“Don’t touch me, you stupid cunt!”
“That’s right, you feminist whore! I will fucking beat you.”
“Quit looking at me, bitch!”
“Get out of here, you moron.”
The man – I haven’t seen his face; eye contact seems injudicious – hurls the worst epithets he has at his disposal towards the woman who unthinkingly reached out to steady his body, lurching with a combination of bus breaks and alcohol.
The tirade lasts the span of two blocks. At the back of the bus, we – mostly women of the upper middle class – exchange flickering, uncertain glances. I am struck with the man’s language. Not the vulgarity, but the tone and nature of the words. All feminine and derogatory or implying a lack of mental facility. I am sure the rest of them, like me, feel the impulse to act and not to act. But what could any of us do?
At the next stop, the man decides to leave rather than wait for whatever enforcement service the bus driver has contacted. Despite his departure, we troop as a flock to the next bus that vaguely follows the route we need, trying to escape the malodor of echoing memory. But before we go, I see a young woman offer a tissue and some reassurance to the target of the man’s hostility.
Two days later, I am walking home from work with a friend. We pass a panhandler. I’ve seen him before. Sometimes I offer change; more often I walk past with murmured apology. This time I am absorbed in sharing an anecdote. His legs are stretched far into the sidewalk, so I must pay oblique attention to curve my path and avoid stepping on him.
His scream truncates my story: “Shut up! You talk too much!”
While my friend is startled, I am puzzled. Alarmed and detached. This may be the first time in my life I’ve been yelled at by a stranger. But two incidents, however unequal in threat, so close together begged analysis. I was in no danger during either event. The only thing ruffled was my sense of untouchability – which ought to be ruffled now and again.
You see, I love this city. The last time I fell in love with a city I didn’t know how to love with open eyes. I loved what I thought I saw – loved the products of my imagination. And perhaps this is what breaks love. The slow dissolution of fantasy. Perhaps that is why I left.
I have less theory, more experience this time. I know my love will not change the way this city moves. Will not weave small bridges between all the worlds trying to occupy the same space. This city will break my heart and mend it and break it again. I will allow it to create and disturb my comfort. Because loving a perfect space no longer satisfies me.