Mary and I slowly float towards shore. Time to go home, make dinner, eat outside in the shade to avoid the heavy heat of the house. After a long day of high temperatures, an evening dip in the lake at the local beach cools us down to a sane and functional level.
A young girl plays in the shallows. She has a bucket and trowel and is as happy as could be. Her people are grouped together in the parking area talking and keeping an eye on her. A few seconds after we start heading towards shore, 0ne female member of the group comes down and insists that the girl get out of the water, demands it. The girl doesn’t want to – she doesn’t see any reason why she has to get out. They continue to argue as Mary and I come closer and closer. Finally, the woman tells the girl, “come on, your mother wants to tell you something”. She grabs the girl and takes her up to the group of people hanging out in the parking area. By the time Mary and I make it out of the lake, the girl is held tightly against the legs of one woman in the group.
Mary and I dry ourselves off and head for the car. I feel just a bit tense… it is probably nothing, just chance, yet the timing of that child’s retrieval feels deliberate. I have avoided staring at the group to assess them, but as we pass within 10 feet of their circle I turn and smile, trying to make eye contact with at least one member to assuage my suspicion. Nope, no one will look at us. They are all busy deliberately not seeing us.
As Mary and I drive home, we chat. I almost don’t mention it, but do. I say, “I hate to be overly suspicious, but it felt almost like those people called their child in as soon as we headed to shore. Wanting to keep their kid away from the scary dykes or something.” Mary confirms my suspicion; it felt like that to her, too.
Life continues, and I don’t think anything of it. People can be weird.
A few days after that strange experience, Mary and I return to that same local beach to have an evening picnic. Tuesday is volleyball day, so some people play at the public net and others chat in a group in the parking lot. It’s late enough to be shady, so Mary and I hunt down one of the last sunny areas with a bit of sand. We spread our blanket and carefully lay out what is an impressive variety of food to enjoy. There is left over potato salad, salami and cheddar cheese, bread and butter, olives and grapes, salmon and goat cheese. Quite a treat.
Mary and I chat, enjoy the beautiful vision of the lake and nearby islands as the evening falls.
But neither of us can relax. The tension between my shoulder blades won’t go away. It isn’t hard to pinpoint the source of our unease. The group of 20-somethings in the parking lot, behind us. They make some noise, laugh, and aren’t overly boisterous. But they don’t feel harmless to me. They feel unfriendly… hostile… a dark cloud roiling behind us, watching us.
My years of experience tell me that they aren’t dangerous at the moment. Usually, dangerous people want to engage, they want to talk or trade verbal jabs. A group of apes working themselves up to physical battle. It’s too early for them to be drinking, or drunk, which also makes things safer. But it’s hard to relax, to rest and recharge in the face of this unspoken hostility.
Eventually, we give up on relaxing by the beach and go home. There is no point in staying in a place – even a public place – if we can’t relax. We are both so exhausted from our day.
It’s not physical or verbal violence that is the problem during daylight hours, it is the unspoken hostility, the feeling of not being welcome, the lack of neutrality. Hard to put your finger on, but undeniably, unequivocally there.
I know what neutral indifference feels like. A few weeks ago, I went to the same beach by myself. I sat under a tree to get some shade and crocheted. Later, I took a dip in the lake. A white couple in their 50s sat about 30 feet away from me in the blazing sun. Not speaking to each other, not reading, truly sunbathing with all their hearts. I’m guessing they would have preferred that I wasn’t there, nor the dozen children and handful of adults further down the beach. I would have preferred it if they weren’t there, as they interrupted my clear view of the water. But. It’s a public beach so you deal with other people closer than you prefer and maintain civility. I did not experience one drop of hostility, one moment of unsurity, one second of tension. That, my friends, is appropriate neutral indifference in a public place. Those two trips with Mary were not neutral, and not indifferent… not at all.
And it goes on.
This past weekend, Mary and I went to a different town beach near our home to spend the afternoon – she in the sun, me in the shade. It can be tricky to find just the right place to put ourselves when we want to be near each other, yet both get what we want. That beach is generally okay, but we did briefly interface with another cloud of hostility. This time it was a group of people in their 40s and 50s sitting in camp chairs at the top of the bank. In search of the perfect shady/sunny spot, Mary and I wandered into their territory. Once we got within 75 feet or so of them, they stared and I again could feel that familiar black cloud of hostility. Under their unfriendly gazes, I knew we couldn’t relax, so we continued to search and found another place, out of their line of sight. As time went on, other people moved within their bubble of judgment, but they didn’t seem to have any problems. Of course, they were all heterosexual couples, or parents alone with children. Funny, that.
To sum up, our responses so far this summer to unspoken hostility at the beach:
- This past weekend, we avoided and found a different space that suited us fine
- The picnic, we left and didn’t get what we wanted.
- The kid, we ignored and pretended nothing was going on.
I guess these are acceptable responses. Appropriate, adult, non-inflammatory responses. In truth, though, older and post head injury, it hurts. I cry, feel frustrated, wounded by the dislike emanating from people I don’t even know, simply because I love a lady instead of a fellow.
I don’t want to avoid the beach because of this unspoken hostility. I don’t want my summer days to be impacted by others bullshit. Who the fuck are they to make my life difficult?
But they do. And they aren’t going away. Welcome to summer in Vermont.