R*E*S*P*E*C*T and the Aluminum Baseball Bat (Part I)

            I am currently absent one home health aide.  Whether she quit or I fired her is a toss up.

            Reduced to its essence, the exchange was as follows:

Me:  Next, pick up the stuff.

Her:  Pick it up yourself.

Me:  (Voice raised) If I could do it myself, I wouldn’t have asked you to do it!

Her:  Don’t raise your voice to me!

Me:  Look, please try to understand that I’m in awful pain here–.

Her:  I don’t care!  That doesn’t matter!  Don’t you raise your voice to me!  You treat me with respect!

            At which point various other things were said, including repetitions that I was to treat her with respect.  She may have accused me of treating her like a slave—oh, yes, by the way, she’s a black woman.

            On my part, I don’t know what I said but I’m sure she could tell you.

            Screaming in pain and outrage, I threw a pen at her.  She, in turn, told me I could get my own damn laundry out of the dryer, which, if I could, I wouldn’t have aides two hours every day.

            I told her to get out as she was telling me that she was leaving, and then she yelled at me that I was a lonely, racist bitch.  Actually, she called me a lonely bitch several times, only adding the racist thing once.

            Well, that hurt.  Not the racist thing—I’m not racist, as she was quick to tell everyone within range a couple weeks ago when there was an issue with a bus driver.  What hurt was being called lonely, because I am that.  All of us here at Happy Valley are lonely.  HUD housing for the elderly and disabled is a bad place.  In this city, thousands of us are warehoused in these facilities because nobody really cares about us.  We know that and it hurts all the time.  Nevertheless, we get by and do the best we can.

            And it’s not just our problem.  A study done a decade ago established that, on average, people identified themselves as having three close friends.  The study was repeated last year.  Now, on average, people only identify two close friends.  That’s just the way it is.  Everybody’s getting lonelier by the decade.

            But here’s the other side of the story:  Crystal has zero tolerance for solitude.  I read a couple books a week; she hasn’t read a book in a couple years.  I can entertain myself in silence.  Crystal is always on her way to visit someone, or just come from visiting someone.  There are always a crowd of people in her apartment or sitting on the front stoop or in the truck parked in the driveway.

            This brings us to the story about the aluminum baseball bat.

            Crystal’s boyfriend’s truck was sitting in the driveway.  Raphael was not sitting in the truck—he knew better than to “disrespect” Crystal—but his friend was sitting in the truck and so was the local crack ’ho.  For reasons no longer remembered, Crystal and the ho got into it, and Crystal ordered the ho off “her” property—fact is, it’s a rented property in Raphael’s name but Crystal is pretty territorial. 

The ho basically told Crystal to fuck off.  In Crystal’s eyes, she had been disrespected.  Her response is to force what she calls “respect.”  Crystal went inside and got her aluminum baseball bat and came back outside prepared to do business.  The ho was out of the truck, on the other side of the street, holding a knife.  The ho decided not to engage Crystal and her aluminum baseball bat, and slunk off.

            I sat there and listened to this story, and was bemused.  On the one hand, I am well aware that among the black folks on the Southside, it is not uncommon for people to settle differences with physical violence.  On the other hand, this is the first time I’ve actually known a woman who had a baseball-bat weapon.  I accept it—I have learned something new—and the conversation goes on.

Later, I am recounting the conversation to my friend, who not only is white but also has lived a life of affluence.  When I get to the part about the aluminum baseball bat, my friend gasps in horror, and I see it through her eyes—which would also be the eyes of my birth sisters and co-congregants at the church.  They are a pretty naive bunch.

            My friend really and truly cannot imagine owning an aluminum attack bat.  The wealthy white place she comes from uses words as weapons of violence.  Physical attack is, well, so déclassé, don’t you know?  The upper-class maintains appearances above all else, and there shall be no appearance of angry passion, unsmooth relationships, or interpersonal truth.  It will all be handled by lawyers.

            Except that black women on the Southside handle it with baseball bats.  Or knives.  Or guns.  Ah, the stories I’ve  heard . . .  One day, in conversation with Crystal, I remarked on the aluminum baseball bat, and she assured me that she has knives “and other stuff.”  Oh goodie.  (To be continued)

About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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