Friday, August 18, 2017

I'm Not Like the Others - Dispatches from my Sixth Day as a Clinic Escort

(Escort names have been changed to protect their anonymity. Opinions below are mine and do not necessarily reflect those of the leaders who run our team. In other words, if you have an issue with something I've written, talk to me. Links to previous entries in this series: Day One. Day Two. Day Three. Day Four. Day Five. )

"You said that most lesbians are too ugly to rape. You know you did. Why are you trying to say you didn't?"

Our Lady of the Theater is on fire this morning.

The weather forecast was for gloom and rain but at the moment it's sunny and beautiful, a gorgeous day. The stench of putrid water left behind from early morning garbage pickup isn't wonderful but things could be worse for my partner Rachel and myself.

At least we don't have Our Lady of the Theater tearing us a new one.

Not too much is known about her. It's believed she used to be a costume designer or something along those lines, perhaps on Broadway. She's dressed in comfortable clothes, long hair tumbling down from under a hat. For lack of a better term she functions as an anti-protester, usually stopping by for a half-hour or so to delve into discussions with our sidewalk pals. Today she's been here for an hour and a half and she's driving Parker up the wall.

"I never said that," Parker retorts. He fiddles with his hair, which features light-colored tips. Bleached or natural? Only his hairdresser knows for sure. "You just come out with the same argument over and over."

OLofT isn't going to let him off that easily. "A pregnancy created from rape or incest is an uninvited parasite that's using a woman's body without her permission. Doesn't she have the right to expel it?"

Parker's response is the lamentably predictable 'baby shouldn't pay for the sins of the father' bit of horror, which doesn't deter her in the least. She's got two other protesters roped in via proximity - one is an angry-looking woman that may be Parker's step-daughter, while the other is Mutton Chops. MC appears as if he'd like to be anywhere that isn't within the sound of OLotT's voice and indeed moves about 15 feet away at one point, only to have her follow him to re-engage. She's adept at catching them in logical fallacies about their Bible-backed stances, and it's obvious that they loathe her.

We, of course, love her. She's soft-spoken yet forceful, a sharp mind at work. After chatting with us a bit she says her goodbyes, heading off to the library across the street.

Exit, stage left (not pursued by a bear).

* * * 

"God has shown favor to your womb!"

Has he, now?

The protesters are a little undermanned today, with some of the regulars missing (but not The Runner, dammit). Luis shows up for a few minutes before leaving in an Accord held together by prayer. There's always screamers, though, even if Mutton Chops doesn't take a turn today. Instead Hinton and Parker carry the entire performance, which proves to be a bit taxing on their material. Parker seems to feel it a requirement to have the words 'babies' and 'murder' in every almost every sentence and continues to play fast and loose with scientific facts about development in the womb. He's also thoughtful enough to throw in thinly veiled comments about me when I'm covering the door during his diatribes, slights I assume are designed to get me to react.

Today features the Hinton Show as he sandwiches his turns on the mic around Parker's oratory ramblings. He's letting his flag fly, so to speak. Gays are the target for a while, which is a curious topic to preach about outside of a women's clinic. They're bad, in case you weren't sure. So are liberals, who are responsible for this 'sick liberal world' we're forced to live in (those responsible, take a bow. You know who you are). Women are weaker than men, as per the Bible, and so men have to tell them what to do - I'm paraphrasing here as Hinton's diatribes often wander in and out of comprehensibility. He's all hopped up about Jesus not being second to Mary. I have absolutely no idea what he's talking about and again, an odd subject to be ranting about outside of a clinic.

Hinton also spends time insisting that religion is not a mental illness and it's becoming clear that somebody put a bee in his bonnet, perhaps via a couple of choice comments. Our Lady of the Theater?  Like Parker, Hinton is not afraid to point out my personal shortcomings whenever I cover the door. I'm a horrible writer, it seems, filling this blog with lies and fake news. That's patently false - well, the accusations about deceit, anyway. The quality level is for each person to decide. He also accuses me of writing for glory.

I dismiss that with a smile at first, but as I walk back to my post I mull it over a bit more. Every writer wants what they've written to be read. To say otherwise would be disingenuous, or so I feel. At the same time it has to be said that for most writers I know, it's not an option. The need to put words to paper (or screen) is a sort of obsession. I can't speak for others but I know that once an idea gets in my head it refuses to stay quiet or be ignored. It demands attention. It demands to be told. That's part of the reason I get up every morning at 5am to write - because I both want to and have to.

There's more to this, though. Another aspect of what keeps me chronicling these shifts has been the reaction. I have lost count of how many times I've been asked if what I write is what it's really like, if the protesters truly do behave in such a manner. Always the questions come with an air of shocked disbelief, deepening as I confirm the veracity. It gives people something to talk about and the stories get shared.

Therein lies the reason why I continue trying to articulate my experiences. It's not for notoriety, not for fame and/or fortune. If just one person reads this and decides to become an escort, that's fantastic. If a woman who needs to go to a clinic reads what I've written and understands there are people who don't know her but are there willing to fight to allow her to be able to act on whatever choice she makes with her body, it's all good. I don't know if either of those things have happened, but I don't need to. Escorting is not about me and it never will be. To be honest, before I started this shift I hadn't planned on writing it up, but somehow there's always a wealth of new experiences that start rattling around inside my head, urging me toward the keyboard. And here we are.

