Like every clichéd tragi-romance, we met at a bar.
It was Margarita Wednesdays over at Panzn’s and I was alone because my friend had cancelled last minute with some half-assed excuse (“My cat OD’d on Xanax again and now I gotta find a rehab that’ll take her insurance”). Not wanting to seem like I wasn’t the independent woman I made myself out to be, I went out.
The night was proving to be a dud because by eleven I was barely buzzed and I was getting pissed off watching the only bartender there shamelessly flirt with some bored-looking Latina at the end of the bar instead of paying attention to my money.
The worst part is I would have continued to complain had the guy next to me not started snapping at the server and screaming.
“Hey! Assholio! You’ve been trying for ten minutes; she ain’t interested. Hey!”
His abrasiveness and impatient snapping garnered nothing. The bartender continued to ignore him and, by proxy, the rest of us drunks.
Inspired by his bumptiousness, I stepped on top of the metal pipe at the bottom of the counter, lifted myself up with the help of my heels and cried out in Spanish, “Ella es non va a joderte, pendejo (She’s not going to fuck you, fucker)!”
The woman he was harassing burst out laughing, effectively proving my point. Embarrassed, the bartender nearly ran away from the woman, towards us drunks and served a record-breaking number of margaritas.
The man next to me was speechless. Almost. “I have no idea what you just said but I can tell what swearing sounds like in other languages,” he said, audibly impressed.
I sipped on my liquored-up slurpie, letting off just a small smile but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t infatuated. He had light blue eyes, a chubby pair of lips and a voice that sounded like the heave and sigh that follows an orgasm.
“That?” I scoffed, when I finally let up for air. “That was kindergarten cursing. You should hear the guy who runs Karaoke night. He’s got a mouth that would make Castro cry like a little bitch.”
He laughed, which I knew he would because I’ve used that same joke on men before.
“You must come here a lot, then.”
“I live here. For six bucks I can eat like a king, drink like a fish, PLUS they got a pinball machine right outside the ladies bathroom.”
He chuckled this time. “Man, you make this place sound like paradise. I always drove by and just thought it was some crap shack bar that codes never got around to shutting down.”
“You talk shit but what made you come, then?”
“Eh.” He cocked his head back to a table out to the left, past the main support beam that took up ten percent of the dance floor and an oil painting replica of Las Meninas, to where a handful of white guys in collared shirts sat around laughing at nothing. “Some guy at work’s last day. He wanted cheap booze and burritos so we took him here.”
I turn my head to look at the table just so I can lure him into looking at my side profile and my sexy-as-hell collarbones. In the corner of my eye I sensed a lingering glance, but when I turn my head back I pretend as if I didn’t almost catch him objectifying me. He’s merely smiling.
I smile back. “Shouldn’t you be going back to your office party?”
He lets out a laugh/scoff combination. “I did my time. If I wanted to be socially obligated into buying someone a shit-ton of drinks, I’d rather it be you.”
Damn… That was smooth. Even if that was a ready-to-go pickup line at least it had a little bit of social commentary attached to it. Looking back on it, maybe that’s where he tricked me. Then again it could have been that voice or the eyes or the way he called that asshole bartender ‘assholio’. I don’t know anymore what worked on me. All I remember is when I said next:
“Hey, I don’t like getting stuff for free.” (Which is probably the biggest lie I’ve ever told someone; I love getting stuff for free) “So why don’t you buy me a couple drinks and I’ll teach you how to curse out Señor Puta over there?”
There was something odd in the way he looked at me after I said I didn’t like handouts that I wish I would’ve caught onto. But I didn’t. Instead I watched his eyes grow soft and I watched his hand stretch out to shake mine.
I don’t know what propelled me to give him my full name but I did. “I’m Jeanette, by the way. Jeanette Sobriquet.”
He gave me a wolfish smile. “I knew you were a gringo.” (I shoulda corrected his ass and told him ‘it’s gringa’; alas, what life doesn’t beget regret?) “James Woods.”
