I made a quick trip into a dollar store in Topeka this afternoon to get laundry detergent. I can never seem to remember to get EVERYTHING I need in one trip these days. There is always one thing left over to seed another trip to town. So be it. The good thing about needing only one thing is that I can go into the smallest store, saving wear and tear on my poor knees.
The older and weaker I become, the more conscious I am about my personal safety. Maybe I should no longer carry a purse. A desperate young man, or woman for that matter, could easily make off with it. Until the purse strap broke I would present the most determined, immovable object in the universe. I also have an aluminum cane that I would not hesitate using to beat some one's ass. (If confronted with a gun, I would drop the purse and hobble away, screaming. Probably cussing, too.)
I have thought about the possibility of being an easy target. I am not afraid. I am simply taking stock. When I get out of my car in Topeka, I pay attention to my surroundings. This evening as I walked toward the entrance of the dollar store, a young man appeared at the corner of the building. He was wearing a hood low over his face but he was looking right at me. Because he was a young black man, I castigated myself for even considering he might be a threat. He and I reached the door at the same time and he held the door open for me. I thanked him and briefly felt like a racist old asshole. I asked myself if he had been a young white man in a hoodie, apparently looking at me though there were other people coming and going in the parking lot, would I have even considered that he might pose a threat? I think it was the hoodie and being noticed by a young man and had nothing to do with race. Old women are almost invisible to young (and old) men.
After he held the door I was thinking what a nice young man he must be. It felt good that someone was considerate and kind enough to hold the door for me. I went directly to the detergent, made a detour around the candy aisle though I was seriously considering buying some delicious chocolate because, you know: chocolate! Then, I went directly to the checkout. As I was leaving, the young man suddenly appeared at the door and held it open. I was pleasantly surprised and said "Thank you!" There was another lady coming in on my right and he was exiting on my left. I said "Excuse me," to the lady as I stepped through the door, which unexpectedly slammed against me. I knew the older lady was behind me so I reflexively stuck my foot back to stop the door from hitting her. She sounded irritated when she said "I got it!"
What the heck happened?
The young man was walking ahead of me toward my car. Over his shoulder he said "I heard what you said about me." He was saying a lot of things that I could not hear well enough to catch. I was taken aback. The only words I had spoken to ANYONE had been the two times I had thanked him for holding the door. I said, "Sir, I didn't say anything to anyone." He continued to walk and accuse me of lying and whatever else he was accusing me of. I felt very bad. I called to him, "I can't hear what you are saying but I did not say anything to anyone." He continued to make accusations I could not hear.
Once in the car I had a few seconds to process what just happened. He apparently waited for me at the door so he could slam it on me. The older lady coming in was a black woman and maybe it was not even me she was irritated with. The whole event was a very strange thing. I have no idea what made him accuse me of saying anything about him at all. He was not venting anger directly toward me nor threatening me. He seemed somewhat hurt but there was no chance to discuss it nor clear any misunderstanding. On the other hand, in retrospect, it appeared as if he had targeted me from the beginning. But perhaps it just seemed that way. Our paths crossed so briefly, neither of us with a clue as to what in the other's life led up to the door encounter. He walked down Tenth Street, looking back to see if I was going to follow him? There was nothing I could say or do so I just came home. I have absolutely no idea what it is to be a young black man in America. He has no idea what it is to be a hippie chick who has suddenly found herself old and worn out.
I do not know how a single person of color can trust any white person in our country. That we get along as well as we do is a testament to our resilient human nature more than anything. I do not want to be thought of as a racist old white woman, but I am certain there are millions of old white women who look exactly like me. Why wouldn't a young black man assume I am a racist, or a liar, or a two-faced old bitch? What happened that caused that young man to think I was talking badly about him? Maybe more than 500 years of abominable cruelty and racism? Maybe the fact that racism is so bad in America right now that even the police are murdering innocent black people on the streets in full view of dozens of witnesses, then given paid time off before being absolved of any wrong doing?
I am sorry young man, whoever you are and wherever you are. I am so sorry for all of it.