Questions On Georgia’s HB 481, The Heartbeat Bill

It’s been a long time since I blogged, mostly because I have a lot of strong feelings about politics, but didn’t want to share them here, so I said nothing. But this is my breaking point. Sorry, not sorry.

I’ve wanted to have a baby for some time now. Husband and I have been married for over six years and have been together for nearly a decade. We are in our early thirties and are finally financially and, I believe, emotionally stable and mature enough to handle bringing another human into this world. Because that’s what having a baby is: it’s not being gifted with something cute you get to dress up, or a little kid you get to turn into a mini-you, it’s choosing to take on the responsibility of raising the next generation of humans that will inherit the earth and all the creatures on it. It’s kind of a big deal.

But because we have waited so long, the risks have gone up. The older you are, the more likely you are to have an ectopic pregnancy, a miscarriage, a congenital defect in the fetus, or a medical complication for the mother that will affect future fertility, mobility, and could lead to straight up death (though, to be fair, all pregnancy comes with these risks: it’s an experience that is not a walk in the park for anyone). All of these things are enhanced when you’re having your first pregnancy at an “older” age, and in my personal case, I have struggled with a small host of reproductive issues that don’t make conception look like it’s going to go smoothly at all.

So, with this in mind, and of course my already staunch support for access to legal and safe abortion for all, I have a lot of question about Georgia’s HB 481, or the Living Infants Fairness and Equality (LIFE) Act which, at its most base level, outlaws abortions after a heartbeat can be found (with a handful of exceptions) which is typically around 6 weeks of gestation. I’ve read the whole thing multiple times, I majored in English and consider myself of an intelligence that usually “gets” most things, but I had trouble with plenty of this act, and without any kind of background in law, extrapolating what a lot of these things mean legally. But I damn well tried.

Here is what I’ve gleaned this LIFE act means, and how the legislators who wrote it have twisted things to satisfy their desire to punish women. They have cited the 14th Amendment to the Constitution in order to extend its protections from U.S. citizens to embryos, starting as early as 6 weeks of gestation (39). Now, from my reading of the 14th Amendment, there isn’t an argument here, as it states that it covers “all persons born or naturalized,” emphasis mine, and an embryo isn’t born, nor could it be and survive. There’s also kind of a poetic irony in using an amendment that was specifically written to give former slaves and freed blacks the rights of an American citizen in order to take away the rights of anyone who might become pregnant and essentially make them a slave to the new human inside them, so that’s at least…poignant.

I’d also like to take a closer look at lines 43 through 46 specifically:

Modern medical science, not available decades ago, demonstrates that unborn children are a class of living, distinct persons and more expansive state recognition of unborn children as persons did not exist when Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992) and Roe v. Wade (1973) established abortion related precedents.

Mentioning Roe w. Wade specifically is horrifying in and of itself, but that’s the point of the whole act, I believe–they want to challenge that ruling at the federal level now that the supreme court is stacked against women. The whole country should shiver, as this new, dark dawn approaches us.

But where’s the modern medical science that has come about in the last 27 years that have redefined the words embryo (about weeks 4 through 11) and fetus (week 11 through to the end of pregnancy)? It’s confusing to me that these kind of statements can be made sans citation of the actual science by people who are not only not scientists or physicians, but are very frequently people who have not bothered to understand anything about the processes that they’re making up laws over. I’d like to sit down with any of the representatives (all Republican but one) who voted yea on this thing and have them explain to me anything about fertility or women’s reproduction. I can’t imagine most of them can even say the word “vagina” without looking squeamish or just flat out refusing because their god thinks it’s a curse word.

The act also states the makers are “applying reasoned judgment to the full body of modern medical science” (47-80) but again that full body isn’t cited or really even referred to, and here’s the thing: a neurosurgeon, a gastroenterologist, an optometrist, a dentist, a podiatrist, these people know a whole lot of modern medical science, but none of them know the “full body of modern medical science,” and I wouldn’t pick any of them to be present at my birth over an obstetrician who would know the most science about this bill, not that a single one was consulted. And just a side note, the Medical Association of Georgia flat out opposes HB 481, but I guess legislators know the science better than them.

“I know more than you.”

So, with all that explanation out of the way, I guess I’ll just ask my questions.

First of all, how is this tax stuff gonna work? Per the text, “an unborn child with a detectable human heartbeat is a dependent minor for income tax purposes” (21-22). Does this just apply to only Georgia or is the federal government gonna let us all get in on this too? Or will our state taxes, which can only be filed based on what you file to the federal government, be completely overhauled to compensate for the difference between how many dependents will be listed on each the forms? That sounds like it’d be pretty expensive for the state, honestly, and we’ve only got 7 more months to implement something, so we better get on that.

