“When we got coffee this morning, we told them we were coming here, and they all said it was as near to nowhere as you can get,” I told Ed.
Ed lives in Isabel, South Dakota. It’s as near to nowhere as you can get, and it was our second time visiting. This is a place of long roads with few gas stations, small towns with a minimum of two cowboy hats per male, and prairies that look like they could swallow the world’s oceans without eroding a single rock for how thirsty they are. Ed is a person who rolls his eyes at what I just said.
“Did they also say, ‘It’s not the end of the world, but it’s damn near it!’ or ‘Even God hardly knows where that is’ or just ‘Why the hell you going there?'”
They had said that. Almost in that order.
“Yeah,” said Ed. “Everyone likes to have that place– the place you call the sticks. People on the east side, they think they’ve got it all because they’re still close to the big cities. But they’re still in South Dakota. But they need that. Everyone needs that. They need a place that’s further out than them. They need the place that’s too scary. We spend all our time marking off places not to go, marking off people who are too backwards or dangerous or too snobby. I can’t explain it, but we keep making those things up.”
I stood staring for a second.
“Well, anyway,” Ed said. “Good to see you again.”
An Abbreviated List of What I Was Afraid of Before by Nature or Nurture That I Am No Longer Afraid of on Account of Having Experienced Them or Learned More About Them:
- People with different colored skin.
- Spicy Food.
- People with Really Shiny Shoes.
- Being Alone.
- Zip Lining.
- Swimming in the Ocean.
- Gaggles of Teenagers.
Things I Am Still a Little or a Lot Afraid of Even After Experiencing Them:
I still have some work to do.
The thing about choosing a people to be afraid of, is that being afraid of them doesn’t make them less safe. And putting other people in our safe category doesn’t keep them from being scary. This I know to be true on account of my Someone.
List of Requirements for My Future Husband as I Recall Them as a 14-Year-Old:
- no blue eyes– blue eyes are not only not like mine, but also untrustworthy.
- not from California. People from there are too flippant about marriage and he will surely leave me scared and alone in a state that is falling off the rest of the continent.
- must be a devout Christian. Christian men take marriage seriously and will not leave me for some young thing when we are fifteen years in.
Truthfully, these categorizations did not stop a brown-eyed Christian worship leader from New York from molesting me for years. And my blue-eyed Californian Agnostic-on-his-best day Someone has exceeded all expectations of his doomed evaluation. Even on his extra shiny shoes days.
This I also know to be true on account of those people who look just like me and are carrying torches and speaking hate to people who look not like me at all. People who do and don’t look just like me are dying because of these flag waving people who also look just like me because of all this dangerous other they’ve made up. And they’re wrong. They are completely wrong.
I don’t think I need these safe and scary categories, anymore. I am working to break them down, to make my world a little more chaotic. Because these categories are just superstitions to keep me safe, and these same superstitions are allowing other people to carry Nazi and Confederate flags in the streets of Charlottesville, VA. I don’t want to be part of that– things I can justify avoiding, things I can deem as unfortunate. And all the while missing out on a wide world of spicy curries and good people. There’s no lucky rabbit foot in all of South Dakota that can keep me safe from feeling so full of all this other.