her boyfriend/husband/fellow klansman, all of one hundred and ten pounds with maybe five teeth in his mouth, begins laughing like a monkey playing with its own feces as his child starts crying.
I get into the car, trying not to think of what that child will grow up to be. I tell myself that it’s not my problem, but for some reason, I feel like it is. I couldn’t care less about their viewpoints, but what they will put that child through should be punishable in court.
But that will never happen.
There’s a very nasty old man who lives on the first floor. He’s walking proof that hate can keep you alive for a long time. I try to avoid him, but since we live in the same building, it’s almost inevitable that our paths cross.
Later that day, I’m doing laundry. As I converse with one of my neighbors (a very nice black lady), the man comes out of his apartment and maneuvers between my neighbor and I. He stops in between us and glares at me. I hold it with him for a few minutes. This man has lived in the building for nearly two decades; he’s very used to getting his own way. He’s certainly not used to anyone standing up to him.
I wanted to say something, but I didn’t. I just stared him down.
He stepped past me again, returning to his apartment. When he came back out, he stepped past my neighbor and I again, not making eye contact with either one of us. My neighbor pressed herself against the wall as tightly as she could and looked to the ground. At this point, I wanted to pound the life out of the man. I imagined she was alive when even glancing in his direction would’ve gotten her beaten, or worse.
Later that day, I made a mistake.
As the old man and I passed each other in the hallway, neither one of us made an effort to avoid the other. We slammed into each other, and with me being so much bigger, he got the brunt of it.
I could’ve moved and avoided the whole thing. Then again, he could have too. We were both wrong.
He whirls on me and screams; “Are you blind?!”
“No,” I reply calmly, “Are you?”
His eyes are ice and his hand goes into his pocket…
I immediately take an aggressive stance—if he pulls something out of his pocket, he’s going to make my choices very easy—but I did not attack. His hand remained in his pocket.
Another staredown commenced.
I have no warrants in Missouri.
My girlfriend is upstairs.
He’s an old man.
God is trying to reach me, I can feel it, but as I stare this physical manifestation of hatred down, I can see in his eyes exactly what he’d like to do to me, what he may have done as a younger man…and I want him to try. May God forgive me; I wanted him to advance on me so I could attack him and beat him and crush him and break him until there was nothing left.
I hated him as much as he hated me. I only knew his name. I didn’t know anything about his life up to that point; where he came from, where he’d been, or what experiences had shaped who he had become. None of it mattered. I hated him.
Logic prevails. My girlfriend is from a much different world than I am, and she does not need to be exposed to this kind of thing. “Walk with God.” I tell the man, keeping my eye on him as I return to my apartment. It took twenty minutes for the adrenaline to leave my system.
Love and hatred are dark mirror images of each other; each eschew logic and reason and act as pure emotion. They can be equally creative or destructive. Love creates. Hate destroys. Sometimes it just takes a small push to turn one to the other.
Love requires work.
I think back to the day my son was born. I was nineteen. I had no idea what I was supposed to be thinking or doing. I just knew I wasn’t going to run.
I remember watching them pull him out of my ex-wife, and the way he cried was always laaa instead of waaah. I remember watching them clean him off, wrap him up, and place him in a plastic container.
Looking down on him from outside the maternity ward, I wondered if it was like that for every father; scores of new life, yet you instinctively know exactly which one you helped create. I didn’t see any other baby except Terry, my brand new baby son.
I was dressed in faded blue jeans, shredded at the knees, my favorite blue jean jacket, a black t-shirt, and naturally, the hat and gloves. And I had just had a son.
This beautiful little boy is going to look to me and expect me to define every last little detail of the world. His views, his successes, his failures, it all depends on what I show him. What I tell him.
I did not know him. But I loved him.
Separated for years, emotional bond frayed, I still love my children very much. I love it when they call, when Terry tells me that he made the honor roll, that his favorite subject is science. I love it when Brandon exhibits typical six-year-old greed and tells me how he’ll be good if I get him Optimus Prime and Bumblebee.
Some may say it’s easy to use blood relations as examples of unconditional love. I wonder if most of struggle with the concept of someone loving us when they don’t have too; someone outside of us who sees exactly how screwed up we are, and wants to be with us anyway.
I wonder how many people get married without knowing truly what they’re in for. I wonder when divorce became so easy.
I believe that when someone looks you in the eye and vows to spend their rest of their lives with you, when you’ve developed that deep a connection with another human being, who was at one time a stranger, you’ll never know anything better.
It’s true; hate can keep you alive a long time.
Luckily, so can love.
Thank you for reading.
(c) Avery K. Tingle for Akting Out LLC
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