In the summer of 2006, when our Toyota Prius was brand-new and virginal, I decided to place a decal in the side window. This was not just any random sticker, it was a Very Important Decal. Its tiny size misrepresented its quiet meaning. A rectangle, smaller than an index card, in rainbow colors. I had picked it up from the GLBQT table at Theo’s Cornell freshman orientation, and it had sat in a drawer awaiting its unveiling. Finally, the time had come. What better display site than our Prius window? And so, without ceremony, the little rectangle was placed in the passenger window, driver’s side. It wouldn’t change the world, but it made me happy to make a statement of gay pride for two of my children, specifically, and for humanity in general.
It was a Saturday, and we were heading down the shore (or to the beach, if you live outside Jersey). Charlie, the practical one in our equation, was loading the car with towels and beach chairs and the cooler while I prepared for the day by placing the sticker in the window, just so.
We had a beautiful beach day, but there have been many perfect ones and they all blend together in my mind. One or two of our children came along….Theo? Rachel? Christopher? Ellie? The most distinct memory of that day is of our return trip. After a day by the sea, we were hankering for some fresh seafood. Sister-in-law Gail recommended “Crabby’s,” in Belcoville, New Jersey, which we could pass through if we changed our route home slightly. She told us Crabby’s was a very local place but the seafood was plentiful and good. My thought was that it had to be pretty local……….Belcoville?
Truthfully, South Jersey has many unusually named towns. The pinelands, with an odd beauty of their own, are scruffy, hardscrabble, and unpopulated considering their location within an hour of Philadelphia. Sporting towns with unsophisticated names like Scullville, Corbin City, Vineland, and Millville, which can only be appreciated when you drive through these places. It feels as if you have fallen off the map, and found weary desolation.
We reached Crabby’s, squeezing our Prius into a space between two oversized pick-ups with gun racks, but then ALL the cars in the lot were oversized pickups with gun racks. “Local,” was a good start, but didn’t completely describe the atmosphere at Crabby’s. Picture: tables covered with butcher paper, hard-lipped waitresses, free-flowing beer, country-western music, and more rednecks inside than there were pickups out. We felt rather out of place, but adapted and enjoyed the vibe, which is why we travel so well. And the food was good.
Back to my rainbow decal. We left Crabby’s in the dark, and didn’t notice until morning that our new car had been keyed, deeply and viciously, from front to back, on the side with the decal.
More memorable than the events of that day were the feelings that surfaced when we realized that our car had been vandalized. Anger, violation, hurt. sadness. Despair. Hatred is painful, and having it directed toward your personal sphere is crushing. We had not witnessed it, but we felt reasonably certain that the perpetrator was angered by the rainbow decal.
Removing the decal in defeat, I felt badly that my whim had resulted in damage to our new car, and hoped to avoid additional heartbreak. Simultaneously, though, I was angered by that irrational feeling that I had caused the trouble. The tendency to blame the victim is pervasive, but wasn’t the thug who had defaced our car to blame? Even though I wanted to keep my little world safe, I asked myself what kind of world it was where safety was that tenuous. And, if I felt unsafe, what about my gay children? What about them, indeed?
Perhaps it is because of my children that, now, nine years later, I find myself in disagreement with my husband about the rainbow letters. He felt violated, too, but his takeaway was, “Let’s not invite trouble.” I understand that, I don’t even fault him. Yet I find myself saying, “NO!” I want to be free to speak my mind and heart, in words and in colors and images. I don’t want to be silenced, timid, or afraid. Because then, THEY win.©