And how is any of this possible without a social security number? If a woman is 6 weeks pregnant on December 31st, the child will be born sometimes in July and it will take an additional week (in Georgia) to get that new baby’s social security card, so would the mother have to file an extension? You can get six months with an extension form which will cover you til October, which I guess is helpful? But if the point they’re trying to make here is that your embryo is a whole-ass human and you should be able to claim them for a refund, how does pushing that refund out so far actually help?

But maybe Georgia will somehow change the entire federal social security program and get numbers handed out early for embryos now? But if that embryo with a social security number dies at any point going forward, will the parents have to file for a true death certificate going forward? (On top of their grief of miscarrying and, you know, being investigated for murder? (We’ll get to that later.)) It seems to me that having so many more social security numbers floating around tied to people who never actually existed outside of the womb opens the door for a lot more fraud, so how will this be countered? This also means every embryo will have to be named and, when they “die” the parents will have to contact a number of agencies to protect that baby’s identity and prevent more fraud, and I don’t know about you, but that sounds like an awesome distraction from mourning the loss of your pregnancy!

And wait, what about multiples who can’t typically be detected until 10 weeks, at the very earliest? Is it tax fraud to only account for one if you can’t see the others right away? And what about Vanishing Twin Syndrome which accounts for 21-30% of multifetal pregnancies? Will a number be issued for each one as they show up and then a death certificate issued as they disappear? This is getting very confusing, guys, and seems like a lot of paperwork, but you know, the government is great at paperwork, so maybe it will be just fine. I mean, it only took me three different written requests over the course of six months to get the title for my car from the state of Florida only to hand it over immediately to the state of Georgia back in July of 2018, and even though I am still waiting on Georgia to finish stuff up, I’m hopeful!

And perhaps most importantly, will this extend to any child conceived in Georgia? So can we legally no longer deport anyone carrying an embryo or a fetus that was conceived here? Or is it that the embryo has to have their first instance of a heartbeat on American soil? How will that be figured out? Because the embryo has the rights of a citizen, according to HB 481, that is unless the mother’s foreign body is considered an embassy of her home country? But what if I, as an American, go to New Hampshire on vacation and that’s where my embryo has their first heartbeat? Or what if a Californian is visiting the World of Coke when their embryo has their first heartbeat? Is that embryo now a whole ass human, subject to Georgian law but mine is subject to New Hampshire law? If I go to another state to get an abortion, does the district attorney have the right to request my medical records from another state and prosecute me here? I mean, everyone knows that gambling at a casino is illegal in Georgia, so if you cross the state line and gamble in Florida or Nevada, you are immediately arrested when you come home. Right? Wait, no, that’s not right. This is befuddling to me.

Fetuses will also be “included in population based determinations” (68) which kind of sounds like they’ll be taken into consideration for where money is allocated by the government and how precincts will be drawn. I’m not sure how they will be counted, again perhaps Social Security numbers are needed for embryos, but this all sounds like just another really lovely way for the state of Georgia to commit even more election fraud by gerrymandering districts to include all the unaccounted for “unborn” citizens.

Perhaps the actual the solution is to make every woman in Georgia’s medical records public information at all times and to subject them to mandatory pregnancy tests every month at the onset of puberty just to make sure we don’t have any more or fewer people than we think? Making a monthly trip down to my state’s pregnancy check office where I’ll share information on my last period, maybe present my used tampons for proof, and then piss in a cup in front of a government worker sounds like a fabulous way to spend a day and, frankly, a fucking magical way to learn I’m pregnant! And I definitely would have loved it at 10 years old when I was blessed with my first period in elementary school!

Ah, I’m sorry for all the hyperbole…but

Fucking, is it???

Line 94 tells us that removing an ectopic pregnancy (when the embryo doesn’t implant itself in the uterus) is not considered an abortion, by legal definition, nor is “removing a dead unborn child caused by spontaneous abortion” which is removing an embryo or fetus once it is no longer viable, or has “died” in the womb. An embryo that is no longer growing can cause a whole lot of problems for a woman, up to and including death, so I guess it’s nice of Georgia to not turn women into walking cemeteries. I mean, I’m glad we don’t consider dead people to be people. Actually, that’s great news in general, right? That means we should immediately be able to harvest organs from bodies as soon as they die, right? Oh wait, no, dead people still actually have complete control over their bodies in Georgia…which is more than living women now.

