Gosh, I hardly even know where to begin. I’ve got so much to say and hardly any time to say it. It’s been 13 days since my last post and if you’ve been jonesing to hear from me half as much as I’ve been jonesing to write, well, that’s a hell of a lot of jonesing going on!
I had my mid-term exam last night in my EMT class. It seemed to be pretty easy and the teacher said he didn’t think there was any way anyone in the class could fail so I don’t think I have anything to worry about. Tomorrow is the first of our skills tests. It’s a one on one test so I don’t know when I will do mine or if he’ll be able to get them all in in one night, but I’ll be glad when it’s finished.
The test is over managing the airway (assisted ventilations, supplementary oxygen, airway adjuncts, etc.) If you don’t know what those things are, don’t worry about it. It’s not important for this story. What is important is, it’s a pass/fail situation with only one shot to get it right. I’ve practiced it many times and I feel confident that I know what to do and will pass, but still I won’t relax until it’s done.
This last week has been a bit stressful for me emotionally. It started with the instructor “reminding” us, one week before the mid-term that there are four chapters that will be on the mid-term that we never discussed or tested over in class. I had planned on using the review week to review the information we’d studied so far and get a head start on the rest of the reading for the year. No such luck. In spite of that, I sort of put off the reading until the last minute. Really shouldn’t have done that.
Friday night, I got a call, around 10:30 at night, from one of the guys in my “study group”, Jafet. He was studying at his house with another person from my group, Hashima. Jafet and Hashima were friends before this class started and I thought I was becoming friends with them. Jafet called me to ask me to explain something that they didn’t understand. (Apparently, I’m the know it all of the class. A moniker I do not wear proudly.) I answered Jafet’s question the best I was able and then I hung up to go back to my own reading. Half an hour later, my phone rang again. Once again, Jafet and Hashima wanted me to explain something they didn’t understand. I tried to tell them where to find the diagram that depicted what they were asking about and they didn’t want to look they just wanted me to explain it. I explained it the best I could, though they complained about how detailed I had gotten, and then before we hung up, Jafet asked, “What time are we getting together tomorrow?”
“Um, we’re not,” I answered. “The whole group is getting together on Sunday.” (A whole big bunch of the class was getting together to study.)
“Are you going to that?” Jafet asked.
“Good, me too. What about tomorrow? What are you doing tomorrow.”
“My laundry. I told you, I’m going over to my friend’s house to hang out and do two weeks worth of laundry.”
“What time are you gonna be done,” he pressed. “Let’s get together, I need help.”
I told him I could probably come over in the evening but wasn’t sure. He told me to come over at 8 and the last thing he said before we hung up was, “Bring some questions for me. I need a lot of help.”
What about me? I thought as I hung up the phone. I need to study too. I still have 150 pages to read.
I actually finished my laundry fairly early and Michelle was going to her parents house in Berkeley while her step-sister is in town, so it sort of worked out OK. I texted Jafet when I was leaving Michelle’s house to find out if he still wanted me to come over and to see if it was OK for me to come earlier.
I arrived at his house at 7:40 and made my way into the family room to start studying. Jafet, for his part, wandered aimlessly around the house for 20 minutes. He called Hashima and she told him she’d be over in half an hour. “So what questions have you got for me?” he asked.
“None,” I told him, “I’ve been doing my laundry.” For nearly an hour, we went through the work book and tried to study. I’d ask him questions and he’d answer. He’d ask me questions and I’d answer. I’d ask him questions and he’d make a phone call. I’d ask him the question again and he’d get up and walk out of the room. I’d ask him the question again and he’d start telling me a story. And then at 8:45 he told me he had to run to the store.
“You’re going to the store? Now?” I asked in disbelief.
“Yeah. I’ll be right back,” he told me. Hashima still hadn’t arrived and eventually it became clear that she wasn’t coming at all because she couldn’t get her daughter to sleep.
“If you’re not back by 9:00, I’m leaving,” I told him in my most stern voice.
He chuckled, “What?”
“If you’re not back by 9:00, I’m leaving,” I repeated. “I didn’t give up valuable study time to come over here and help you so you could go grocery shoping while I sit in your house.”
He handed me a bag of mediocre peanut butter filled pretzels (which I obviously ate), like it was going to keep me there. “I’m not going grocery shopping. I’ll be right back. I’ll take the mustang,” he told me like that was going to make a difference.
“If you’re not back by 9:00, I’m leaving,” I said again, “and the clock is ticking.”
“OK, OK” he told me before wandering around the house looking for his keys.
Ten minutes later (at 8:57) he wandered in through the back door with three snack sized bags of chips and a pack of cigarettes, in his hand.
Newly nic’ed and gorging on spicy funyans (ick) he sat down and re-focused on the task at hand… for a little while.
We went through a couple chapters of the workbook, “Becoming an EMT”, “Well-being of an EMT”, “Lifting and Moving” and his ADD kicked in again. He began telling stories and making jokes and disrupting the process.
Throughout the evening, Jafet’s husband Bryan was in the front room watching a movie, on surround sound, with the volume at movie theater level. Twenty minutes after Jafet got hom from the store a friend of theirs came in. She was apparently going to spend the night in their guest bedroom.
