In Dunkin Donuts there was a Young Woman sitting at the table next to me. She was talking on her cell phone and upset because another girl had deliberately shoved her out-of-the-way to get on the bus. And in an I-can’t-take-it-anymore moment she shoved the girl back and they got into a fight. Tearfully she said, “This happens all the time. I don’t want to fight. This is not who I am. I’m sorry. This doesn’t happen when I’m with you. I feel safer with you.”
It’s worth noting that this Young Woman did not look… hmm… how shall I say… homegrown. Her t-shirt and jeans were innocuous enough, but her close-cropped hair and beautiful, clear dark skin will always make her look foreign-born even if she, like me, was made in America. And in the xenophobic pendulum swing we’re in, not looking like you’re from around here seems to give people license to treat you as “other”; like shit; even by people who have themselves been historically mistreated and should know better. (Yes, Brothers and Sisters. I’m looking at you.)
I wasn’t trying to listen in on this woman’s conversation. Dunkin’ Donuts is my mobile office. When I’m sitting in there, laptop open, I’m on the grind. But when you don’t have phone booths these are the types of open-air conversations you’ll hear.
Trying hard not to cry, sniffing for all she was worth the Young Woman said to her friend, “I’m an adult and yet I still feel like a child. Why does this keep happening? I’m scared all the time.” Her raw distress broke my heart. The mama bear in me wanted to hug her but that would’ve been presumptuous, intrusive, and possibly a felony. I was grateful she at least had someone she could call and talk to.
And so, without a word, I pulled a pack of pocket tissues out of my bag and slipped them to her. Maybe in that very small gesture she’ll know that we’re not all like that; that shoving people who are not superficially like us out of the way is not who we are. Well, it is, but aren’t we supposed to be striving for better? It’s our ability to embrace each other that makes us human.
So I’ll restock my handbag with pocket tissues. These days I seem to keep running out.