But my bigger question here is about that embryo that attached itself to a fallopian tube by mistake, the ectopic one, the one that’s typically discoverable as ectopic around week eight. That is NOT a person under the 14th Amendment according to this act despite having a heartbeat because of its placement. I mean, don’t get me wrong here, I know an ectopic pregnancy isn’t viable. It does not have a chance of survival and will most likely kill the mother (and then itself) if left to grow where it not ought be, but according to the scientific definition legislators made up in this law, it IS a person. So how do we morally and legally handle this? Well, it seems to be that we are saying the mother’s life is more important in this and a few other instances, which is refreshing, albeit not consistent.

Lines 119-120 state that an abortion CAN be performed if a medical professional considers it a “medical emergency” which is defined as “necessary in order to prevent the death of the pregnant woman or the substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function” (97-99) but this does NOT include mental health, specifically outlined in lines 99-103, including if the pregnant woman is suicidal. No, no, we’d rather two deaths, not just the one, thank you very much!

Now, the existence of one thing (danger to the mother’s life) does not confirm the negative outcome to be true (definite death of the mother), so I don’t know how doctors are going to feel when this thing goes live in 2020 (unless you count that pesky letter from the Medical Association of Georgia). Basically, if you have a woman who might die due to pregnancy, but you’re not, like 100% sure, this is no longer something the mother and her physician can discuss, she can’t be given the odds and decide for herself what she wants (unlike basically any other person suffering from any disease being able to choose to treat said diseases and how), the doctor can only put abortion on the table if they believe “in reasonable medical judgment” that the pregnancy will kill her.

But with the threat of being accused of literal murder hanging over their heads, I feel like lots of physicians are going to be incredibly wary of performing abortions at all, especially when “health records shall be available to the district attorney of the judicial circuit in which the act of abortion occurs or the woman upon whom an abortion is performed resides” (152-4) (so fuck your privacy, if you have an abortion, it is a legal matter). If there’s a question about how legitimately the mother’s life was in peril, who’s going to pour over those records? There’s nothing here saying it will be other medical professions, and even if it is, who gets to choose them? Is it completely to the district attorney’s discretion to say whether an abortion needed to be performed to save a life or if the abortion was, in fact, murder? How does that make sense?

This wording will also make doctors even more afraid to treat women for anything if they’re pregnant, like women who have other existing conditions and need medication or treatment that carry any kind of risk to an embryo or fetus. None of this leads to better healthcare for mothers or babies, especially in Georgia where we already have the highest rate of maternal death in the entire fucking country. And even if a doctor is willing to treat a pregnant woman, can she actually be treated if she is diagnosed with, say, cancer? Since it’s not the embryo that’s threatening your life but the cancer, you can’t have an abortion, but the cancer treatment will likely cause a miscarriage, which would be construed as murder under this new law as:

‘Abortion’ means the act of using, prescribing, or administering any instrument, substance, device, or other means with the purpose to terminate a pregnancy with knowledge that termination will, with reasonable likelihood, cause the death of an unborn child (88-91)

So, what’s the solution here? Do we just hope the fetus out grows the tumor and hope the baby still has its mom afterwards?

Here is also where it gets really weird, and you’re going to have to bear with me while I try to understand the cognitive dissonance of your average anti-abortion-er. An abortion CAN be performed before 20 weeks if the pregnancy is the “result of rape or incest in which an official police report has been filed alleging the offense of rape or incest” (122-3). (Quick digression here: The fact that a police report has to be filed is its own dilemma because that requires the police to cooperate and believe you, which we know is a huge problem, especially for certain groups in this country, women included, and it also requires the woman to have access to the police and the courage to go to them which isn’t super likely if you’re in an incest situation. It’s a fucking mess.) So it’s ultimately good we have this exception, of course, but it is also completely mind boggling that a group of people who claim to believe that a 6 week old embryo is an entire human being and is susceptible to the 14th Amendment and deserves all the rights of a human, but they simultaneously believe that if an embryo is the result of rape or incest, somehow it’s either A) NOT a human and no longer deserves those rights or B) is IS a human, but we’re choosing to take away those rights.

Since the claim that 6 week embryos are full humans is being made due to “applying reasoned judgment to the full body of modern medical science,” it can’t possibly be A, right? Because it wouldn’t be a scientific stance that if I consensually have sex and get pregnant that that is medically different than if I am raped and get pregnant or even if I consensually (or not) am impregnated by a biological family member. These all result in the “same” embryo with a possible heartbeat at 6 weeks. So it must be B, that the embryo is human, but the state of Georgia has decided to deny those rights to a specific group of people. It probably sounds like I’m making a real good argument to ban abortions in cases of rape and incest, but trust me, that is not what I want. I’m just pointing out the hypocrisy here. How is this abortion okay, but the abortion of any embryo or fetus under 20 weeks that was conceived in any other way not okay? If it is okay in this instance, it should be okay in all instances, shouldn’t it?

