When you see me out at a bus stop
Don’t feel like you have to talk to me
Don’t address me
Don’t look me up and down
When you see me on my way
Don’t stop me
Don’t make a comment
God, don’t tell me to smile
Don’t call me
But most of all
Don’t call me darling.
That one bothers me the most.
It’s been a while since I’ve written a poem. I think the last time I wrote one it was a limerick about hurricanes. This one is obviously far different. I thought maybe it could help me, provide some insight into something that has bothered me for days now.
I was harassed at the train station this week. Not in the sexual way, the one I’m more adapted to. The catcalls and comments about my “ample bosom” as Blanche Devereaux would call it, have become just as commonplace as a simple “hello” in this day and age. I’m not unfamiliar anymore. This, this was different, and it has stuck.
As I stepped out of a stranger’s car, running late to catch the train to work as always. (Some things change, some things stay the same.) He called me out on having a Black man drive me—a white woman—to the station. “You have a Black man driving you! You’re living the life!” he bellowed as I walked toward the entrance. I could smell the smoke wafting my direction, sweet but not too sweet, the smell of tobacco I sometimes miss but sometimes loathe.
I had my headphones on. I didn’t realize what he was saying or if he was talking to me. I had wrongly assumed he was on his phone, on a headset or something. After all, I always wear my headphones, I always blast my music—it’s the best way I’ve found to keep my commuting anxiety at bay.
I couldn’t respond.
I was stunned.
What do you say when your racial privilege is called out right in front of you? What do you say when the curtain on your life is pulled back, revealing something you hadn’t anticipated? “What’s behind door number three? White privilege!”
Uncomfortable, I smiled at the man, as he smoked his cigarette, and continued on my way. The worst part of the entire interaction? The way he called me “darling.” After pulling back a long-closed, tightly fastened curtain on my life, he left me with these purportedly harmless parting words: “Have a good day, darlin’.”
I haven’t gotten it out of my head.
The entire interaction has haunted me. My commutes to work have been shrouded in these words, this memory, one I wish I could purge from my mind.
I haven’t known what to say in all the replays. I haven’t known what to do. The more I play it back, the fewer answers I find. The more questions I have about society and for myself. How did I forget that the color of my skin, tattoos and all, award me so many different things? As a woman, sure, things are different. As a gay woman, they’re made even more different. In these instances, there are only a few things you can do—and one is just forget. But I have never been good at forgetting.
For now and perhaps forever, just please don’t call me darling.