Confronting Brexit & my Identity Crisis

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.

~ Robert Frost

Less than a week ago, the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. Let that sink in, because I haven’t. Buoyed – and delightfully distracted – by the progress of both the Ireland and Northern Ireland football teams in the 2016 UEFA European Championship, I have yet to absorb the ramifications of Brexit. It’s complicated. Let’s face it, my cultural identity has always been a bit suspect, depending on who might be in the room. Declarations of nationhood have always raised an eyebrow – Northern Ireland versus the North of Ireland; Derry rather than Londonderry – and, casting a wary eye over the past 40 years or so, could also be dangerous, if not fatal. I have been away for a long time, yet I have not forgotten the bombings and bullets, and roadblocks and the border, or the subtle (and more overt) means we employed to determine one’s religion – one’s fate.

To the chagrin and confusion of some friends and family back home, I consider myself Irish – and European. Nonetheless, my “documentation” suggests a split identity. I have an Irish passport, but because I was born in Northern Ireland, I also carry a British passport. If I’m honest, the latter has been more for the sake of expediency at airports. My American permanent residency card clearly states Ireland as my country of birth, but my birth certificate states my birthplace as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Sometimes, I am considered one of her Royal Majesty’s subjects; other times, I am not, like the time a waiter in a bar at Heathrow Airport refused to accept my money because, although Stirling and legal tender, it was printed on a Bank of Ulster note. My money had identified me as something other than acceptable to him.

I have never forgotten the way he made me feel, and in the moments after the news that the United Kingdom had voted to leave the EU, I felt that way again. Sickened and scared. I didn’t want to leave the EU. Northern Ireland didn’t want to leave either as evidenced by its vote, but here we are. Out of it. It is early days, of course, and we’re not sure what it means. How could we? Our destiny appears to have been an afterthought.  Some of my younger friends back home and my American friends have told me to calm down. Why panic?

Why panic? 

To explain, I need to go back – to a place of panic, to a time and a place with a border, to the country of my birth, to men with guns asking to inspect our papers or rolling below our car to check for a bomb underneath it; to men in uniform examining my daddy’s driving license to confirm – presumably – that he wasn’t a terrorist. Does that elicit a little panic? It should.

The border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland has all but disappeared in recent years, in large part because of  our common membership in the EU and EU laws enacted from 1998-2014, the most recent of which confirming what we all know – that we have a long way to go in terms of reconciliation. Accordingly, funding from the EU has supported much of the Peace Process, recognizing that it will not happen overnight. Sensible people know that once a wall, a border, goes up, it takes time to tear it down. It becomes a part of our external and internal geography, at once keeping us apart and a part. Therefore, it makes sense that the EU would formulate long range plans such as its current PEACE IV project intended to run through 020. It was designed to promote reconciliation through targeted engagement with young people, education, and the creation of shared spaces in areas most affected by the conflict.

We were making slow and steady progress. Look at us now! Northern Ireland is a tourist destination, and even though I don’t watch Game of Thrones, I smugly boast to my American friends, that I am from County Antrim where much of it is filmed.  Belfast, where I lived in the 1980s, is now a bustling cosmopolitan city. No more armed security checkpoints, no more a “no go” area –  the time has never been better to visit, urges National Geographic.  The Good Friday Agreement and EU laws contributed to the creation of this Belfast, so why wouldn’t we want to remain in the EU? It gave us the kind of city we could only have dreamed of some forty years ago.

I wonder if those who voted so vehemently to leave the EU stopped to consider the price of peace – and perhaps more importantly – if the UK would continue efforts to maintain what we have already accomplished.  Did they stop to consider the possibility of a return to the way things were, to the reality of Northern Ireland’s past, to the devastating loss of life during The Troubles, some 3637 people killed and God only knows how many more horribly injured, such as these following the bombing of the Abercorn restaurant in Belfast in 1972, when I was just nine years old:

One girl has lost both legs, an arm and an eye. Her sister has lost both legs. A male victim lost two legs, and a female lost one leg and one arm. Another female lost one limb, and three of the injured have lost eyes.

Did some of those who voted to leave also forget that the violence and pain of our Troubles was not confined to Northern Ireland?  England – the mainland – suffered too. Horribly.  Rewinding the mental tapes, I recall black and white news reports of Aldershot, of cars packed tightly with explosives that blew up outside The Old Bailey and in Whitehall; The M62; bars in Guildford, then Birmingham; and, Warrington, Canary Wharf, and Brighton. And more, so many more.  Following one of these atrocities, I recall someone on the radio remarking that it “would give the Brits a taste of The Troubles.” Let that sink in.

