hiding in the Peace Corps
“Nazi! Slave owner! Child molester!” the man shouted into his bullhorn. He stood on the sidewalk. He wasn’t allowed to come any closer. The man knelt beside his daughter, about 6 years old. “See that lady over there? She kills babies!”
I sipped my coffee. I looked over at B. “I saw the movie Amelie last week.”
B. nodded to the group on the sidewalk. “Isn’t that French? Don’t tell them that.” B. is an 86-year-old man.
I gave a small laugh.
“Killing babies isn’t funny!” the man shouted.
B. and I both sighed. We talked more about movies. We tried to ignore the man who took photographs of every license plate in the parking lot. A car pulled up. No one got out. B. stood up and waved. He wore his blue jersey that read escort across the front and back. We would joke the jerseys let the others know who to shoot.
A young woman and her mother got out of the car. They said hello and walked inside. The woman in charge of adoptions also walked by. She got baby killer too. They called her that every time. “I try to tell them I’m in charge of adoptions,” she said. “They don’t listen.”
Another girl arrived. She marched over to the group (all men except for the little girl) and yelled at them. When she came back, she stopped where we sat on lawn chairs. “Don’t you get mad at them?”
B. and I shrug. “They’re entitled to their view of things,” he said.
“I don’t think it helps,” I said.
Sometimes a boyfriend or husband would go over to them and shout, too. A few times, a woman would go over there, take their reading material, talk quietly, and then go into the clinic anyway. Once in a rare while, the woman would turn and leave. About half of the woman told us their stories.
The group on the street consisted of a few middle-aged white men. Sometimes a pretty blond showed up to give fliers to people who opened their car windows. And sometimes a few Catholic women stood across the street, held Rosaries, and prayed. One of the men had never married and never had a girlfriend. That’s what he told people who asked. Otherwise, he never said much, and he never shouted. For one Saturday a month for almost four years I stood in front of that clinic and I never heard his voice. He was there no matter the weather from 6:30 in the morning to 2 in the afternoon. The other men never said anything as much as they shouted. Nor did they come as often.
A nurse came out of the clinic. She walked over to the man with the bullhorn. She asked him to keep his children from climbing the stone wall around the sign. The stones weren’t stable. The children could fall and hurt themselves. The man put the bullhorn to her face. “You’re baby killer! You can’t tell me how to raise my children.”
The nurse looked up at the sky. Then back at the man. “Sir. That wall isn’t stable enough to climb on. That’s all I’m saying. The children could fall.”
“Look at her, children!” the man said. “Don’t listen to her. She likes to kill babies.” His children–the little girl and two boys–run away screaming.
“Also,” the nurse said. “This wall is on our property. If you don’t keep the children from the wall, I will call the police and have you removed for trespassing.”
The nurse then came over to us and asked if we’d like more coffee. When she went inside, the man called B. and me Nazis.
Standing in front of the woman’s clinic was scary. Telling people I stood there is scary. You can’t know who is going to stand there quietly and disagree or start shouting and who-knows-what.
But for all the hate, bile, and threats dumped on B. (a retried librarian) and me while we shared stories, drank coffee, and ignored the shouting, sharing my writing is scarier.
How stupid is that?
The odds of being shot while sitting at my laptop now are remote, after all. Of course, both actions take a certain belief in what you do. I believe in writing. I believe in trying to get published. But I stare at my stories and am filled with enough neurosis and dread to flood a small nation. Why is that?
I was willing to face the reaction I got at the clinic, but to face reactions to my writing…
What scares you? What has scared you that you went and did anyway? (Like me writing this to you.)