And where do things like statutory rape and underage pregnancy of unable to consent teenagers and, sadly, children fit in?

And I have a bigger, more pressing question to ask: If an embryo that is the result of rape or incest CAN be aborted, but the pregnant woman decides NOT to abort it and carry it to term, when does it become a human? 20 weeks? Birth? Never? How else does this human actually earn personhood? Do they get to be claimed as a dependent for the time, however long, they spend in the womb if they’re never born due to a legally chosen abortion? Do they actually have a right to life once they’ve exited the womb? Or will we have a whole new subclass of people that don’t have any rights based on the status of their conception? Should these people wear arm bands of some sort?

In a SHOCKING turn of events, men are actually affected directly by this law. Section 5 speaks very briefly about pregnant women recovering medical and pregnancy expenses from the father. Wow. I am amazed. In fact, I am almost pleased, except that in reality I don’t want anyone to be hurt in any way by laws, so of course I don’t want men to suffer, but I sure as shit don’t want women to suffer either! And I have questions even about this!

I don’t know how paternity would be established here as paternity is typically established by the name on the birth certificate. Paternity tests can be performed as early as 9 weeks (notably AFTER the heartbeat can be established). If the embryo or fetus is also considered a child, and if the father has become financially responsible for it, is there also a custody agreement for the “child?” Will we be transferring the fetus from womb to…testicle for shared custody? Is the father responsible for keeping the embryo or fetus safe? If they, say, smoke around the fetus, can they be charged with child endangerment? (Can anyone who smokes around the fetus be charged?) Will the mother be ordered to spend x amount of hours a week in the presence of the father? Are certain holidays completely at the father’s discretion? Must the father sign off on any of the mother’s medical treatments that affect the fetus or on any travel the mother does? Will the birthing process no longer solely be at the discretion of the woman experiencing it? Can a father deny a mother pain medications during birth if he is afraid it may affect his child? Should we give women collars with their fetus’s sperm donor’s phone numbers on them so they can truly be marked as the property that they are?

“Hello, yes, I saw your incubator walking past the sushi display at Kroger and just thought you should know. And she was headed for the soft cheeses and deli meat!”

So the scariest thing in the entirety of this act is the implication (or lack of any wording) that talks about what a newly illegal termination of a pregnancy means for the woman. If an abortion, purposefully sought out in a medical facility in Georgia, in another state, in another country, or purposefully performed at home with medication, or if “performed” on accident (that’s a miscarriage or “spontaneous abortion” in accordance with the text), we must be considering it murder since that embryo or fetus is considered a human with 14th Amendment rights. Georgia carries the death penalty by lethal injection (by the way, check out this on lethal injection if you want to ruin your day further) for certain types murder, specifically malice murder which is what this would be considered, or just regular old prison time, up to 30 years. I mean, I guess you couldn’t get pregnant again at least if you went to jail? Well, maybe. Is this what pregnant women have to look forward to? A legal battle on the horizon of every doctor’s visit?

I’m not even talking about people who accidentally get pregnant, however incredibly valid I think their desire for an abortion is (and this is coming from an “oops baby” to an unwed, abandoned mother who could have very easily been aborted). I am talking, in a completely solipsistic way here, about my own damn self. If I manage to get pregnant with a very much-wanted baby, but then develop placental separation, fetal membrane rupture, cardiomyopathy, pulmonary hypertension, renal disease, preeclampsia, cancer, an intrauterine infection, diabetes, a whole host of blood disorders, Marfan’s syndrome, Eisenmanger’s syndrome, or any other life-threatening illness, do I get to discuss the option for abortion with my doctor to save my life just to then go to trial for my life again? Will a doctor even be willing to entertain an abortion with the threat of legal action over their heads? How much distress do I need to be in before abortion is feasible? How close to death must I be pushed for my medical records to be enough of a defense to keep a jury from convicting me of murder? Or to just stay out of a courtroom at all?

And what if I end up miscarrying (which, by the way, is how 10-25% of all pregnancies end)? Do I have a legal battle to face once my once-private medical records are sent to the district attorney? Is every aspect of my life going to be scrutinized to see if I messed up somewhere and spontaneously aborted the legal human in my womb? How far back will these records go? Should women, in general, be extra careful about what they disclose to their doctors now lest some past reported depression or knowledge of sickness be used against us later? Will my husband be held accountable in some way as well for letting me endanger and then kill our child? Will this very blog be used against me in court if I mention somewhere during my pregnancy that I had, say, a Diet Coke or went on a jog? What about a Facebook photo of me with a friend at dinner who decided to indulge in a cocktail? Or that time my neighbor saw me almost trip down my front steps?