Why panic? 

I can’t help it. Sitting in my Phoenix living room, shortly after the results of the EU referendum were announced – and knowing that my mother and father and my friends back home would be waking up to the news – Martin McGuinness called for a border poll on a United Ireland. An unrealistic and opportunistic move,  but still it awakened in me the fear of a return to the Northern Ireland of my childhood, to the violence which ripped so many of our families apart.

And I wept. 


 

In the days before the Referendum, I had been ecstatic, rejoicing along with thousands of football fans – the Green and White Army and the Boys in Green – as both teams from our tiny island made it to the Round of 16 at the EUFA European Championship. Hailed as the best fans in the world, we sang through every match, singing on even in defeat:

Such pride. The last time I experienced such a feeling was in 1994.  A visit back home had coincided with the miracle of Ireland qualifying for the World Cup. The country was jubilant, its factories, offices, shops, even banks, all closing early so everyone could make it home, or to the pub, in plenty of time for kick-off at the Ireland v Italy match being televised live from Giants Stadium in New Jersey. We had thought of going out to the pub to watch the first-round match, but my father convinced us to stay at home, have a few jars, and watch the match from the comfort of the living room. So we gathered around the TV and held our breath as Ireland went up 1-0 against Italy at Giants Stadium. Like Boston Red Sox fans prior to the 2004 World Series, we were afraid to look.

The second half of the match was well underway when two men in boiler suits, their faces hidden behind balaclavas, stormed into a tiny packed pub back home – The Heights Bar, in the village of Loughinisland, County Down. With an AK47 and a Czech made rifle, they shot madly and indiscriminately at the sixteen men who had gathered around the bar to watch IrelandNWS_2014-06-09_NEW_014_31936901_I5 take on Italy. They killed six of them, and according to witnesses, the two gunmen laughed as they made their getaway. The first killed, Barney Green, was 87 years old, someone’s grandfather, the oldest victim of The Troubles, and as I recall from the stories that later poured from that heartbroken village, he had put on his best suit to mark Ireland’s making it to the World Cup. In the same moments, the delighted Irish football team was making its way out a Giants Stadium awash in green, held aloft by the chants of 60,000 supporters, anticipating champagne and a night of revelry, only to be silenced and sickened by news of what had happened in a country pub back home.

Six minutes into Ireland’s match against Belgium in France last Saturday, football fans were asked to stand in silence to mark the 22nd anniversary of the murders of those six men slaughtered in the Heights Bar.  I thought of their families and all that had been lost, of recent painful revelations about collusion, of reconciliation as a still-elusive thing. I thought of how far we had come, that Northern Ireland’s youngest football fans have never known a bomb scare, a security checkpoint, a civilian search. I thought of their grandparents and their parents – people my age – who are still anxious and recovering from decades of sectarian tension. Traumatized by it, but hopeful, in large part because of the symbolism of an open border and the free movement across it afforded by membership in the EU, that we were well on the road to recovery.

Now what? Given that immigration is at the crux of the Brexit vote, then it would make sense presumably for the UK to restrict its border with Ireland (still a member of the EU).  What will that mean for Northern Ireland and its precarious peace? Early days, I know, but I also know that the Peace Process is still relatively new, with The Good Friday Agreement signed only in 1998. We are still figuring out how to live in peace, many of our walls are still erect. And yes, for the most part, the violence has ebbed, but the distrust and suspicion remains, creating a breeding ground for the kind of panic that has settled in my chest. What was possible seems to have been snatched from us.

We were only just beginning . . .

The rather patronising English joke used to be that whenever the Irish question was about to be solved, the Irish would change the question. And now, when the Irish question seemed indeed to have been solved, at least for a generation, it is the English who have changed the question.

~ Fintan O’Toole

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what love sounds like – for father’s day

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We knew love. It wasn’t a matter of declaring it. It was proven.

