"I'm just saying, you can do better."
I heard him when he said that to you. Looked you straight into your face and called you a "stupid ass bitch." You crinkled your lips and acted like you didn't care. But I knew that you did.
The story? I didn't know it and still don't. But what I did know was that this wasn't his first time calling you that or your first time hearing it. And I wondered what the circumstances were that had led to such venom and, better yet, what upbringing had left you okay with this sort of treatment?
I tried to scowl at him from where I was walking but I knew it was weak. Like I was trapped in this internal struggle--do I speak up and come to your rescue or do I just stand still in that moment and pray for you and your world with all of my might? It felt too big for either so, mostly, I just hitched my breath and continued to be a voyeur.
He made reference to your "dumb ass" doing this and your "simple ass needing to know when to just shut the fuck up." I overheard it all while you walked down that street and I walked out of the hospital in just those moments. In response, you said, "Whatever." But it had no muscle behind it at all.
He stopped when you said that and just swung his head at you. Like the stare a stern parent gives to her child on the pew in church when he's playing instead of listening. But the anger, the meanness in it was nothing like that. And it chilled my blood to the bone.
He didn't say anything at that point. That look was enough. Your eyes fell away from his and landed somewhere far away. And then you both started walking again.
You were both young. Very young. I'm talking young enough to be my children had I gotten started sooner, but still, perhaps, old enough to have children of your own. That is, if you had gotten started sooner, too. And some piece of me hoped-hoped-hoped that there wasn't a child around any of that. Yeah. Some part of me did.
We were outside. Traveling down the sidewalk between Grady and the Health Department. And since you were coming from the Health Department and not Grady, I made up all sorts of explanations why or what your story could be. I wondered what had just happened and what could possibly warrant anyone speaking to you this way. Were you there for a birth certificate? Had you just discovered you had some kind of sexually transmitted infection? Or was it something altogether different?
But that's when I realized that there wasn't any sort of excuse for anyone speaking to you that way. So it didn't matter what had just happened. And so. You both kept walking and so did I, our routes perpendicular. As our paths nearly intersected the vitriol amplified. Him still those three steps ahead of you and you slightly shuffling behind with that saucy pout of your lips. Trying your best to feign some pseudo-spunk which no one was buying.
"I don't know why you making such a big deal," I heard you say as we drew closer.
"That's 'cause you a fucking dumb ass, that's why."
And when he said that, he was so close to me that those words smacked me in the side of the face and grabbed me by my throat, too. And because he was walking east-west and I was walking north-south, this was the part that I heard in Dolby stereo. I hated it.
And so. Against my better judgment, I spoke.
"Come on, dude. I need you to stop talking to my little sister that way. That's like somebody talking to me or your mama that way."
You both paused for a moment. I could feel my pulse quickening; I had no idea what might happen next. What was I thinking? Fear started welling up in me in those first few milliseconds. Whatever kind of person he was to you, so disrespectful of you that he'd speak to you this way out on the street would surely make him a potential loose cannon towards me as well. What the hell was I thinking?
But then I noticed something. The way he was looking at me wasn't mighty or angry or even confrontational. It was boyish and juvenile. And even slightly embarrassed.
"Yes, ma'am," he muttered falling into what was obviously some kind of habit.
I shook my head hard and sighed. "I've been listening to you. And you're hurting my heart so badly." I patted my hand on my chest. "So can you please just . . .yeah. . .just stop it." He nodded and slowly began to shrink.
And then I looked at you and wanted to say something more but couldn't. The words crashed together and fractured in pieces on the asphalt at my feet. Again, it all felt too big.
So after that you walked on. Him still ahead and you following. And no, I couldn't hear anything else after that but in my head I can still hear it all.
And that was that.
I wish I had the answers or some shiny pretty bow to affix to this story. I don't.
Today, I'm just thinking of you. I'm thinking of you both and feeling angry at this world you're in, whomever let you both down by robbing you of your innocence, and at myself for not being able to find any hope in any of it.
But here's what I wish I'd said: "You can do better, okay? You can."