Hinton wants me to know that he doesn't hate me and is praying that I repent, although he isn't so overwhelmed with good cheer for my soul's disposition that he stops muttering 'desfruita de muerte' whenever I go by.

I don't have a womb, though, so God can't show me favor there. Bummer.

* * *

"I'm not like the others. I'm a sidewalk counselor."

Okay. Sure.

My partner Denise has gone inside to retrieve the rest of her breakfast - bagels provided by Lexi - and the moment she leaves someone I haven't seen before this morning sidles over. This is usually The Runner's shtick, zeroing in on solo escorts and attempting to form some kind of bond. He's an older guy, grandfatherly, dressed in a blue button-down shirt and khakis. His smile is friendly and his tone jocular. Later I find out he's a regular protester during the week. He opens with a comment or two about the weather, and when I don't respond he drops the line from above in a conspiratorial whisper. 

I greet him with stony silence, eyes watching the street from behind my sunglasses.

"C'mon, I'd like to engage. Really, I'm one of the good guys. My name's Pete. What's yours?"

"Escorts are not permitted to engage with protesters." I don't speak with heat or rancor, my tone disinterested.

"Really? No free speech?" His face holds an exaggerated expression of disbelief, a subtle note of condescension accompanying his words. "That's some organization you have there."

"Escorts are not permitted to engage with protesters."

"I heard that, but really, we can't just talk on this sunny morning? Maybe I could help you see a different way of thinking." He's still sneering as he gestures toward The Runner. "She and I aren't like those people, shouting all the time. We just want to help."

Siding with The Runner is an interesting way to try to win my trust, to be certain. I'm about to repeat my mantra again when Lexi shows up with a big smile.

"Hey! What's going on?" She addresses me directly, ignoring the fact that Pete even exists via words and body language.

I shrug. "I think Fox News took on human form. It doesn't seem to understand that organizations have rules that its members choose to follow."

Pete's face darkens a bit. We're not going to be buddies, it seems. "I don't understand why your people aren't allowed to speak. That doesn't seem right."

To Pete, it probably doesn't. I'm just doing some (ahem) sidewalk analysis here, but I'm going to guess that he doesn't get the point of why we're out here - it's not for us. It's not about us and it never was, never will be. It's about getting people past the bile, hatred, and misogyny, about letting them have the opportunity to make a choice and have access to a medical facility. It's not about being able to one-up a protester in an argument, not about getting the last word in, not about landing a good zinger. I forgot that a few months ago, but I'm doing my best not to let it happen again. It's not about me.

I'm pretty sure that for Pete, it's about Pete. His true colors start to show a little bit later when Lexi ducks inside the clinic.

"Hey, I take my coffee black. Bring me a danish, too."

He finds this to be such a killer joke that he repeats it every time an escort heads for the door - as long as they're female. Charming.

Later he makes another attempt at being chummy with me. "C'mon, man, I'm not like those guys. I'm one of the good ones. Surely you can see that."

"Escorts are not permitted to engage with protesters."

* * *

"Mom, it's not too late to do the right thing."

That's one of The Runner's go-to tactics, working "Mom" into her passive-aggressive verbal assaults on patients and their companions. It takes a special mindset to mix together guilt and shame to be flung at fellow women, but The Runner is more than up to the task. She's the reason Lexi and I are still out here at 11:30am, a good half-hour after Parker and Hinton called it quits. Most of the day's patients are already inside, so she sets her sights on those departing. Sometimes they emerge in command of their movements, other times they're woozy and disoriented. No matter what their condition, The Runner is poised and willing to strike.

"Mom, why don't you be more like your own mother, who loved you enough to give you life?"

That she's saying things like this at all is reprehensible. That she's saying them to people who are leaving the clinic is unfathomable. Can there be any motivation other than to be hurtful? She's just as aggressive and slippery now as she was first thing in the morning, despite being clad in four-inch-thick wedge-heeled shoes. How is it possible for her to not have rolled an ankle by now?

"Mom, if you turn to Jesus you'll be forgiven."

The woman we're escorting out stops abruptly and glares at The Runner. "I'm Jewish," she says.

The Runner doesn't miss a beat. "Here's some literature about where you can get some help, and I have a keychain for you that you might like."

The woman stares at her, probably wondering the same thing we are: did The Runner not hear what she said, or does she simply not care? With an incredulous shake of her head she climbs into a car, shutting the door as Lexi and I box The Runner out. 

As the car pulls away The Runner surveys the empty sidewalk and gives a little shrug. "Well, have a nice weekend," she says to us. "I'm going."

We watch her walk to her newish Mercedes, not budging until she drives away. Even then we wait for a few minutes longer after that, as she's pretended to leave before only to pop back after driving around the block.. She appears to be gone for real, so we head for the door. A patient emerges as we draw near, her head swiveling as she walks out.

"That crazy bitch gone?" At our nods she adds, "How the hell she run in those shoes?"

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