~ Seamus Heaney

da

I am part of a tableau of ordinariness in which a cold beer sweats on the kitchen table, and an artichoke simmers on the stove. A man who makes me smile checks for doneness. Again. It is not quite ready, so his daughter adds more water. Laughing and lovely and impatient to eat, she spies an apple and asks her daddy to slice it.  A pause and then a familiar tune – the honing – and I am lifted out of the ordinary. Unbeknownst to them, I have left the scene. I am adolescent and annoyed, stirring to the high-pitched scrape of steel on steel in our house on the Dublin Road, the long metallic strokes on each side of the knife ensuring an edge sharp enough to carve the Sunday roast or a Christmas turkey. Like changing a tire or wiring a plug, this is something my father thinks I should know how to do. It is a simple task, he explains, requiring me only to exert equal pressure on each side of the blade and then ever so carefully to test its sharpness on the inside of my thumb. Over the years, I have tried – driven more by nostalgia than necessity – but I cannot get the sound right.

My father is a maker of things with the “Midas touch” of Heaney’s thatcher and the grasp of the diviner. Once, I observed, awestruck, as Da “witched” water, the pull of it so strong where he stood, that the wishbone-shaped stick in his hands, bent and almost tied itself in a knot, “suddenly broadcasting/ Through a green hazel its secret stations.” Frugal and a fixer, da’s is the artisanal handiwork that imbues the Derry townlands he crossed on his motorbike as a young man in the early 1960s. Ever the pragmatist, he makes no bones about telling me that this began as a matter of economic necessity – the potato-digging, the turf-cutting and roof-thatching, his craft and carpentry all shaped by and shaping the place that produced him.

These days, I appreciate his frugality and the way he crafted a thing to last. In my mind’s eye, he is doing the mental arithmetic, forever sizing up the situation, and cutting no corners. If you’re going to do it, do it right. He wishes he lived just down the road, to make things and make things right again for his grand-daughter and me. He could create the curved mantlepiece I’ve wanted since 1993, or paint the laundry room, fix the hole in the patio roof. I exasperate him more often than not. I don’t remember to wind the Regulator clock he bought me four Christmases ago, and I cannot ever be bothered to make our windows sparkle with wads of newspaper and vinegar. It would be no bother for him to mix cement to repair the red brick mailbox yet again, or to show Sophie how to put windshield washer fluid in her car. He obsesses about such things, and I understand now his sense of urgency over why all these things need fixing.

I understand now because the truth – I think – is that each of us wants to fix the unfixable, to live forever so our children will never experience the pain of loss. We want to stop time, close distance, and find the right words right when we need them. But sometimes we are no match for the thing that cannot be fixed. My father knows this now. 

Two days after receiving the news from Arizona that my husband lay dead in our Phoenix home, I began to pack clothes. An automaton, I filled suitcases with things I didn’t need, things I would carry from Belfast to Dublin and on to chilly Chicago and then to a house full of sadness and inappropriate desert sunshine. Surreal and sedated, I noticed mud caked on my favorite leather boots, presumably from a walk at dusk through the wet leaves and muck of Seamus Heaney’s Broagh. I remember handing them to daddy, asking if he would he take them outside to shake off the dirt. As I did, I knew instinctively – and I was ashamed – that when those boots were back in my hands, they would be polished to a high shine.

Sitting on the stairs in my parent’s house in Castledawson, the boots gleaming in my hands, lines long memorized from Robert Hayden’s “Those Winter Sundays” filled my head:

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

. . .

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?

What did I know? 

There sat my father, once strong as an ox and stoic – invincible – head in his hands. Overwhelmed by unfair feelings of inadequacy and helplessness, he cried out to God or something bigger and better than he thought he was, that all he could do in that spot of time was polish my shoes, the way he had done so many times when I was a child.

What did I know? 

This. I know this. I love my father and have almost told him as much. Almost, because, as Seamus Heaney explained so well to Dennis O’Driscoll, “That kind of language would have been much suspect. We knew love. It wasn’t a matter of declaring it. It was proven.”  It was, and it is. It is a gift to know this, and for that I am indebted to the teacher who introduced me to the poetry in which I discovered my father, the man – a man who can make things and find magic in the making of them, a man who understands that poetry belongs to all of us and can speak on our behalf. When the right words evade us.

Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy understands this too, responding here to the devastation of the Haiti earthquake as it unfolded on television:

We turn to poetry at intense moments in our lives . . . when we lose people, or are bereaved, we look for a piece of music or poem to read at the funeral, or when we fall in love we turn to poetry, or when children are born. And I think that can happen at moments of public grief too, as well as personal. It is so close to prayer, it is the most intense use of language that there is. It is the perfect art form for public or private grief.

Or when a middle-aged woman wants to say thank you to her father for sharpening knives and polishing shoes and digging potato-drills and making sure there is enough air in the tires.

