I always knew she believed those things that she never said. There were signs. There was a dinner party for twelve at my apartment with H2 (husband #2) in the mid eighties and AIDS was just becoming a topic of dinner party talk. The left wing international set around our table were all talking about the horror of it, and about the long-term possibility of the annihilation of those we love. You have to have been a thirty-something during that time to understand the enormity of it, and the terror and sadness it left in its wake.
We were all getting up to go to the living room, and there was a moment of relative quiet, and my old roommate and friend said, “Well the gays are getting what they deserve. It’s their punishment for being gay.”
Silence. Everywhere. Everyone. Silence.
H2 looked over at me as if to ask, “Your friend? Are you going to take care of this?”
I was born in 1953, and as a girl I had “the disease to please”; that is, I was taught never to be confrontational. I said, “I’m sure you don’t mean that. Freshly squeezed orange juice and chocolates await us all in the living room.” I really don’t know if that is what I said. The truth is, I’m not sure I ever said anything to her about what she said. But I didn’t see her for a number of years after she said it.
History matters. And we had a long history. We were roommates in the 70s, and there were signs of her bigotry then too, but I ignored them.
Then Obama was elected president. My friend and her sister came once a year to stay with me, and the tension was palpable last year. One night after she’d had a few, her sister explained to me that Obama was personally buying all the ammunition in the country so that those who wanted guns—who had to right to them—would have no bullets to use.
“Where did you hear that?” I said. “I need to call you on this one. You cannot believe that what you’re saying is true.”
“I heard it on the radio. I don’t remember which program, but I know it’s true.”
It got heated, and I went to bed angry and sad and regretful. Regretful, you ask? I was upset at what the harsh words we’d spoken to each other that night might do the equilibrium of our forty-year friendship.
Over the last few years it’s become harder and harder to resolve the disquiet I feel around her, and I’m sure the same was true for her. To be fair, I’m sure she would say I was too strident in my point of view. Too “loud.” I’ll own that. And, I will try harder to be softer in my debate. But, I don't compare it in my mind to those pretending to be a God-believing Catholics who really abhor people of color … and don’t even start with those who need a leg up from the government.
But it wasn’t just her. Pressure from family prevails. "Don’t rock the boat by having the conversation at family events," says everyone except me. To me, it’s like living with a Stepford Wife mentality—there is an elephant in the room that no one is addressing. And the scary part is that the elephant isn’t just sitting there taking up space like Uncle Fred's drinking; the elephant is stomping on everything that made the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance my favorite part of the day in elementary school. And I keep waking up in the night (literally) with images of Germany in the 30s, when everyone was saying the same thing: “No one will let these people come to power.” Well, how did that work out in the end?
I can still laugh and listen to fabulous stories. I still love movies and television and books and my amazing daughter and her brave, fabulous life. It’s not that I want to stand on a corner only talking about politics and what has happened to our nation. That’s not it at all. But I don’t want to avoid all conversation about what is happening.
So, that’s it. My friend and I are no longer friends, and actually, I think I can live with it. I can hope that one day we will meet again and maybe have our first honest conversation about what we really think about each other. Maybe not. Either way, I know that in this moment, in this country that I care so much about, it is not the time to sit back and be silent.