Trigger Warning: this story contains stereotyping, racist language, and complete stupidity.
I have a scar that only I can see, or rather it is a scar I can feel. The scar I speak of is next to my heart, in front of my lungs. It was created because at a time in my youth when I was at my strongest, there was still a weakness in me. That weakness is more evident now.
Sometimes my old injury aches when I breathe. It is uncomfortable and makes me feel as though there is something wrong with my heart, because it is so close to it.
At some point in my early thirties, I was driving through the Farmington area and came upon a Reliant K-Car stranded in the middle of the road. I stopped, placing my car behind theirs. I put on my hazard lights, got out, and walked up to the driver’s side of the other vehicle. The driver was a man, probably in his forties, with a dark complexion, and wearing a large turban. The latter is what stood out to me the most. I had never seen anyone wearing a turban in person, at least not one of such great size.
“Can I help you?” I asked the driver. He responded in broken English, telling me his car had died and he could not get it started. I offered to push his car off the road, for safety’s sake.
He accepted my offer, and after telling him to put his car in neutral I took my place behind the car and leaning up against the trunk I began to push.
“Okay, let off the brake!” I yelled. I felt the car begin to move. A K-Car was a relatively small car for its time and the hill we were on was steep, but not horribly so. So, why was this so difficult? I thought, “I’m stronger than this. Yeah, it’s up hill, but it’s only a little K-Car.” I leaned in, locked my arms and pushed with everything I had.
That’s when it happened. There was a distinct cracking in my chest as my sternum broke apart between my second, third and fourth ribs. At the time I didn’t realize what had happened. All I knew is that the big push started the car moving in earnest and I was not about to let it stop. I continued to push with everything I had, and eventually was able to move the car about twenty yards up the hill to where the driver could pull it off to the side.
My chest hurt a bit, but I had accomplished what I had set out to do. I was a good Christian who had done his civic duty.
I returned to the driver’s window, a bit sore, a little tired, but victorious. The man looked up at me thankful, and that is when I noticed. He had the car’s transmission in DRIVE. Not only had I been pushing a mid-size car up a steep hill, but I had been turning over the engine and transmission the whole time!
A bit miffed, I told him to put it in park, then asked if he needed anything else. I don’t recall the rest of the conversation. All I remember is returning to my car, upset that I had hurt myself while trying to help someone so clueless that they didn’t know the difference between drive and neutral.
Thinking back I am sure he must have told me that he’d called someone, or that somehow there was help on the way, otherwise I would not have just left him there, even if “he was so stupid” that he caused me to literally break my body.
All the prejudice I had been hearing for years started coming out of my mouth. I had grown up, for the most part, in the ’70s and though I heard a lot of people refer to others using terms like Chink, Spick, Faggot, Camel Jockey, Cracker, Injun, Retard, and of course The N Word, I tried not to use them. I tried not to judge people by their race, or disabilities, though honestly I did call people fag and retard when I was younger.
Even then I tried to see a person through their words and actions. Not where their family had come from.
Back in my car, and feeling stupid for letting this “idiot” hurt me, I drove away. I am almost certain a few racial slurs about Arabic people and turbans came out of my mouth. I was simultaneously proud that I had the strength in my muscles to push a car, in drive, up a hill, while at the same time vilifying the driver of the car, who “probably did it on purpose.” I probably called him an A-hole a few times too.
I recounted that story many times over the years. My sternum healed, though there is a bump where a section was displaced and pushed in front of the rest. During the healing process, there were days where it hurt, and I would need to stretch it out, to pop it back into place. Somehow it didn’t end up quite right, and reminds me of the day it happened every time it aches, or I see or feel the bump.
In my early days as a believing Christian, I tended to blame a lot of things that happened to me personally on the devil, on Satan. Yeah, I was one of those people.
Before my friends get mad at me about this one, yes I do believe Satan exists, and that he and his minions cause issues for people in this world. It’s just that I no longer believe that he sent a man in a turban, with a broken down K-Car, and instructed him to purposely leave his car in gear, specifically to break my sternum. I think Satan has bigger fish to fry.
Even Jesus said bad things just happen sometimes. Nobody is to blame, and some of these things happen so we can learn a lesson. I guess some lessons take a lot longer to learn.
For far too long I held on to the pain and embarrassment of that event. I realize now that it tainted my view of people who wear turbans. Like many people in the U.S. I had vilified people from the Middle East, or “wherever those people with turbans are from.”
I took a good deed that I had the opportunity to do for another human being in need, and turned it into a story of a stupid guy in a turban.
I was the stupid one in this scenario. Stupid for judging. Stupid for making jokes at his expense. Stupid for holding on to those feelings and that world view for far too long.
I have a scar. It is one that no one can see, unless I show it through my words. It still hurts once in a while, for it is close to my heart. Sometimes I feel it when I breathe. It makes me uncomfortable. It should.
It is the scar of prejudice in me. A daily reminder of my weakness.
I hope I never forget.