I made a face which he, needless to say, expected.
I shrug, bending my face down to reach my straw to a drink that was by then just a watery tequila pond. “Too bad. I guess I’ll just have to get drunk with a hot stranger instead of a hot celebrity’s kid now.”
James gives me another wolf-like grin and I wish I could have told you that was when I figured out his secret, that I smelled it right then and there and bolted out of that seedy little Mexican-styled bar. But I didn’t. I did the exact opposite. I got moderately drunk off three pomegranate margaritas, verbally abused a twenty-two-year-old bartender for my own amusement, and then went back to James Woods’ house where we feverishly fucked until 4:30 in the morning.
I wish I knew back then what I know now. But I didn’t. Which is why my shitty story goes on.
A couple days pass and it’s the morning after we just spent another (sexy) night together. I’m sitting at the kitchen table, staring at my phone, scrolling through news, memes and adorable baby animal videos. James is beside me, doing the same thing. It was a peaceful moment.
James’ laughter was the first to break this moment. At first I didn’t think anything of it until my left eye got nosy and travelled west to see what he was laughing at. It was a Fox News segment. The very sight of which made my chest and my uterus seize and burn. But I kept positive.
“Whatchu watchin’?” I inquired, impersonating mild curiosity.
“Oh,” he said laughing, “just this news reel from yesterday. Check it out. Clinton’s trying to blame the FBI director for losing the election.” He maneuvers his phone for my vision’s benefit but it doesn’t matter because he’s talking over the anchors anyway. “What a cunt. She rigged the primaries, fucked up Benghazi; she literally gets away with murder but she’ll still have the nerve to go on TV.”
I make a small laugh but I’m holding back my disappointment. I can’t believe I’m screwing a conservative.
At first I tried to dismiss this newfound fact. It’s whatever, so what, we differ in politics? Politics is just a one-dimensional view of a person’s personality; a benign trait no more interesting or revealing than announcing your zodiac sign. It’s not as if politics is an indicator of a person’s world views or personal beliefs…
My thoughts were interrupted by a knock on the door. James stopped what he was doing to go answer it. It’s the UPS guy and James is audibly excited to see him. He comes back to the kitchen table with a package in his hands and it barely touches the table before he’s using his car keys to slice open the top flaps.
“Oh sweet!” he cries once the box is open.
I had no idea why he was so excited. It was just a pair of plain white, cheap-looking hotel slippers. The kind even I wouldn’t want for free. But then he turned them around for me to see. Embroidered on the toes. A single name. In black standard print.
After I found out James Woods was a Trump supporter, I assumed I could change him. That our incredibly satisfying sex life would be enough to alter thirty-three years of independent thought creation.
I, in my dick-obsessed naivety, honestly believed I could convert his socially asserted white supremacy and time-test values into post-modern tolerance and intersectional feminism. If only we just fucked and talked long enough, that would cure him.
Alas… my optimism was short-sighted.
Three weeks into our relationship and we’re pulled up on the right-hand shoulder of Route 8 South and we’re going at it like two gay teens at a conversion therapy camp.
We’re in the backseat and I imagine now that the ferocity with which we were humping must have made my car look like a defected dryer from the outside, but that still didn’t stop me from being shocked at the sight and sound of an officer tapping his flashlight against my back window.
We froze mid-thrust and turned our heads to see a dark-brown face in a dark blue uniform blaring a horrible white light into the car.
I didn’t have a chance to get off (out) of James’ lap when he rolled down the window and said, without shame:
I balked; I was horrified at being caught acting like a whore but it was all he could do not to high-five the dude.
“Good evening,” the officer replied, looking and sounding wholeheartedly unamused. “Who’s the owner of this vehicle?”
“Uh, mhm, I am.”
“Ma’am, you realize that the road shoulder is for emergency stops only?”
At this point I’m too mortified to make out anything intelligible but James has no problem speaking on my behalf.
“Ha, Officer, if we waited any longer this car would have looked like a crime scene.”