And remember that Vanishing Twin Syndrome I mentioned? Will…will the fetus that survives be held accountable for the murder of their sibling? When will the trial be held? In the womb? Will the mother be jailed waiting for the trial? (And can pregnant women be jailed at all since that would affect the 14th Amendment rights to freedom of the embryo?) If found guilty, do we wait for the fetus to be born and then put it to death via lethal injection (because that’s what the “pro-life” government in Georgia does–we kill people)? Or do we put it to death in the womb with say…an abortion?

Or should we just kill the mother before she can unleash a new murderer into the world? I mean, technically it’s her fault, probably, somehow. And maybe her doctor’s too. Because after all, the only solution for murder is…more murder, of course, and we are talking about the most precious thing on this planet: life.

Success Is A Fuckboi

I mused on success recently, and while doing so I had a thought. Success is often personified as a woman, fickle and choosy, mysterious and aloof, other feminine words and synonyms, but I don’t know about all that. Women are only “mysterious” because when we don’t want the thing that men think we should want, they quickly throw up their hands and deem us complicated and irrational, as if we’re actual people or something. So then anything difficult and baffling gets clothed in a slinky black dress, stilettos, and a wink.

Instead of a pearl-adorned, sultry demoness, I, as my post title has already revealed so this isn’t shocking but I needed this sentence to be longer stylistically, like to think of success as a fuckboi.

successisa

There are a number of ways to spell it, but I find “fuckboi” to be the most charming because it really encompasses the meaning of the term: childish, a product of the internet era, and visually both displeasing and appropriate. Fuckbois are the masculine answer, I believe, to thots, and if that doesn’t mean anything to you then we are not exactly in the same boat, but we’re probably rowing adjacent to one another in the ocean that is rapidly evolving internet linguistics.

A fuckboi, as far as I understand, is a boy–specifically not a man by action but likely by legal age–who fucks you, literally and figuratively. He is a “tease” and a “slut” but with a penis (so of course we have to come up with a new term for him), and he also seems to be particularly astute at manipulation with a specialty in gaslighting. A school of naive or historically abused heterosexual women are drawn to the fuckboi despite how poorly he treats everyone else in his life, likely because the fuckboi is often attractive and suffering (see: profiting) from some form of cluster B personality disorder so can reign in his shittier characteristics long enough to convince a sexual conquest that he is “really a nice guy underneath it all” at least long enough to “hit it an quit it,” often multiple times.

Okay, got it? Well, if not, we’re moving on anyway. So I find success similar to the fuckboi, at least in my success-less current state, but having had a few minor highs in the views and likes departments recently (and having one bad experience with a dude who was a fuckboi in every way but looks and name about a decade ago). Both are attractive, especially from afar and in photos. Success has a hard jaw, spends a descent amount of time in the gym, and an impressive “I tried really hard to not look like I’m trying hard” sense of fashion. When he gets a bit closer you might see him stiff a waiter or not hold the elevator for someone clearly running for it, but you excuse those behaviors because god damn, Natalie, have you seen that fucking smirk?

You hear a lot of stuff about Success, how maybe he’s not worth it, he’s had a lot of partners and they didn’t really work out, but your internalized misogyny comes crawling up from the nastier parts of your soul, and you think, “jealousy is a hell of a drug, bitches!” and you put yourself out there. You might even change yourself a little to be more attractive to him. I mean, it’s just a Brazilian blow out, why can’t I reinvent myself, Natalie? God, don’t be so judgmental, you don’t understand how hard it is to maintain curls in this kind of humidity, okay!?

When Success texts you for the first time your heart beats so hard you’re sure he can hear it through the phone even though text messages don’t have sound and no one actually calls anyone else in this economic climate. (I haven’t dated in a long fucking time, so Success probably actually sends you a message on Tinder, but just roll with me okay?) Success isn’t really that funny, but you laugh at his jokes, and he’s not that clever, but you’re willing to dumb yourself down a little for him because God and 8% body fat gave him an inguinal crease to die for, and his profile picture is just a bare torso so it’s not like you can avoid it, Natalie, I mean it’s right there.

But Success is flippant and enigmatic. Everything he says is up for interpretation, and even though the strong, independent woman that you know you are (because Natalie keeps texting you the Venus symbol emoji) is sure you shouldn’t be trying to please him, you find yourself doing things you never thought you would for a boy. Your Instagram feed is somehow both a little racier and also a little more self-loathing than normal, and you get crankier with the other people in your life so when they balk at you, you label them toxic and cut them out. Your normal meter is broken, but you can’t recognize it in all those pieces under Success’s Adidas.

