If you heard me screaming yesterday, I apologize. It's just a habit I have when a spider lands on my head and tries to bite my brain. The screaming part is an involuntary primal call I make to anyone within earshot so they can rush over and start swatting. Not that I can't kill spiders myself; I just can't kill them when they happen to be on my head. It's an aim thing. Plus, you're gonna wanna get the spider off you before you kill it, to minimize personal contact with the splatter factor, and if it's on your head, someone's gotta come flick it off and then chase it out to the street so it can be run over by a trash truck.
But in my case, no one came, so I simply jerked about on my front lawn like a nerve-gas victim, screaming. Fortunately, screaming and jerking around is nothing unusual in my neighborhood. In fact, right now there is a girl screaming down the street. I can't tell if she's insane or simply having an animated cell phone conversation, but there it is. No one is coming to her rescue, either. She keeps screaming, "My shit is good. I know my shit is good."
It reminds me of the time 10 years ago when I took my friend Jim to a house I intended to buy in the Old Fourth Ward. He was already wary by the time we passed the second pile of abandoned tires, but then we had to stop half a block away because there was a gaggle of screaming women in the middle of the street. One was holding another back, who kept hollering, "You tell that bitch he ain't ever gonna have ass like my ass!" Then she turned around and whacked herself on her spandex. "My ass, bitch. My ass!"
The house I wanted was in sight, so I pointed it out to Jim, who calmly turned to me and said, "Nice knowing you."
I looked at him, perplexed. "What?" I said. "These screaming bitches? Big deal."
Seriously, big deal. I'm here to tell you that in all my travels and experiences, I have never been successfully physically attacked by a screaming bitch, because at least they alert you and make their intentions known. That is why I'd rather live here than in England, where the bitches, except for a few grand exceptions, are quiet. Once, while I was in college there at Oxford, I somehow crossed paths with an elderly gentlewoman inside a bank, who felt perfectly within her right to clout me on the head with her cane. It confused me so much I simply gawked back at her, certain it was an accident, but she raised her cane again and I had to tear out of there.
I still don't know what I did to raise her ire, but to this day it's a little disquieting to recall. People really don't expect handsome society ladies to walk into banks and start beating on people with their canes. I could have called out for help, but I understood intrinsically that no one would believe me, so I just got out of the way. Besides, abuse is very embarrassing when you are the subject of it, which is why the truly abused -- unless they hopefully learn otherwise -- rarely speak up.
But I can't throw England completely under the truck. On the same street as the bank, there was a disheveled old maniac who sat at her window every morning and shrieked the most creative insults at everyone who passed underneath. Her place was across from my bus stop, so her wrath was unavoidable. "Godless whore!" she screamed to me and my friends. It was a great way to start the day. I used to scream back at her, but my friend Clay, another American, clapped his hand over my mouth one day and begged me not to disrespect her.
"Jesus God," I laughed at him. "She just called you a weak-kneed nutless wanker, and I can't talk back?"
But he pleaded with me. He explained that she was the aunt of his landlord, and how she suffered in the concentration camps of Austria during the second World War, and now here she was with a weakened mind, left to scream verbal abuses from her balcony until the end of her days.
"Really?" I asked, mortified, near tears.
"No," he said. "But it could be."
I punched him. But still, after that I never yelled back at the lady. Clay's words had resonated with me, and I came to the further conclusion that people in pain, for whatever reason, often seek to intensify it by abusing others, in hopes it will garner an agonizing retaliation.
"Godless whore!" the lady shrieked from her window, and I could see it in her eyes, even from across the street, the rawness from whatever memories the cracks in her broken mind had uncovered. "Filthy godless whore!" she screamed. No one responded. The crowd was thoroughly silent and awkward in the spew.
"That be me," I finally said. "I'm the filthy godless whore."
"No," said another, "I am."
"No, I'm the filthy godless whore," laughed another, and soon, there we all were, a bunch of filthy godless whores laughing until the bus came and took us away.
Hollis Gillespie is the author of Confessions of a Recovering Slut and Other Love Stories and Bleachy-Haired Honky Bitch: Tales from a Bad Neighborhood. Her commentaries can be heard on NPR's "All Things Considered."
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