I nearly said I love you, daddy. Happy Father’s Day.


“A Call” by Seamus Heaney

“Hold on,” she said, “I’ll just run out and get him.
The weather here’s so good, he took the chance
To do a bit of weeding.”

So I saw him
Down on his hands and knees beside the leek rig,
Touching, inspecting, separating one
Stalk from the other, gently pulling up
Everything not tapered, frail and leafless,
Pleased to feel each little weed-root break,
But rueful also . . .

Then found myself listening to
The amplified grave ticking of hall clocks
Where the phone lay unattended in a calm
Of mirror glass and sunstruck pendulums . . .

And found myself then thinking: if it were nowadays,
This is how Death would summon Everyman.

Next thing he spoke and I nearly said I loved him.

From: The Spirit Level by Seamus Heaney.

Appears in the Irish Times Culture section along with two beautiful tributes to fathers.

 

 

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blood on my hands and yours . . . from sea to shining sea

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Since he took office, President Obama has had to publicly address sixteen mass shootings in these United States. Sixteen times he has stared into a camera and uttered the best words for the worst of times knowing he will probably have to do it again. Each time, we listen to him, we ask why, and we shake our heads and shed tears in disbelief. And each time, when the media abandons the story and the families of the victims, we go away too. We abandon them too.

160105151652-obama-90-sec-exlarge-169When it happens again, as it always does, our revulsion returns. For a day or two, maybe a week, we are forced to confront the reality that yes, it could happen to us just as it happened to them as they went about doing the things that comprise life as we live it –  learning, earning, playing, praying, shopping, dreaming, dancing. Dancing.  It could happen to us as it happened to them: 13 of them killed at a citizenship class at an immigration center in Binghamton, New York; 13 killed at  Fort Hood, Texas; 6 killed in a supermarket parking lot in Tucson, Arizona; 12 killed at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado;  6 killed at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconson; 26 shot and killed at Sandyhook Elementary School in Newtown Connecticut;  12 killed at the Washington Navy Yard; then Fort Hood again – 4 killed; 3 killed at a Jewish community center and assisted living facility in Overland Park, Kansas; 2 killed at a high school in Troutdale, Oregon; 3 killed in their own apartment in Chapel Hill, North Carolina; 9 killed at a prayer meeting at an African American church in Charleston South Carolina; 5 killed at a military recruiting center in  Chattanooga, Tennessee; 10 killed at a community college in Roseburg, Oregon; 14 killed at a community center in San Bernardino, California; and, this past Sunday, 49 killed at The Pulse night-club in Orlando, Florida.

Our levels of gun violence are off the charts. There’s no advanced, developed country on earth that would put up with this.

But we do put up with it, don’t we? The President’s calls for stricter gun laws have gone unheeded, and all those lives snuffed out right in front of us have done little to move Congress to make it more difficult to access weapons of war.  We are weary, but even today as we learn more about the victims of the Orlando shooting, we are bracing ourselves, aren’t we, for the next shooting in America, the next press conference from a prematurely aging and beleaguered President? Next time – or this time – we will wring our hands, and we will maybe even blame him, and we will find no way to do anything that suggests the slaughter of our brothers and sisters is anything but the norm. We will keep a safe distance, although we know – surely we know – the time has come to go the distance? 


I am an immigrant who turned her back on the country that shaped and scared her – a troubled and tragic Northern Ireland. It was the 1980s, a turbulent and traumatic time, and within a national crucible of doubt and suspicion, a half-empty glass, I always anticipated the worst. Rarely, was I disappointed. In such a tiny country, we all knew somebody affected by The Troubles. According to the Conflict Archive on the Internet (CAIN) from 1969 – 1999, “3,568 people died. There were over 35,000 shootings, 150,000 bombings, and over 40,000 people wounded. Surveys say half of the population knows somebody killed or injured.” What did I do? Nothing. As I have done nothing about mass shootings in America.  

Although maddened by the bombs and bullets, the brutality and barbarism on all sides, we were also resigned to it. Yes, we were cautious but not all the time. Sometimes, we were casual about the sectarianism swirling around us as it reached an “acceptable pitch” – the sirens and smoke, the booby traps and barricades, incendiary devices and legitimate targets. Such things are stitched into our remembrances of an ordinary trip to the store or to school or to the pub on a Friday night. Like a mass shooting in America.