But it all seems worth it when you get a taste of Success (I am so sorry for that image). He’s calling you “babygirl” and “love” and blowing up your phone with so many notifications that you missed when Natalie’s dog had to get surgery because his stomach was actually where all her missing socks were going. You’ve seen what Success can do and you want more, everything else be damned.

Then…it all stops. You don’t want to seem desperate, and frankly neither of you declared yourselves monogamous or that you were in a relationship at all but you’re still you, and you want answers. Looking back at it, Success never really commented on your posts publicly, and his relationship status was already “It’s Complicated” before you even met, but you’ve got proof of something somewhere, don’t you? Are your feelings worth nothing? Success continues to allude you, and when you call him out, he tells you that you’re the crazy one, you’re making this out to be so much more than it was, and you’re not even really that hot, so he was doing you a favor that one time you asked him to come over at 1:00am to “help explain Rick and Morty to you.” And by the way, that photo you posted of yourself on the beach last week isn’t super flattering and you should probably untag him from it.

Now truly alone, you call up Natalie, but she’s too busy with Max the hosiery hound for your inevitable bullshit, so you turn to vaguebooking, quoting song lyrics from when you were a sad-sack teenager, and stalking Success’s social media for a glimmer that maybe he misses you too. Spoiler alert: SUCCESS DON’T MISS NOBODY. (Until it’s convenient for him, but he doesn’t mean it.)

And that’s the clutch, guys. Success really doesn’t miss anyone because it doesn’t need anyone, least of all you or me. Pandering to success long term probably won’t work out, but maybe it’s okay to try because it can be fun and even rewarding if you’re an egotistical fuckhead *clears throat and puts down front-facing camera* Sorry, what were we talking about?

Maybe this analogy isn’t fair because success doesn’t really make choices, that’s the masses (and those controlling mass media to some point, but this isn’t the place for conspiracy theories), but it’s probably as fair as calling success a pretty lady that won’t give you the time of day. The only truth is that success is fickle, but maybe someday if you love yourself enough, you’ll be able to nail down something that suits you better and loves you back. Or something equally mushy and gross.

Also, listen to Natalie every once and a while, okay?

 

Normally I don’t credit the photos I use because I get them from Pexels with specifically no attribution required licenses, but because I’m using this guy’s photo in what can be seen as a negative light, I’d like to say explicitly that I’m not commenting on the subject or the photographer of this photo being an actual Fuckboi™ and would like to credit him. Go give R Fera some love.

A Conversation With Marlow

I had to go to the post office today, so I walked from home to Husband’s work to have lunch with him first. Both his work and the post office are about a mile and a half from home through the city, and it’s legitimately easier and faster to walk than drive (plus bonus steps).

So I set out this morning with plans to “mind-write” (plot out where a couple stories are going) as I went. That didn’t happen.

As I waited for the walk sign to cross the street, I saw a man coming toward me. He was walking during a green light and had traffic stopped, a dick move for sure. I guess I should describe him here: a few inches taller than my 5’4″, low to average weight, black, maybe 40s, and most likely homeless from the state of his clothes and dental hygiene, but not something you’d notice immediately. When he got to my side of the street he said “hello,” and because I am who I am, and I was feeling rather good, I greeted him back. I was, after all, about to go in the exact opposite direction of this man, and the light was just changing. Perfect: the part of me that gives way too many shits about what other people think was appeased by being nice, and the more animalistic, don’t-get-murdered side was content that this potential danger was being avoided.

But what a fool I was because this man didn’t really have anywhere to be and immediately started talking to me. He began referring to me as “mami” (which was really odd since neither of us were Hispanic–later, when I said to him “Mami? I’m no one’s mother,” he told me he was adopting me as his mom), but he wasn’t being overtly sexual or creepy, just started having this conversation.

The first thing I asked him was “Didn’t you just cross this street?” I was on high alert at this point. The direction I was headed was into a neighborhood, no longer on the main road, so there would be way fewer people and cars.

But he responded jovially, “I just need somebody to talk to.”

Here’s the thing, Dear Reader, I would never advocate for anyone to talk to strangers. It really just is not safe. If I were reading this story, I’d be screaming in my head “RUN, BITCH, RUN!” However, I know that in my heart, kindness costs nothing. Still, I laughed and said, “There’s a guy who works at the gas station. He’s probably bored behind that counter all day; you could talk to him!”

He shook that off. “No no,” he said, “That guy, well, promise you would get mad or upset by this?”

“Uh, sure?” Though my word should have meant nothing to this stranger.

“That guy in there, he’s a jerk. He doesn’t uh…well,” he stumbled over this, not because he didn’t have the words for it, but because he didn’t have the words for me to explain it, “I get the feeling he doesn’t like people of the African American persuasion.”

