I took my little brothers out to Amy's a few days ago. It was a pretty standard Amy's run, except for a little hiccup with a family who felt that their ample personal space was worth more than allowing me and my brothers to enter the store (the line was so long we had to wait outside in the cold for about 10 minutes). Anyway, after making a comment and pushing a 50 year old man with the door a few times, we got in, but the situation sparked a conversation between me and my little brothers about douchebaggery, racism, and how to handle people. I don't think that the family was not letting us in because my brothers and I are brown, I think they just didn't want to move, but that was a possibility that was discussed over ice cream with my brothers.
Anyway, while the ice cream door experience was significant for a number of reasons, the point of this post, as well as the title, is about the story that experience reminded me of.
I was walking through Capitol Hill in Seattle a few months ago, I believe I was looking for something to eat before I saw a comedy show, when I saw a man and a woman walking about 30 feet in front of me. It was probably around 9pm, 30 degrees, a little wet. They were walking in the opposite direction to me so we were facing each other. The woman was kind of hanging on to the man with her head on his shoulder and her arms around him. He, in turn, had his arms around her and his head was leaning against her head. To all around they seemed like a couple in love. All of us were making eye contact with each other from afar, I was looking at them, they were looking at me, and when it got too close for any of us to acknowledge that we were looking at each other, I looked dead ahead and kept walking. They were not talking to each other the whole time, I could see their mouths and it was pretty quiet on the street.
Anyway, in the moment that we passed each other, when I could no longer see their faces in my periphery, I heard the woman's voice say three words, "I hate you."
It wasn't said jokingly, it wasn't said angrily like she was crying, it wasn't said out of frustration, it was said because she really meant it. I can't explain why, but in the moment that I heard it, I knew that she had said it to me. I didn't acknowledge that I heard anything, I just kept walking as the words echoed through my head and down into my stomach. "I hate you."
I immediately dismissed the possibility that she had directed those words at me. Obviously she was talking to the man in her arms. Obviously, it was out of context, obviously I overheard a conversation. There was no possible way that this strange woman wrapped around another man on Pike Street in Seattle, Washington would ever even think about me as anything but a stranger in a hooded Mariners sweater and a brown leather jacket. And yet her words hit me so hard.
I realized in that moment how much those words can hurt. How strong they are. And also how often we say it. I say it. I used to say it to my friends a lot, jokingly, when they annoy me. Not anymore. Those words are strong, and shouldn't be said lightly. As a poet, I'm tuned into words with weight, with power, and those three words that I heard walking down that street were intense.
I went through a wide range of possibilities in the next few moments as I tried to shake off what I heard. Maybe she was having a fight with her man, maybe she said it jokingly, maybe she hates brown people, maybe she was joking with her boyfriend, eventually I settled on the idea that I simply overheard a conversation. The probability that she was talking to me is just too low, by all logic I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
But no matter how I try to doctor the situation, I'll never shake that feeling that the strange woman on Pike Street in Seattle hates me.