Troubling Bodies

You have to look hard to see where I hit the car. Maybe, I’m just saying that to justify what happened.

The car, a stylish white SUV, sits in front of the house across the street from my house.  Rarely does it move, even last winter before the pandemic restrictions began. I don’t know who owns the vehicle; the house has 3 units and I don’t often see the occupants.

I can’t even remember what month it happened, maybe early November.  I know it was raining and kind of dark that morning.  The daylight is markedly shorter in the winter.  Now the dog gets us up around 5:00 am and I go to bed around 10:00 pm, all in the light. 

I have a back up camera on my car. I suppose I either didn’t use it or it was hazy with the wetness and dim light. I was on my way to yoga and had just enough time to make it; parking places are scarce on most mornings.

In that moment, I forgot about that white car that is always there. I was startled by the thud. I pulled forward and stopped.  Could I have actually hit something? 

I eased out of the car, leaving my door ajar. Usually, cars only travel one-way on the street where I live.  Looking closely enough, I thought, I saw no visible damage to the parked car or my own.  Just a slight bump, I reasoned.  So, on I went.

Winter days are mostly cloudy and rainy, yet, I watched the parked car in the dim light for days.  It didn’t move.  I did ask Mitch to take a look; I still had a feeling the impact was more than a gentle tap.  “There is a dent above the parking light,” he matter of factly reported.

Late November, I remember. After a ten-day trip to California, I renewed my daily watch out the front window.  My eyes fixed on the front bumper of that parked reminder each time I pulled out of my own driveway. I saw clearly the imperceptible indention, glaring above the parking light. 

A, B, and C: one letter on each of the three doors.  The tenants of B drive a stylish red mustang. Door C must be in back.  There is a compact grey vehicle in the driveway beside the red one and an older van on the other side of the house.  So who owns the white SUV?  Door B seems most likely.   

A few weeks before Christmas, a couple with suitcases emerged from door B.  It was about 5:30 a.m. and they were picked up and whisked away, I’m guessing to the airport. Even the red mustang was gone for the holidays. The white car stayed in its place until January 6, when Mitch and I left for another trip to visit our daughter this time.

In the June 9, 2020, episode of podcast On Being, in the midst of new conversations about race reignited by George Floyd’s murder, the host, Krista Tippett, opened my mind to embodied racism; a visceral fear that is obscured by rational minds.  She noted that she was born in 1960 and that it seems like much progress occurred over the years, that laws were passed (gender and race) that were, in a way, revolutionary. Except, we changed the laws but we didn’t change ourselves. 

“All of us carry the history and traumas behind everything we condense in the word race in our bodies… it was in my body, too,” she declared.

You see, I didn’t tell you that part.  I was afraid to just knock on Door B and ask if they knew who owned the white SUV.   “They” don’t look like me. I’ve never had a conversation or even acknowledged anyone who lives at the house. And yes, to absolve myself, I can say that I have friends here, close friends, who came from China and South Korea.  Why was I so reluctant to approach the possible owner of that car to make things right? 

What in me triggered my fear? That is what is so unsettling. I made assumptions in the moment that are unfounded. Did I think “they” wouldn’t understand me?  So, I might speak more loudly or slowly without even knowing their command of a first or second or third language.  If I’d hit my next-door neighbour’s car, I might have been humiliated to admit my carelessness, but would I be afraid to tell her since she is white and about the same age as me?

You see, I am an immigrant here, but I am white, and I mostly feel like I belong. I don’t know anything about my neighbours who live in that grey house.  I let my visceral reaction to their race rule my response; a hidden embodied fear of the stranger, more dangerous, I know.

A few years older than Krista Tippett, I am formed by a colourless Midwestern growing up that I thought I’d left behind.  That’s the disquieting part; how does my body catch up?  Being uncomfortable in that body is maybe a meagre beginning.

This week as I was looking over an absentee ballot for the Federal Election in the States, I noticed again.  As I searched for more information about the candidates from afar, I was struck with my embodied response to the faces I encountered.  What difference did it make that I was able to see the face of the candidate? 

What difference did it make to know gender identity and skin colour and all those defining “differences”—the family of origin, education, interests and even grooming? I was acutely aware of my hidden proclivities.  I looked at the white male with a traditional family as being more “electable” than the woman of colour who was single, when both had similar policy agendas. Being aware hopefully moved me toward more courageous decisions.

How do I as a white (insert plenty of other descriptors here) change myself on a deeper level?  When I pass the homeless man who sits everyday on the bench outside our church or see my neighbours in their yard or ponder my vote, how do I use that uncomfortable place to catch up to what my mind thinks it knows?

For 3 winter months, I watched to see who drove that car.  On a cold January day, I went out to get in my car and there she was, getting into her car.  I did not hesitate. 

I hurried over to the stylish white SUV, just as the driver shut her door.  As she rolled down her window, I began my confession.  She got out to look at the front of her car.  “Don’t worry about it,” she quietly affirmed as she waved off my amends.

I still don’t know exactly who lives in unit B. I noticed an older man and a young woman playing badminton in the yard.  I noticed a middle aged woman sitting once in the window late at night.  And yesterday, I saw her, the young woman who drives the white SUV taking in a congratulatory yard sign.  I wish I knew what she is celebrating.

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