"What's the world for you if you can't make it up the way you want."

-Jazz, Toni Morrison


Babes in a Banned Land

Babes in a Banned Land

    The room I know best is my car. I’m in it a lot. At a red light, I can clip my nails, brush my teeth, spit…function over form. My Uncle Norris taught me the word “Ablutions,”—you know those morning rituals we employ to make ourselves presentable? In my field (Mental Health) we call these ADL’s, Activities of Daily Living.

     ADL also stands for Anti-Defamation League (The ADL)—who I recently had to call when I was being stalked by a climate denier on Storrow Drive. He was in hot-pursuit of my Boston GlobeFacts Matter,” bumper sticker.

    When he photographed my bumper he also had my license plate number, which with minimal effort he could track me down. Things have been scary lately, that morning the news was full of stories about the stabbing on the train in Portland Oregon, and Storrow Drive was dotted with bright orange cones that gave no indication where the potholes were that one was supposed to avoid.  I told my friend Dahlia that I thought I should report this, in case the climate professor fire-bombed my house or my car.

    How high were the stakes? I didn’t know. There was no Scud Missile attack. As I watched him from my rear-view mirror I burrowed down to the core of remembrance: In Tel-Aviv counter- protesters spat at me, sometimes they threw rocks. But they always said:  “You are worse than the Nazi’s. You are a knife in the back of the nation. You peace-lovers are the well-spoilers of the Jewish People.” These were the days of Peace Now Before It’s Too Late.  Before “The Kings of Israel Plaza,” had to be renamed in memory of Prime Minister Rabin killed by a right-wing Jewish extremist who killed the Oslo Peace Process too.

    I’ve been on hate lists before. I’ve been on all 31 flavors of hate-lists.

    We were stuck in traffic on Storrow Drive and I was eyeing the rear-view mirror in case someone pulled out suddenly to pass me- they always do. I saw a white guy late 40’s early 50’s. Sleeveless T shirt. Shorts showing pale legs, hair brown-brunette, a bit of grey.

    He leaned out of the driver’s side, and was taking a picture with his phone. Dahlia was in the passenger seat. We were on our way to her studio. Any threat slammed down harder because I wanted to protect her, he’d go for her first. “He can see I’m a brown girl,” Dahlia said. Dahlia is from a Banned-Muslim Country. I’d been pleasantly surprised that she didn’t get detained when she flew in from Banned-Land. “Oh no,” she said, “They have U.S. immigration at the airport there-that way they don’t get stuck having to deport the people they don’t want to let in.”

    We turned left off Storrow Drive to Route #28 North. In front of the Museum of Science we stopped at the red light. I told Dahlia: “Maybe he’s a real live Troll. You know how they talk about internet trolls” Then we laughed about the pink fleshytoy troll dolls we’d both had as kids, with spiked fluorescent hair that formed a point at the top. That’s when he drove up to my passenger side and motioned for me to roll down my window.

     “Facts matter? That’s about climate change—right?”

    “No,” I leaned over Dahlia toward the window and said. “It’s a bumper sticker from the Boston Globe.” We weren’t laughing anymore. This troll was not a toy.

    “But it’s about climate change- right. I’ll tell you the facts. The Polar Ice caps are higher than they’ve ever been before…”

    I cut him off to ask: “Are you going to kill me?”

    He looked back at me, insulted: “This isn’t London! We don’t kill people here. I’m a conservative…”

    Oh! The London Bridge attack, that too, I thought. He hadn’t really answered my question so I asked him again, just to be sure: “So you aren’t going to kill me?” But before he could answer the light turned green.

    The Attorney General’s office has a Hate Hotline, but it’s rather cold. I called and got their voicemail. I never received a call back. I called the mayor’s office they transferred me to the Governor’s office, who transferred me to the Attorney General’s Office—where I got the voice mail for the hotline. That was when I called the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). Their deputy director called me back. He said: “If you felt threatened you need to call the police. We track these things.  But you need to call the police.”

    I called the local police and they said I needed to call the State Police. But I still hesitated. I work with people who lost loved ones to homicide. I was in the Israeli Army for cryin’ out loud. Really? I was going to complain about this? NOTHING HAPPENED. But it had. 

    I told the State Trooper how I’d been stuck in traffic on Storrow Drive: “You know near where that Reverse the Curse sign used to be,” the State Police Officer said: “Oh that’s right in front of our barracks.”

    “It just seemed like this was his activity for the day…like he was hunting for people like me.” I told the trooper the whole homicide-Israeli-Army-trauma-therapist thing: “I just thought that when my house gets firebombed-it will be easier for you to investigate. You’ll already know who killed me.”

    “We’ll look into it,” he said, and I believed him. I imagined him standing by the barracks window, looking out on Storrow Drive: tall, broad-chested, tight black pants with a blue stripe, shiny boots scanning the road for my would-be annihilator.

    I hung up the phone and got back in my car. I headed over to the William Joiner Center for War and Social Consequences, for a workshop on Bearing Witness. I hoped I’d have to stop at a few red lights on the way, so I’d have time to do my ablutions.


You can't tell someone else's story you can only tell your own. That's the conclusion Lisa Filegel reached while working on her book, Bulletproof Therapist: My Clinical Adventures in Israel, Northern Ireland and Inner-City Boston. She wrote this essay while attending the writers workshop at the William Joiner Center for War and Social Consequences. She thinks about war and social consequences a lot. She can't help herself—she only vacations in war zones. Website: bulletprooftherapist.com

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