My ass is cold.
The bees are swarming.
Not a restroom in sight.
And it’s only halftime.
It’s the first game we’ve played against Deerfield, and we’re already getting crushed.
Scanning the bleachers, there must be, what…Forty? Fifty of us?
We are parents, grandparents, and dragged-along siblings, watching two middle school soccer teams on the Evanston Township High School football field.
“C’mon, boys!” we shout, clapping.
It’s a sunny, chillyish Sunday afternoon.
Over there, on the north end, is the Deerfield crowd.
Huddled here, further south, are the Evanston fans.
I’m chatting with another mom about our sixth grade sons, comparing notes about how middle school’s treating them so far.
I pay little attention to the start of the second half.
Instead, I notice a man a few rows down, swatting at a darting bee.
He is older.
Definitely a grandpa.
He is on his phone.
“Hold on,” he says, standing, hand whipping the air. “These bees are unbelievable.”
He sits back down and resumes his call.
“No seriously,” he says, looking around. “It’s a nice field. Yeah. Yeah…I know. It’s not like that. There’s Astro turf… lights. Who knew?”
We make momentary eye contact. My forehead furrows, seeing his brows raised in judgmental surprise.
He turns his whole body to look around some more, shaking his head as he describes the scene. “You wouldn’t believe it. It’s actually nice. What? Oh, yeah. We’re killing ’em!”
Wait, what? He’s a Deerfield grandpa? What’s he doing on our side?
Then I think, Whatever. It’s a free country.
Then…Damn. They actually are killing us. We really do kinda suck today.
I try hard to imagine this man’s story:
His son and daughter-in-law are out of town.
He’s on grandkid duty.
Hasn’t seen the ETHS football field in years — or maybe ever.
Assumed it’s run down because…you know…Evanston.
Is shocked to see its magnificence. Utterly and completely shocked because…well…you know…
Back again to my convo with the other mom. At this point, we’ve begun dodging bees ourselves, so we slide over on the bleachers, even closer to Mr. Deerfield.
I think, My ass had only just warmed up, and now…great…it’s cold again.
“The score?” the man asks into his phone. “I don’t know, but they’ll never catch up. It’s a slaughter.”
He then cups one hand over the phone.
“What do you mean, how many?” he asks, chuckling again. “Not enough of them, I suppose. I can’t tell. Okay, okay, lemme count,” he pleads, craning his neck. “There’s… one…two…hold on…three. Three of them.”
I scooch my ass against the ridges of that cold, hard bleacher seat, fighting the chill of anger rising from deep within.
“Even with three, it’s still a blowout,” he laughs, his voice low. “Go figure.”
Hearing this, I turn toward the other mom, shaking my head.
She widens her eyes, still facing the field, then turns to me, mouth agape.
I mouth the words “What an asshole.”
“It’s beautiful. They’re just awful,” he says.
Is this actually happening?
“No! They’re bigger than us!” the man continues. “And the three?” he says, incredulous, “they’re like racehorses…”
My cold ass is now standing.
I don’t even think about what I will say.
I don’t feel the need to muster any courage.
I don’t feel my legs carry me down to his level.
I hear three little words, echoing in my head. Do. Not. Stoop.
I stand one row above him, on the metal seat, shaking.
I want to grab that phone out of his hand and shove it up his racially insensitive, motherfucking ass.
“Excuse me,” I say, tapping my foot.
He doesn’t hear me.
“Sir?” I say loudly, hands on hips.
Still talking and laughing. One hand over his mouth.
I stomp my heel.
He jumps, startled.
“Sir?!” I bark.
He turns to me.
“You realize we can hear you.” This is not a question.
He covers his phone.
“Do you realize what you’re saying?”
He looks around at the Evanston crowd.
At the parents.
At the grandparents.
At the dragged-along siblings.
At the black families.
At the white families.
At the human beings.
“Our players are not animals,” I say. I am trembling inside.
Not a word from his sorry ass.
Which is good.
Otherwise I will shut him up in a fucking heartbeat.
Do not stoop, I tell myself. Don’t you dare stoop.
“Shame on you,” I say. “We all hear you.”
I look around at the crowd.
Every eye is on the game.
No one says a word.
No one looks our way.
But I know.
We all have ears.
Especially the dragged-along siblings.
Theirs are the biggest.
And that’s why this is important.
Do. Not. Stoop.
I look directly into his eyes, under those perpetually-raised eyebrows.
“What you’re doing is horrifying. Listen to yourself. Please stop making your racially charged comments.”
Then I march back up to my spot.
Sit my furious ass back down.
Turn to the mom, who holds my stare.
Plant my hands firmly on either side of my ass, on that cold metal seat.
But my body’s on fire.
The other mom’s eyes say be steady.
So I am.
I take deep breaths.
I keep nodding.
She nods along with me.
We watch the second half. In silence.
As does the man.
Later, as the boys line up for their post-game salute, I finally speak.
“I need to go home and write about this,” I tell the mom. “That’s how I process things.”
“Do it,” she says.
But I never do.
It’s been a year and a half.
That autumn, my life became complicated, and I never wrote about the incident.
And though I’m writing about it now, it’s important to note that…
…as a white woman, I had the luxury of time.
…as a white woman, I could forget about that incident.
…as a white woman, I could put it “away” for another day.
…as a white woman, I could feel the chill of racial injustice.
…as a white woman, I could have shared my experience with others immediately…and I didn’t.
There’s a lot we could do to improve race relations, but the word could is just cold without the u.
Unless you notice everyday racial injustice, it festers unchecked in our everyday lives.
Unless you acknowledge your white privilege, and the luxuries it affords, we won’t ever move forward.
Sure, your ass might be cold.
And the bees might be swarming.
And there may not be a restroom in sight.
And it might only be halftime.
But until you feel uncomfortable about the things that truly matter, this world will remain a cold ass place, where racial injustice stings every limb of humanity.