I had a tiny conversation in my head at that moment. Because I was already over analyzing everything anyway and planning how not to die, I really thought about what he was saying, how, and, why. Why would it offend me, a white woman, if he told me the Middle Eastern guy at the gas station was racist? Wouldn’t he know better than anyone? Did he expect me to argue with him? Was I really in the position to be argumentative?

“I can see that,” I finally told him, “A lot of people are.” I thought back to seeing This Is America for the first time this morning.

So we started to have a conversation. Well, he started to have a conversation at me. I’m not good with new people, even when I’m fairly certain they won’t kill me, so you can imagine my discomfort, but when he reiterated he just needed someone to talk to, I decided I could be that person. I’ve been practicing my whole life at being a listener. Even though I knew the conversation had an ulterior motive, and it was essentially a lie, though more like a mask. Heck, maybe it was true. Does anyone talk–really talk–to homeless people?

First we made small talk, and he used the time to comment on me (this is where we discussed how I wasn’t anybody’s mother), that I was talking to him and he was shocked, and then asked me what was wrong with my shoulder. I’m fairly pale and have freckles from years of sun damage, but he was actually referencing my acne. (It’s really blossomed in the last few months, but thankfully only on my back.) I explained to him what it was, and assured him that no, it was not contagious when he asked. I laughed because here was this man, pointing out something that’s pretty gross and should make me self conscious but I weirdly didn’t feel bad about it, and he wasn’t making me feel bad. It was just a thing we were discussing.

So I played therapist. “What’s going on? Why are you having a hard time? Let’s get to the crux of this.” (So you will go away was the underlying message though delivered with a smile.)

“Well, now, I don’t want to scare you,” he tells me.

Too late, I think.

“I just spent 12 years incarcerated for a crime I didn’t commit.”

I didn’t want to know the specifics, so instead we discussed the lack of a rehabilitation process in our criminal justice system and the ways the country uses mental health and psych wards as weapons instead of helpful tools. This stranger was well-spoken (despite not really knowing what acne was), clear, easy to understand, and didn’t strike me as someone who’d been to jail. Of course, the tale he told me was so he could get to the point: he was down on his luck. But we had the conversation nonetheless.

This morning when I got dressed, I grabbed a pair of shorts out of the clean clothes basket and found there was a five dollar bill in the pocket. I very rarely have cash, but on this day I actually had that five in my pocket. Of course I was going to give it to him, this was ultimately what he wanted and we both knew that. So I told him this story: I have $5 that I’m going to give you, but isn’t it strange because I only just found it this morning and this is the day we meet.

He looked close to tears, and he hugged me. This was way too much for me, and I tried explaining to him “I don’t hug strangers” because of “things that have happened to me in the past.” This, he tells me, hurts his feelings. The feminist in me wanted to have the “your feelings aren’t more important than my safety” conversation, but I hadn’t been murdered yet and I wanted to stay not dead which is an even bigger comment on feminism without anything being said, so I just moved on.

“What’s your astrological sign?” my new friend asked me.

“Guess.”

This, like many things I said to him, made him laugh uproariously. I was “a mess, girl, just a mess” but also “a firecracker” and “full of surprises.” He guessed cancer or libra, and I told him “Wow, I was born right on the cusp of cancer and leo.” He was very excited to have gotten it almost right. “Okay, you do me now, what do you think I am?”

“Well, I don’t know much about the other signs, just myself,” which is mostly true, but he insisted. “Okay, sagittarius.”

“My sister’s a sagittarius!” he throws his hands up, “But me, I’m aquarius.”

“Hm,” I smile, “Yeah, I can see that, like the water, meandering and adaptive.”

“You,” he points at me, “You know more than you let on. You’re the kind of person who won’t let other people know that you’re superior to them. You bring things down to other people’s level.” I’m just laughing at this, and he goes on to tell me how cool I am, and I say to him, “You’d be the first person to ever say that to me.”

“Listen, Ashley,” because at this point we’d traded names, “When someone tells you they think you’re cool, you’re supposed to say ‘I know.'”

And all I can do is laugh because I very frequently do just that. I’m always jokingly full of myself with people I know, but in talking to strange men I’ve learned that being humble and demure can save your life, and here this person is who, by all rights, I should be afraid of, teaching me to do a thing that really isn’t safe for women to do, and it was all so preposterous.

We parted ways soon after that after I insisted I had to go meet my husband who he definitely didn’t believe existed. Enough other things happened to write a whole series of blogs (specifically a blog called “There’s A Special Circle Of Hell For Women Who Don’t Help Other Women But I Guess That’s Pretty Sexist Too”), but I’ve expended enough energy on this encounter for one day. The point? There isn’t one. I’m in no way advocating speaking to strangers, ignoring your gut, being kind because it’s free. I’m also not advocating against those things. What happened today was rare, but probably only because we don’t let those things happen, but we certainly can’t be blamed for disallowing them.

