On this particular day everyone in town seemed edgy, their nerves run a little raw. I blamed it on the eclipse of the moon. I figured out early in my city-to-country education that to really capture the general underlying social attitudes behind the idyllic rural mask one need only go as far as the local grocery store. For steamy gossip, or simply to grasp the overall local zeitgeist, just roll your cart up and down aisles five or six and fill up on all the juicy bits you’ll need for the coming week. The first real test in country living is to learn how to not become the hot topic of discussion beside the gherkin pickles.
On this day it ended up being my turn to take the garbage into town. Beside said grocery store a once-empty gravel lot has been converted into a one-stop, second hand bric-a-brac and eternal soul salvation station. A dump truck is decorated with discarded and salvaged prints and castaway art. It’s also the local drop-off for trash.
Whether moon or repressed dysfunction, that day my ever-so-nice gay boy gloves came flying off and I found myself in the middle of a spiritual bitch scrap. We scarcely know each other. She’s the local missionary of Jesus and trash. She’s a buxom, 30 pound black plastic bag swinging, born again Christian; a real bull of a woman who found God at 50.
She places the weekly Bible quote in the local paper, the cost of which must amount to her annual tithe. Each month I briefly visit with her while dropping off my non-recyclables. We chat. I give her two dollars. We smile and I gingerly drive away. Except this time.
The conversation began pleasantly enough. I complimented her hair. She had just had it done up for her birthday. (We were both originally born under the sign of Taurus). It was a gift from a friend which included the hairdo and an off-island trip to see the movie The Passion of Christ. Not having seen the film but having read the reviews, I asked her if she had not perhaps found it too violent. ‘No!’ she said. She then accused Canadians of being spineless cowards because we didn’t flock to the film in the same zealous manner our Americans cousins did.
I irrationally countered with, “Well, we weren’t cowards by refusing to go to war in Iraq.”
“That’s exactly why Canadians are cowards!” she bellowed.
With as much indignation as my inner gay bitch could muster I snapped back: “So your God believes in killing innocent children, women and men?”
To which she replied rather coldly, “When the cause is just.”
Our horns were locked. At that moment we were oblivious to the small crowd frozen in place, grocery bags hanging loosely by their sides. The eyes, ears and loose lips of those eager for the next story leaned further our way. Forgetting I’m not even a Christian, I yelled out my own fabricated Bible quote.
“My Jesus said LAY DOWN YOUR WEAPONS!”
Then she yelled hers, “My Jesus said LAY DOWN YOUR LIFE!”
The screaming match ended there. I jumped into my truck, slammed the door and screeched out of the parking lot. With nostrils flaring and onlooker’s eyes bulging I made a dusty getaway.
I was shocked, horrified that I exposed what lay behind the mask. I had slipped, having never before so blatantly lost my composure in public-except for that time when my coke-addicted boyfriend and I leapt out of a Toronto cab to have a screaming match in the middle of Bay street at 4 am. At least then the make-up sex made the mortification worthwhile.
Being superstitious I knew I had to return. As karma would have it, I had forgotten to empty the recycling bin. So after gearing down my heart rate to once again acceptable levels, I did a U-turn and humbly returned to the ugly scene of the very public incident.
As I drove back I kept telling myself, “I’m not a raving lunatic. I’m not!” But when the earth’s shadow blocks out the light of the moon I tend to question my motives more closely. I slowed down enough to think about how I often shield my anger from others. As a queer person I am chronically conditioned to let my personal value system be eclipsed by some homogeneous, violent worldview bent on promoting fear and attack. And yet that is exactly how I had reacted. There had to be a better way to relate with my trash mistress than entrenching myself in some ideological polarity. I needed to find a peaceful way to continue our monthly exchange of money for garbage, no matter what our moral positions might be.
So I returned, apologized for my heated words and told her I respected and cared about her. We parted with a hug and our smiles carefully returned. Opinions didn’t change but social decorum returned. This time as I drove away I felt as if I were floating on a kind of religious high road.
Bless her, I thought, for being so accepting of my apology.
As the moon began to wane however, so did my inflated perception of what happened. Despite how wrong she was I found myself even more troubled by my own defensive queer-smart attitude of superiority, my own particular brand of fundamentalism.
If fundamentalism is fueled by fear and a blind, literal version of a chosen truth I begin to admit that much of my reactive queer values still smell of fear. Even if I’m only ten percent wrong, I believe I am still 100 percent responsible for that ten percent. This helps me make a margin of space for the diverse perceptions of others. Even if they believe I am going to hell in a garbage bag.