Men Yell Things At Me

Photo by Emilio Garcia on Unsplash

Sometime during the 80th month of the pandemic, after the great blizzard of late January, I drove my used Kia Soul to a vegan bakery to meet a man I liked very much who had also lied to me. Because it was Brooklyn, some cars had dug themselves out of the snow and some had not, and since it was two days after the blizzard, the snow had hardened into planetary ice craters in some places and melty slush piles in others.

A couple of weeks earlier I’d abandoned my shovel on the street. It was taking up too much room in the car, and I needed the space for tweens, groceries, a sled, and two or three small fold-up wagons I used to cart various supplies from the car to the apartment.

I ditched the shovel without a thought. Such is our time now, every decision is deeply thought out or not considered at all. I’d gotten by so far without the shovel, by gunning the Kia’s four-wheel drive and busting in and out of snow banks. It probably wasn’t good for the car, but it made me feel like a super hero or a leaping stag in the movie of my life that runs in my head in which I am both the snow goddess and the stag.

I circled the bakery several times and there were no spots at all to gun myself into. The man texted and said he would go in and get the food for us. I missed him. He was considerate like that. He mostly wanted to make me come, bring me food, and hang out with me, all of which I liked very much. Nobody had wanted to do any of those three things with me all at once in a long time. We’d talked about the lies (one big and one small) and I felt sufficiently satisfied that he wasn’t a hard-core grifter, even though when I first found out about the lies, I blocked him, complained about him on his own Facebook wall, and demanded that Hinge punish him. He said he deserved all of this, which I thought was very clever of him. I think the Facebook post on his wall was a bit much, but okay, times are tough.

I drove around the block several more time and onto far away streets searching for my spot. I saw one, surrounded by a wall of snow, that looked penetrable. I had an image of myself parked and ready to eat the gluten-free sandwich he was buying for me that would not hurt my stomach, and then the gluten-full cinnamon roll that would hurt my stomach, from the safety and seclusion of this parking spot. Then we would talk and make out and it would all be over. My loneliness. My hunger. We would re-unite and I would have a boyfriend again maybe, after these fairly unsuccessful queer years of mine, I would return with my tail between my legs to a cis man who made me laugh and lied a little, and is tall, sexy, and has an unkempt beard. Actually, my tail wags for everyone I like regardless of their gender presentation or sexuality. Cuz pansexual. Okay. Got it. Good.

I checked the street to see if anyone was coming. All clear. I pressed the gas, shot back into a snow bank, and heard a bad grinding sound. Rut roh.

A man, who I shall call Brooklyn, emerged from the garage across the street to tell me that I had hit the little wrought iron fence that protects the trees in this fine borough. Another man, who I shall call Subaru emerged from his Forester to also tell me that I had hit the little wrought iron fence surrounding the tree behind me. They both spoke loudly at me, simultaneously, and I felt my head exploding at the sound of men telling me what to do.

“You’re stuck,” “You’ve hit the fence,” “You’re stuck,” “You can’t get out,” “You’ve hit the fence,” “You can’t get out.”

I didn’t believe them. I had faith in my Kia. My daughter named her Feliz and she’d given more joy during the pandemic than any man had.

Besides hadn’t we just had four years of men telling us what to do? Hadn’t there been one shouty bad man in particular who had done a lot of ALL CAPS YELLING into Twitter and at rallies and in TV? Hadn’t a bunch of scary men in horrible clothes and ammo just yelled a lot and invaded the Capitol? Hadn’t I had a whole life of men telling me what to do? Haven’t we all? Hadn’t women been doing a whole lot of extra shit for the last near year of the pandemic while men yelled at us on the street, in our apartments and houses, and on dating apps? Sometimes DiBlasio yelled at Cuomo and sometimes Cuomo yelled at DiBlasio. If the last four years, had been many things — a racist uprising, a fascist groundswell, a white pity party, a dismantling of many, many, many important laws — it was also a big fat nightmare of YELLING.

Just that morning, on the way to my car, as I straddled an icy snow mountain on the corner to cross the street, a man rolled down the window of his truck, slowed down, and yelled, “Damn, girl you are thick, I bet you do not skip your breakfast!” I felt the peculiar mix of pride about my ass and its loveliness and shame at the realization, that no sir, I do not ever skip breakfast and was on my way to eat some just then. I could think of nothing to say back to him, and so he kept driving and I kept climbing down the snow bank.

So that morning, I was maybe full up on the yelling. I sat in my Kia and ignored Brooklyn and Subaru because as I said, I didn’t believe them, but also because I truly did not want any men to tell me what I had just done. I tried to pull drive forward and then backward. B and S made more sounds that were words. I rolled down my window and stared at them.

