Against my better judgement, I went to Starbucks. It’s Double Stars Day! my notification informed me cheerily. I had intended to go through a drive through – I even thought to myself, “is Google taking me to one with a drive through? Maybe I should check,” – but as always whenever I ignore my intuition, it turns out I should have listened. It was inside a store and I thought, whatever, I’m here, how bad can it be. Turns out, pretty fucking bad.
In a misguided attempt to show kindness to a man who appeared homeless, his legs burned and dark from being in the desert sun, a hospital bracelet on his wrist, and a fresh open wound on his arm, I paid for his drink. He struck up a conversation with me, and thinking how lonely he probably was, I tried my very best to be a good listener. Then he pulled his mask down and I was too uncomfortable to say anything.
Maybe a minute of this passes before someone else waiting for their drink shouts at the guy, “Hey, man, pull your fucking mask up.” I weirdly feel defensive of my new acquaintance – he had just told me about how he had two mini-strokes in the past few weeks and his life sounds shitty enough without some guy yelling at him. But I also want him to pull his mask back up. The situation makes me think back to years ago, waiting in line at the pharmacy for my Xanax, when a six foot something bald man built like a brick shit house collapsed right in front of me and began to have a seizure. Sometimes, I’m very good in a tense situation. Sometimes, like then and like today, I simply freeze like a wild animal, praying that if I’m still enough no one will notice me. The encounter turns hostile with him yelling back at the guy about six feet or something, my legs regain blood, and I hurriedly say, “I hope you feel better soon,” before bolting out of the store. I can practically see the seizing man on the ground as I literally step over him to flee. History repeats itself as I prove myself a spineless coward.
As I head back to my car, I have three thoughts near-simultaneously:
- This is why I never leave my house. I should have known better.
- Now my drink is contaminated. Maybe if I don’t eat the whip cream.
- I could have prevented that. This is all my fault.
Which is absurd, I realize now. I didn’t make that man pull his mask down and I certainly didn’t make the other man swear at him. But it does frustrate me – my unwillingness to state my boundaries due to fear. The dude was in a wheelchair and just had two strokes for fuck’s sake and I was still afraid of him. Why? Some shit is just that deeply ingrained, I guess.
When I got home, I tore off my clothes and mask and went straight for the shower. The water so hot I felt like a lobster at the end of its miserable life, I scrubbed my flesh, counting in intervals of 20 before rinsing. One-Mississippi, Two-Mississippi, Three-Mississippi…
Thinking about the instantaneous hostility of the two men, I begin to wonder. At what point did we begin to see each other as the enemy? I feel like it goes back so far that I can’t properly see the beginning. Taught to fight amongst ourselves rather than trying to extend a compassionate hand so that we’re distracted and forget the identity of our real nemesis. Anxiety manifests in all sorts of ways, I had thought at the time. The man shouting was reacting out of fear, not true malice. Probably. Maybe. I hope.
To be able to disengage is a privilege, I know that. I’m not homeless or in a wheelchair. The color of my skin doesn’t negatively affect me. My husband earns enough money that I’m able to stay home and indeed, after today’s encounter, I have finally decided that other than doctor’s appointments, I will not do anything that requires me to leave my car. Not even a monthly Starbucks run is worth it at this point. I prefer the isolation to exposing myself to the increasingly rapid boil of people’s anxiety and temper, the infection risk nonwithstanding.
Are we too far gone? Is this the beginning of the end like my mother says? Or is this the moment where the boil over happens, releasing the pressure and making our ecosystem more sustainable?
I wish that I had the energy to do more than ask these questions but it’s taking all of my time and energy just to maintain decent level of physical and mental health. All I wanted was a s’mores frappuccino to make myself feel better after getting my cervix poked. And even that was tainted by the lady bullying me into getting a larger size. Now I’m over caffeinated yet exhausted. Perpetually exhausted. I can’t help but dream of the day I don’t see every human as a potential threat and going out into the world doesn’t feel like I’m gambling with my life. But I’m not so unique in this, I know. The only comfort I take in my fear is knowing that I’m not alone.