About 9:20 I watched as Jafet poured himself, what I was certain was not his first “cocktail” of the night (can you really call a cup of ice with vodka and Diet 7-Up a cocktail?) This, I have learned, is regular behavior for Jafet, because why wouldn’t you drink vodka while you’re studying for a test?
Not long after that the trouble started. Technically, maybe I started it, I don’t know. You be the judge.
Jafet, I have learned, grew up in the Bronx, New York. He is Puerto Rican of descent and with the exception of a fairly stereotypical “lilt” to his voice he has an accent reminiscent of J-Lo. He comes from a large family. He talks a lot. He tells a lot of outlandish stories. And he’s very opinionated and out spoken.
Over the weeks that I’ve been getting to know him and Hashima, I’ve heard both of them use the N-word on multiple occasions. Hashima, as you might have guessed by her name is black. (In my opinion, that doesn’t matter, and doesn’t make it OK for her to use that word.) I’ve heard them use the word many times and every time, I’ve bristled but I’ve kept my mouth shut. On Saturday, I couldn’t keep my mouth shut any more.
I don’t honestly remember what I said to start the conversation, but I told him that I really dislike that word. He asked me why and I told him it was hate speech. I told him I didn’t believe that was his intent behind it but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a hateful word and I hate to hear it used. He went on to tell me that it’s OK to use the N-word if you are one. I told him I didn’t agree with that, and even so he isn’t. He told me he was and proceeded to show me camera phone pictures of old grainy photographs that could’ve been anything and told me they were his older siblings. Both of the pictures were of noticeably black people, with stereotypical black features, i.e., the lips, the noses, the hair texture. Jafet possesses none of those features. He looks latin through and through.
He told me that, of course, I couldn’t get away with using the N-word because I’m white, but that he can. About this time, Jafet’s husband, who is as white as I am, walked into the room and Jafet said, “He Bryan, how does my family use the word N____?”
Bryan paused before he said, “N____, N____, N____!” He chuckled. Jafet Laughed. I looked him straight in the eye without a hint of amusement.
Jafet laughed some more and said, “See! N____, N____, N____! It’s no big deal.”
“It’s a big deal to me,” I told him. He proceeded to try to convince me that it was OK. He went on and on about how they use it in his family all the time. “It’s not uncommon to look at somebody across the table, call them on their bull shit and say, n____ please!” More laughter from him. More lack of amusement from me.
Then he pulled the, “Using it takes the power away” card to make his argument. He went on to mention other words that people have used through time to refer to minorities in a derogatory manner. A C-word used for asian people, an S-word which, to be honest, I don’t even know what group it refers to, that’s how far removed I am from that kind of thinking. And then he asked me, “Have you ever been called a fag?” Of course I have “How did you respond to it?” I didn’t. “I always ask them ‘how’d you know?'”
I reminded him that it was still more hate speech and that his choice to react that way doesn’t change that fact, and I believe, it doesn’t take the sting away. He got back to the topic of the N-word and used it several more times, giggling all along the way. Finally, I spoke up.
“Look,” I explained, “I’m not telling you that you can’t use that word. I’m just telling you that it offends me and I wish you wouldn’t. But now you’re just going out of your way to say it, on purpose, because I told you it offends me and that’s just not funny!”
And then he said it, the one thing that, the more I think about it, the more it upsets me, “This is fun. It’s fun fucking with you. I’ve been waiting for this. Hashima told me to fuck with you a long time ago, but I told her no.”
I left shortly after that and I think I’m done. I’m disappointed, to be sure. I wanted to like Jafet. I thought I did. I wanted the three of us to be friends even after this class is over and for a little while I thought Jafet and I had bonded a little bit. Now, I don’t think so.
The instructor who teaches my class, as I have mentioned before is an ass hole, though to be fair he has mellowed out a lot now that half the class (and half the term) is gone. From the beginning he has pushed some major buttons in me. If I wasn’t very careful, he could have retriggered some serious self doubt and derogatory emotions that I used to put on myself and only recently have I been able to quiet those thoughts. Without some serious vigilance on my part, my teacher could have re-ignited those fires and sent me in a tale spin that might well have had me failing the class and crashing head first into a bottle or the pharmaceutical bin (antidepressants), or both.
For seven weeks, I’ve been so diligently monitoring those experiences and feelings and activities, that I completely failed to notice two other serious pit-falls. In my desperate need to be liked and approved of and validated by others, I have compromised myself. Not my integrity or my morals so much, just my self, my personality, my me-ness. I have gone along with things that I knew deep inside I shouldn’t. I accepted situations and responsibilities that I didn’t want to accept.
And more importantly, I ignored my instincts. I pushed away that small voice that guides us; the one we would all be better off if we would listen to more often. The one that told me, you can’t trust him. His stories are too much. He’s a liar. The voice that told me, he’s an alcoholic and you should stay away. The voice that told me, he’s a drama queen. You’ll never be happy getting drawn into his world
But he’s close to my age, I reasoned. He’s gay and he likes me and I don’t have a lot of gay friends, I told myself. This could be an opportunity for me, I hoped.
But he’s bad news and will only hurt you in the end. Turns out that voice knows a thing or two. I should’ve listened.