Subaru said, “We’re going to have to dig you out,” and then Brooklyn said, “We’re going to have to dig you out.”

My head felt hot and swimmy and I blurt yelled back at them, “I don’t need your man words or your man help!”

It’s not a sentence I’ve ever said before. The syntax was weird and the delivery was sputtery if not spinsterish. I might as well have stomped my foot and cried.

They each looked down at the dirty snow, waited a beat or two, and then started to dig me out. It was quick work and there was no stopping them, and for a moment I put my head on the steering wheel because it was all so embarrassing. A line of cars had backed up behind me, there were people watching now from the sidewalk. A woman walking her dog was yelling at me about the wrought iron thing. I was a bad driver. A woman driver. I held my hands up at her in surrender and said, “I know, I know. I’m sorry. It’s a bad year.”

They dug, and eventually pushed the car, while shouting at me to turn the wheels in various ways that didn’t seem right to me, but were of course correct, and still I was stuck.

“I’m sorry I was an asshole before,” I leaned out my window to say to them, really to the whole street.

‘It’s just snow, don’t worry about it,” Brooklyn said.

“You know, I would have said the same thing to me, if I were you,” Subaru said and then his face brightened. “I have a cable, can I pull you out?”

“Okay,” I said. I was their bitch now.

I texted my bakery man, “I’m stuck in the snow. Men are helping me. I want to die.”

“Don’t die,” he texted back.

When I looked up from my phone, Brooklyn and Subaru had tied the cable to my undercarriage and to Subaru’s car. Subaru’s dog barked excitedly from the back seat and his pretty blonde girlfriend smiled at me, “Like isn’t he great,” and I wanted to say, Yes, yes, he truly is great.

“Ready?” they asked.

I nodded and then Subaru lurched forward and so did my little Kia, out of the snow glacier and into the road. I was free! I waved like Miss America and smiled at everyone like I had been raised my whole life to do. “Thank you! Thank you! You really are great! I really appreciate you!” and I meant it. The snow had humbled me. I had been stuck and they’d helped me even though I didn’t want to be helped. Or had I wanted to be helped once long ago, in some little girl part of me or when I was a wife and thought help from my husband was my right in this life, but I’d stopped believing in “man words” and “man help” a while back I guess.

In the last couple of months there has been article after article about how American moms are falling apart. In most of these articles, the problem is framed as mental health crisis, instead of what it is, which is a systemic, racist, sexist, centuries-long devaluing of the unpaid labor of women in order keep capitalism afloat. Without schools in place and with COVID raging through our country, women — moms, essential workers, nurses, grocery store cashiers, teachers — have taken on the burden of care, and yes we are falling apart. Black, Latinx, and Indigenous women have been hit hardest, but pretty much every mom I know is falling apart right now and it has nothing to do with our mental health. It’s because this country hates women, and especially mothers. If you doubt this, give birth in any hospital and see how you get treated after the baby comes out of you. I remember bleeding for two hours while pressing the call button for a nurse to help me stand. When she came, she wouldn’t help me stand, and threw a maxi-pad at me. “Get up. You have to learn to take care of yourself.” She was right, and so I did.

But why did that weird sentence float out of my mouth from some subterranean place in me? Aren’t American women often listening to men talk (with words) and the supposed help we are going to get. Universal health care, paid leave for parents, elder care, universal free or subsidized child care, student loan debt forgiveness, and control over our bodies both medically and while walking down the street? Isn’t there just a whole lot of talk and not much doing or changing? Isn’t this the biggest grift of all? My mother marched for ERA in 1980, and we still haven’t ratified it. Feminists have been asking for this shit for a least a hundred years, and mostly we don’t have any of it.

One sad fact of this pandemic is that many of us have had to learn that we are in fact alone. Or that the structures we might have thought were in place, were not there at all. Many people, already knew this. I did, but I couldn’t imagine the depths of it.

As of 2021, 35.9% of women hold elective offices. For women of color it is just 9.5%. White cis male politicians talk and talk and talk and decide on the policies or lack thereof that shape our everyday lives. Do they listen to us? Not really. If they did we might have equal pay for equal work, universal child care, paid parental leave, and free and safe medical care, including the right to abortions.

The bearded man was waiting for me on the corner with the food. He got in the car, I kissed him and that was that. It was easy and right. I needed that love and care. Very badly.

Brooklyn and Subaru surprised me. They heard how angry I was, and decided to help anyway. They didn’t tell me I was depressed or undergoing a mental health crisis. They saw I was stuck in the snow and they dug me out. It’s time for the government to do the same, and fast before we’re buried alive.

Also, New Yorkers rule!