His face doesn’t change in the slightest at James’ crude joke but his tone got real strict when he said to him, “Sir, I was talking to the owner of the vehicle.”
At once, all at once, I watched from the corner of my eye as the mirth drained from James’ eyes and was abruptly replaced by an icy, unforgiving chill.
For a moment, James locked the officer into this new stare. But the officer was undaunted.
“License and registration, please.”
I did my best to stretch my shirt below my pelvis in order to reach forward into my glove compartment but James’ hands halted me, grabbing me by my hips, in order to keep me in place.
“What’s your problem?” he demands.
“James—” I began but he talks over me.
“Why are you turning this into a fucking big deal? You know we were just fucking. Now you’re going to run my girlfriend’s plates like she’s some fucking criminal?” (But I’m not a criminal and that was standard procedure. I try to tell him it’s no big deal but I’m talked over again) “We weren’t doing anything wrong.”
“You mean besides indecent exposure, commission of lewd acts, failure to cooperate with a police officer. Besides all that, yeah, you’re a regular Johnny Law.”
None of what he says fazes James. “Fuck off,” he hisses, unimpressed.
The officer gives him a hard look before the door clicks open and he orders him to step out of the car.
At this point I’ve shimmed myself from his lap and I’m trying to apologize on his behalf but James cuts me off, looks the officer dead in the eyes and tells him:
“The fuck I look like getting arrested by some big-lipped nigger.”
I feel the literal wind being stolen from me. It’s enough to make me clutch at my own throat. Whatever shame I felt earlier cannot compare to hearing him speak the unforgivable and, worst of all, explicitly to this man’s face.
But the officer’s expression doesn’t alter a bit and his voice isn’t any different when he pulls out his handcuffs and tells him, “You’re under arrest.”
I let out a sharp-pitched gasp but James scoffs at him, even as he’s pulled out of the car with no pants on. “For what? Calling you a dirty little spook? I can say whatever the fuck I want. First Amendment, right?”
“Free speech doesn’t cover hate speech,” he replies coldly, as the handcuffs are snapped onto James’ colorless wrists.
The officer is dragging him away, reciting his Miranda Rights along the way and that’s when the hatefulness gets louder. James’ voice sounds like a bat having a heart attack now. He’s screaming. I’m sobbing. I want to apologize, sincerely, deeply, mortally, say I’m sorry to the officer. I stick my head out the window, I’m babbling, I’m trying desperately to undo. But the officer doesn’t even look at me, doesn’t respond to me, and I’m certain James’ hate is drowning out my apologies. But when I try to get out of the car, the officer snaps his entire neck at me and cuts that shit down quickly:
“Ma’am! Do—not—step—out—of—the—vehicle! Do. NOT. Make me arrest you too!”
“Too?” I’m petrified by that word, by the implication of inclusiveness. “I’m—I’m not—” But I don’t finish what I want to say.
I’ll never forget the way the officer’s brown eyes were hard-pressed onto mine and within them I saw no sympathy for me. No warmth or optimism or fellowship. Because it didn’t matter if I had black friends or mixed relatives. It didn’t matter if I loved Toni Morrison. It didn’t matter if I voted for Bernie Sanders. And it sure as hell didn’t matter if I was just this embarrassed girlfriend of an ignorant man.
I was just a white woman unapologetically overlooking her boyfriend’s white supremacy just because his racist views had no consequences for me.
That officer doesn’t look at me again as he reaches in his car and pulls out a walkie-talkie to alert his coworkers. James continues to scream psychotically in the backseat, something about Trump, something about Africa, something about Benghazi… I couldn’t tell you what after that. Every sound that caught my attention just overwhelmed me with revulsion. I ended up just sitting there in the backseat, well after the patrol car peeled off and James was taken into custody.
I cried there on the shoulder of the road with no pants on for who knows how long. Because I was utterly disgusted with myself. Because, sure, I wasn’t okay with racism. But I was willing to fuck it.