I was waist deep in uncomfortably warm bay water, belly bulging, a pregnant attendee at my friend’s out-of-town bachelorette party. As I struggled to cover up my bloat amongst the bikini clad party-goers, I surveyed the scene. This particular bar offered up something extra special: bar service in the ocean. There were stools, tables, and floats anchored into the sand, and the wait staff served alcohol to people half-submerged in the salty blue.
This seemed ill-conceived for several reasons, but I wasn’t about to point them out. After all, a few months ago, this might have been right up my alley- splashing around as top 40s blared from the DJ booth, tropical drink in hand, surrounded by friends. The biggest threat of this bachelorette weekend should have been dodging drunken dance moves and pervy bachelorette paraphernalia, all while being stone-cold sober.
But I was wrong. A threat far more sinister was waiting in the water: two brawny bachelor party attendees who turned out to be harboring some serious hatred.
At first my friends and I had bonded with their group over the fact that we were all from Long Island, NY. There had been some “Rah, rah, goooo Long Island!” type chatter that instilled an almost protective vibe from them; we became “their girls.”
But that quickly transformed into something more territorial and aggressive. There were at least two of them circling our table at all times, like sharks sizing up their prey. Eventually our small talk turned to the specifics of where on Long Island we were from.
“Merrick, huh? Then you must be Jewish.” And with those pointed words, one man, who I easily could have passed on the street at home and not given a second glance, who I could have mistaken for an old friend from high school, thumped his hand onto my head, and yanked my head down at an angle to look for my horns.
“I hate Jews,” he blurted out as he carelessly pushed my head back. I could smell his beer-infused sweat.
I still felt the weight of his words, the weight of his hand on my head, when he called his friend over to relay this new revelation- that I was one of them.
“I fucking hate Jews,” the other agreed through clenched teeth.
I sat there, mouth agape, face flushed. “Don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry…” I kept repeating the mantra in my head, biting my lip, sinking my nails into my submerged thighs.
He went on to say that he used to teach in a town that had a large Jewish population and that’s why he hated us. The horror of this smacked me in the face. He was a teacher. Turns out, they both were, and I felt betrayed on yet another level.
These men lived two towns over from where I had grown up and where I now lived with my husband. Two towns from where we planned to raise our daughter and give her the same fulfilling, happy, and safe childhood that I had experienced. Two towns from where I worked as an elementary school teacher.
And then, to find out they were teachers too, directly influencing the lives of children every day—I was gutted. How did these people, with unbridled hate in their hearts, sneak unnoticed into a profession that requires so much love?
I wish I could say I gathered my courage, stood up on that stool, and made a speech that exposed their ugliness. That an epic, drunken slow clap had ensued, the mob turning on them, holding them underwater for me to use as stepping stones, squashing their hatred with every step.
I wish I had said something to make them feel as small and ugly as they had made me feel. At the very least, I wish I had gotten them thrown out by the bar security guards, who were wading through the water.
But I didn’t. I sat there, glued to that stool, wishing it would break off and float me away into the vast blue nothingness. My arms wrapped protectively around my protruding stomach, I willed myself not to cry, not wanting the last of my dignity to sink into the depths of the ocean and settle amongst the abandoned, algae-covered beer bottles.
For weeks after the attack, shame and anger followed me like a shadow. After a while, I realized that I was mostly angry with myself- because I hadn’t seen this coming. I was unarmed for this battle. I had been wearing rose-colored glasses my whole life.
Hate isn’t a thing of the past, and its influence is farther-reaching than many of us want to acknowledge. It’s marching in our streets and it’s mowing down our citizens with cars. It’s hiring and firing employees, it’s drinking with us at the bar, it’s teaching our children, and it’s making decisions for our country.
I realize now that we see what we want to—what we need to in order to get by. But I’ve learned that I won’t be complacent again. It’s the same lesson we’re learning as a society now that Klan members are storming the streets. It’s a lesson that we’ll keep learning over and over until it sticks. Now is not the time for neutrality, or blindness, or turning the other cheek. It’s time to stand up on our bar stools—whatever platform we have—and make a scene.