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Pondering the Puzzlement

I hate having to think, to ponder unpleasant moments

Jack Deatherage, Jr.

(7/1) I give fair warning to anyone who might pause to read further. This is not a pleasant remembrance of some bygone moment of life in or around Emmitsburg. For those preferring a politer view of Emmitsburg: please, pass this one by.

So it begins. I hate having to think, to ponder unpleasant moments. Sadly, I often have no choice.

I was standing outside my front door, talking to my son's girlfriend when someone in a SUV speeding by yelled ""NIG...R!"

I turned in stunned disbelief. Our son's Hispanic girlfriend stood stone faced as I turned from her to a car speeding away, and back to her.

"Did he yell what I thought he did?" I was no longer sure I was standing where I thought I was in space or time. I felt… confused? I definitely felt a rage building. I was wondering if I were about to go into the house to get a weapon. What's handiest? Bow and arrows? Rifle? Pistol? Ball-bat? Hammer? Something explosive? So many options and he was speeding away.

"Yes," she replied.

I was in the middle of the street then, staring after the vehicle, trying to will it back so I could drag the driver out and break his bones. Hurt him as badly as I saw my friend hurt. Cripple him physically so he's forever in pain as this friend of mine was forever hurt by someone on my street! In my town! In my county! My state! My country! MY WORLD!

Her words penetrated the rage. "Old Man, he's just a dumb moron who doesn't know the difference between an Hispanic and a black. Leave it be."

I couldn't leave it be. I shook with rage. Then she told me that this had been going on since the first day she moved here almost three years ago. "There are places in Frederick that are worse. Emmitsburg isn't so bad. This is the first insult I've gotten in town in at least a couple of months."

I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I didn't want to believe what I was hearing. I thought the town had changed. I know some local people who are still in the Klan, but they keep their mouths shut publicly. I'm aware of the Kluxers in the area and have had young friends tell me of their fighting with children of Klan families in Catoctin High School over the years. But in front of my house?

"Old man," she said. "Why do you think I never walk around town unless I'm with your son? I've been called hateful names and have been told to go back where I came from since the first day I got here. Believe me, I have considered doing just that! I was never called a nig..r in any part of the boroughs of New York City. No! I had to come to Emmitsburg to experience that!"

Now, I'm a bigot, a sexist, and probably a few other unpleasant things I've yet to grasp the meanings of. Many people I know share these traits with me. Some of these traits are probably survival instincts hardwired into our animal selves, unlikely to ever not be just below the surface. Other traits I know I learned along the way. Thankfully, I am slowly unlearning them.

When I meet someone for the first time I notice skin color and sex. The brain automatically slips the person into a category- say… black/woman. Cute, handsome, plain, unattractive, &c.

Depending on the meeting I might discover a pleasant attitude and the person gets tagged as "friendly." If they say something of interest they get tagged with that too. I may even decide I like them and consider cultivating them as a friend. But they are first, and always-black-different. Which is good, as I have little use for people exactly like me. They bore me. In the case of the moron in the SUV- they embarrass me.

And there's the rub! I suspect self-awareness triggered the rage. All the racist, sexist, bigoted thoughts and utterances that have ever escaped me caught up with me the instant I saw the hurt on my son's girlfriend's face.

The puzzlement I'm pondering is this - What feeds my rage? The hurt my son's girlfriend felt, or the guilt I'm experiencing for all my past actions?

Fortunately for me, and the moron in the SUV, my son's girlfriend won't let me hurt him, ever. Not that she thinks he's worth saving, but she thinks I am.

Read other articles by Jack Deatherage, Jr.