But don’t get me wrong: this isn’t a feel good story. When I walked home I prayed not to run into him again which I admittedly feel guilty about: our conversation had the potential to be very pleasant had I not been riddled with anxiety. And I didn’t die, right? But really, how fucking stupid is it I felt guilty? No one has a right to anyone else’s time ever. All I wanted was to think about what was about to happen to Lorelei and the gang, but even on the way home I couldn’t because I was on even higher alert plus chastising myself for the whole thing which was even dumber: I had very little control over that whole situation.

So I mean, I don’t know, Dear Reader, take from this what you will. Sorry I didn’t say “fuck” very much.

Nothing In Between

I unabashedly label myself a feminist. I’ve experienced some terrible treatment due to my gender, including when I was pretty young, but I know I’ve grown up in what is historically one of the best countries/times for women, so I’ve been wondering how I became so passionate. Injustice has always bothered me, and there’s never really one thing that contributes wholly to a personality trait or belief, but I’ve come to the conclusion that a big part my feminism’s origin story is rooted in one kinda strange thing: 90s music.

The first CD I ever owned was Meredith Brooks’ Blurring the Edges. (Well, that and the first Pure Moods album. I was a weird kid.) I was 10 when “Bitch” was at the top of the Billboard charts, and I knew every word. I listened to the entire album on repeat which came to be my biggest pastime, and I absorbed the words. I say absorbed like some pretentious douchebag because it was more than just memorizing what she was saying, even though a lot of it I couldn’t really understand (what 10 year old really gets the complexity of the Pollyanna principle?), but these concepts of wanting more, wanting to be heard, struggling against this force that didn’t have a name but constantly held you down, that was all there, and it helped me to later understand feelings that cropped up when some old guy catcalled me at thirteen or when someone I was supposed to respect insisted that women were literally less human than men in (their) god’s eyes.

Those sentiments were pretty prolific in a lot of the music at the time. Squashed between the 80s and 00s, two arguably similar decades that seemed to follow this borderline vacuous, we’re-gonna-live-forever, corporate-controlled mindset, the 90s define the word alternative. But where the 70s acted like a transition from the break in conservatism that was the 60s into the much more progressive 80s, the 90s didn’t ultimately do the same thing. There’s so much growth in pop culture during this time, but then the 00s took a huge step, not necessarily back, but in a totally different direction.

So I did some digging through my old CDs and with the help of Sirius XM’s 90s on 9, I’ve come up with I guess what you can call a playlist which I present to you with a tiny bit of commentary. Forgive some of these being from the 00s – my musical education has always been anachronistic.

spice-girls-say-youll-be-there
If I split myself into five people, these would be them.

 

(The titles below are all links but apparently my CSS or whatever isn’t setup to show you that because that makes total sense? Why would I want my reader to know some random words are actually a link? Aren’t WordPress themes just THE BEST?)

  • Meredith Brooks – “Bitch
  • Shawn Colvin – “Sunny Came Home
    • Shawn refers to this as a “murder ballad” which is just beautiful.
  • Spice Girls – “Say You’ll Be There
    • I could easily write a thesis on these ladies. Despite what people would consider problematic about them today, they taught me about girl power and for that I’m eternally grateful.
  • Natalie Imbruglia – “Torn
    • “Torn” is actually a cover, but there really isn’t any pop music that doesn’t owe something to the Scandinavians
  • Sheryl Crow – “If It Makes You Happy
    • Something about being caged and on exhibit.
  • Paula Cole – “Where Have All The Cowboys Gone
    • Another of my very first CDs was This Fire which I was totally shocked to see a naked Paula on the cover. I’d seen a lot of naked women by the time I was 10 because, well, they’re everywhere, but something about this cover didn’t scream sexualization to me. I can’t confirm this, but I always felt she chose that image.
  • Imani Coppola – “Legend of a Cowgirl
    • If you only watch one of these videos, please make it this one. The gender subversion is amazing.
  • No Doubt – “Just A Girl
    • “Don’t you think I know / Exactly where I stand” has always stood out (ha) to me in a world where everyone will tell you just how invalid your own experiences are.
  • Fiona Apple – “Criminal
    • I was asked by someone who knew me when I was young how I got to be so morbid and obsessed with creepy things now, and I think the answer is the demon eyes in this video.
  • Jewel – “Who Will Save Your Soul
    • Jewel wrote this at 16 when she was hitchhiking across America. WTF.
  • Alanis Morisette – “You Oughta Know
    • Duh.