Still, we kept our distance, coping as County Down poet, Damian Gorman articulates with “devices of detachment” –

“I’ve come to point the finger
I’m rounding on my own
The decent cagey people
I count myself among
We are like rows of idle hands
We are like lost or mislaid plans
We’re working under cover
We’re making in our homes
Devices of detachment
As dangerous as bombs.”

We “coped too well,” until that inevitable jolt to the psyche when it happened again, and it always happened again.

Like a mass shooting in America. 

 

 

 

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sexual harassment – still not calling the shots

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Every afternoon, for the first twenty-five years of my American life, I watched Oprah Winfrey’s talk show. It was Oprah who taught me about Gavin de Becker’s “Gift of Fear” – a book written the year my daughter was born –  and how to predict dangerous behavior and how being nice does not pay:

Niceness does not equal goodness. We must learn and teach our children that niceness is a decision, a strategy of social interaction. It is not a character trait. People seeking to control others, almost always present the image of a nice person in the beginning.

Later, if ever I were kidnapped, Oprah taught me that I should remember Sanford Strong’s Rule #1: to never let myself be taken to the second location.  These and other such lessons I passed along to my daughter hope burning inside me that she would never need them.

She sometimes tells me, when faced with a challenge, that she copes by weighing it against the worst thing that has already happened to her – the death of her daddy and the constancy of him.  Other men, good friends of mine and my own father, have tried to fill the gaping hole. Kind. Watchful. Funny. And – perhaps afraid that I might fall apart as her only parent, more aware than I of my own fragility – they are there for her. Just there. There, sitting under a Jacaranda tree with her as she held her dying cat; there, cheering her on as she strode across the stage to receive her high school diploma; there, teaching her to drive; and, there, making a day in December feel almost like Christmas.

Between us, we provide a safe and soft place for her to fall. Prior to milestone moments – Father’s Day, his birthday, the holidays – we are extra vigilant, more active on her Facebook page with supportive comments and ‘likes’ and jokes we know she will appreciate.  Stupidly, however, we do not expect to be broadsided, as we were by a moment in a department store fitting-room last Sunday.

My daughter is kind and warm with a personality made for retail. She’s good, but she is also nice. A college student, she works part-time in a local department store, where the managers frequently place her in charge of the fitting room. Patient and pleasant, a pleaser, she is the perfect associate to calm customers harried and in a hurry to find something that fits. To her embarrassment I’m sure, I went into the store last Sunday and – worse – I even tried on clothes, so she could not avoid me, the way we avoid our parents when we are so “over them.” I didn’t notice the numbers scrawled on her hand, I was too busy embarrassing her the way I used to do when I dropped her off at junior high. Mortified that her friends might hear “my music” on the radio, I remember she would turn it down before getting out of the car. Then I would wait until she was on the sidewalk, turn up my classic rock and yell out the window for all to hear, “I love you.” It’s what mothers do, right?

Mothers also usually know when something’s wrong. I can tell by the first syllable of “hello” when she calls if it is, for example, a day when grief has her in its grip – ‘a grief day.’ I can sense it. But I somehow missed it in the department store. I missed it. How could I miss it? It wasn’t until she came home from her shift a few hours later, that she told me. She had written on her hand 4:30 – 4:45, the time period during which a middle-aged man – a customer – had inappropriately touched her in response to her telling him she was sorry the red shirt he was returning hadn’t worked out. She was alone. Vulnerable. Frozen after he put his hands on her, but somehow she thought to inform security of the time so they could check the videotape and “just keep an eye on him in case he came back and bothered anyone else.” Then my darling girl worked her shift for four more hours and told herself that because she was “alright,” management would probably minimize the situation. Nobody came to check on her. She ended her shift, walked to her car alone, and came home to me.

Having had a day or two to reflect on this, to raise hell, broadcast it all over social media and report it to management, to confirm that, yes, detectives are looking into it, and to ensure that a policy will be enforced to require at least two employees in the fitting room at all times, the lingering issue remains. There are menacing men who move among us every minute of every day and that women who look just like my daughter – my mother, my best friend, me  – continue to be sexually harassed in public places. My girl is now one of those women.

