Sometimes it’s easier being friends with an “other”. Even if you don’t know her that well. Even if you don’t really like her. Because you know she can’t ever step out of being an “other”. Like you.
At the American Legion where you can join the auxiliary because your father was a veteran. Drinks are cheap there, so you go. The guard at the local prison sits across from you drinking Bud Lite in a can and says, yeah, he just punched the window. Glass and blood all over the place. You know how they are. Them blacks, them Mexicans. Then he sees you. I didn’t mean anything against Hispanics, but you know how it is. I’m a guard. I see things all the time. Know what I mean? You notice he doesn’t apologize about blacks, just Hispanics. Because your skin is white. You feel the spotlight suddenly. No matter how many times you sit at the bar with them, that spotlight appears.
You look at him, silent. But the spotlight burns. In your face. Your heart. You want to go back to the shadows of everyone else. You don’t want to say it, but your mouth opens all on its own. No, you tell yourself. And then you hear the words, But I’m not Mexican. Immediately the shame. You hate yourself.
On another night, the bartender, who says is your friend, tells you, This will probably offend you, but…The spotlight turns on. This Mexican that works with my husband doesn’t do shit. He’s so lazy. You look at her and ask, Is he lazy because he is Mexican, or is he just lazy? She looks at me, almost pensive, That’s a good point. Guess he’s just lazy. You tell yourself that’s why you keep coming back.
Then last week. The bartender hands you the drink she knows you like. She’s your friend. She likes you. Talks to you about her kids, her husband, wants to have lunch. Tells you about the tomato seeds she ordered and that she will give you some plants. Then she leaves to open more cans of Bud Lite for the old men sitting on the other side of the bar. She comes back, lowers her voice, I bet they wouldn’t let you in here if they knew you spoke Spanish, that you’re Cuban. You feel your stomach sour in the heat of the spotlight. You tell yourself to push through it, that if you do this long enough it might change their history. They might fold you into their shadow. But you know that’s not true. It’s been their bar too long.
Still you know you will keep going, wanting, waiting for an answer to question.
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