I know she does not want “mommy fighting her battles,” but she just doesn’t understand that I want to find that stranger and tear him apart until there is nothing left of him. Nothing. She didn’t hear Gavin de Becker tell Lena Dunham in response to a question about how young women can best protect themselves against violence:

 . . . Do not accept the scam that violence is a strategy only understood by men. There’s a universal code of violence, and that’s not a code you have to crack; it’s all inside you. When I used to give more speeches, I would ask audiences, “Is there anybody here who feels they could never hurt anybody?” A bunch of people would raise their hands and say, “I could never be violent under any circumstances.” If it’s a woman, I would say, “Well, what about if somebody was hurting your child?” “Oh, oh, oh, well then I could rip, burn, bite, scrape, scratch, poke, shoot, stab,” and so the resource is in all of us.

That resource is in all of this.  Except, we don’t really believe it, do we?

poolLast week, I went to a local bar to shoot pool with one of my best friends – a 66 year old woman. For reference, a bad thing happened to me last summer, and pool became the good thing that lifted me up and out of it – a perfect distraction. We found the quintessential dive bar – a hole in the wall, no windows, somehow smoky even in the absence of smoke, three pool tables, a parking lot aromatic with weed, “Sweet Home Alabama” on the jukebox, and bartenders who tell stories and listen to yours and call everyone ‘sweetie.’ You get the idea.  I had never played pool until last August, but because of Paul Newman in Color of Money, I had always wanted to. I didn’t even want to be good. I wanted just one time to make that sound – that crack of a great opening break. I was a long way from doing so. I didn’t know how to hold the cue and could barely make contact with the ball. My friend is a lousy teacher, so we would watch YouTube videos on our phones or ask the advice of old guys who bring their own sticks to the bar on League Night, which also happens to be Ladies Night, or on Sundays when it is free to play.  After months of practice and time recently spent with a man who quickens my heart and teaches me how to make the shots he makes me call, I’m not as embarrassed by my game any more. In fact, I win more than I lose (just not against him).

He wasn’t with me last Friday when I put up my quarter. Oblivious to my surroundings as I too often am, I was only vaguely aware of the young man seated at the bar behind us. Remembering him now, I recall shorts, T-shirt, flip-flops, receding hairline, slightly overweight. I recall nothing remarkable and no hint of danger.  I remember half-noticing him talking to my friend, but I thought he was only asking about the boxes of pizza on the bar and if anyone could have a slice. (Yes. Anyone can.) She didn’t tell me until later that he had rubbed against her and asked if she liked playing with balls. She froze. The way so many of us do, later telling me, “Yeah, he hit on the old broad first.”

Subsequently, when it was her turn to play, he sidled towards me, and said with a sneer, “Hey, hey, your friend says you like playing with balls. Is that true?”  Hey. Hey.  Typically, this would render me frozen as I have been every other time something similar has happened, but this time I could feel an approximation to violence. Foreign and empowering, it made me not fear him or humor him or ignore him. I don’t know what shifted in me, but something did. Clutching my cue – and wanting to break it over his head – I eye-balled him and never looked away as I told him, coolly and quietly,  “Yes. Yes, I do. I love it. But the fuck of it is that you’ll never know since you don’t have any. Now get the fuck out of my space.” I almost scared myself. Now I am no stranger to profanity – I’m Irish after all – but the words came out of me like razor blades, and before I could turn away from him, I watched as he slithered out the back door.

Still, I was left feeling guilty about cursing at him and – even worse – wondering if perhaps it had been the way I had smiled, the silky summer top I was wearing, the cut of my jeans, the length of my legs – if it had been my fault. Was it because I was in a bar on a Friday night without a man? He would not have said it had I been with a man, would he? Had I asked for it? Well, had I? And, if I am honest – mindful that I am middle-aged, postmenopausal and most of the time invisible to men on the make – should I have been grateful for the attention? This is the maddening and shameful contradiction that sends me, recoiling and ashamed, to the disconcerting reality that I am no longer the proverbial spring-chicken therefore attention from a young man must mean I’ve “still got it.”  Really? Yes, really.  And I am perplexed by this.

Now what? Well, today and tomorrow, I will step out into the world, and I will dress the way I always do. I will “sparkle and enchant” the way I do and risk being called flirtatious which sometimes sounds very much like “you’re asking for it.” My daughter will continue to be good – but perhaps not as nice – to strangers. We have been altered.

Like a thief in the night, those men – and every other strange and entitled man who has ever touched me or taunted me or told me I smell good when I’m standing next to him in line at an electronics store or called me a stuck-up bitch and told me to suck his dick because I didn’t smile back – have taken something from us, and we are not sure how or if or when we will get it back.

 

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