Mondays are hard enough. But it helps to start out a new day walking to school with Megan. We tried to walk last year, but Tropico is a narrow, curving, hilly, blind-spotted road, and to get to school we thought we had to suck in exhaust from the zillions of SUVs flying past, as parents race to drop off their kids. And the school driveway is a snarl of cars, as well. It sucked so much I made my daughters take the bus. Then! Voila, Charlie the hiking master discovered a secret trail down a back canyon behind the school. He discovered the perfect walk. We just have to cruise a mile or so down Grandview, which is wide enough that we don’t have to jump into bushes every time someone hauls past, scoot down a slightly private drive (it’s unmarked but clearly an access road for a handful of homes in this nook) cross someone’s carport, and there’s the trail. About 300 yards of fun scrambling down into the school. We’ve met the carport people, introduced our dogs, and they didn’t seem to mind our brief foray across the edge of their drive.
The walk. It’s our ritual. We hold hands, chat, look at birds, smell the morning, struggle with the dog, express disgust at the political signs that are now finally down. I’ve been training Ace not to scent-mark everything he sees, but I really wanted him to hit a few of those yellow signs (that say Yes on 8), some Hunter/McCains.
A great way to start out. And every afternoon, at 2:30, I get to do it again, where Megan tells me all about her day in the 20 minutes or so it takes to walk home, always holding hands. I still have my baby.
This morning, we turned down the drive. A guy in a truck pulled up next to us, as if to exit out onto Grandview. But he just pulled up and stared at me, idling. I stopped, a questioning look on my face. I was wearing Megan’s heavy backpack all covered in pink and white hearts.
“Do you…need something?” I asked.
“Do you?” he said.
I went cold. He was sitting in pajama bottoms, driving some sort of man truck. I don’t remember what it was, a big green SUV or utility truck. I’d never seen him before, and we’ve been walking this twice a day all year.
It’s a blur to me now what he said next, but something along the lines that we were on private property and had no right to be there. I said the people who owned that driveway down there didn’t mind.
He said that as soon as I get past that chain-linked fence I was on his property.
I said I would call the County and confirm that. Megan and I continued toward the trail. I looked back. He messed with some trash cans on Grandview, got back in his truck, and drove back down toward us, still staring at me. I stood my ground, holding Megan’s hand.
He asked what rights I thought I had to be walking on his property.
I said it pretty much looked like a canyon to me with an easement trail just like ones all over Mt. Helix. “Why am I walking? I’m walking my daughter to school. We like the fresh air, we spend time together, we like the exercise. We’re saving the environment,” I looked at his truck. “Walking on the other road is dangerous and has no sidewalks. “What kind of a problem could you have with us walking on this trail to school?” I asked.
“How would you like it if I walked in your yard.”
“I think it would be pretty obvious that you would know you were in my yard.”
I said that we live on a private drive, too, and all kinds of people drive on it. So as not to think the neighborhod access road is anything special.
I wondered if he was some sort of East County scary militia type, but I refused to be bullied.
“I don’t know what has happened to your heart, sir, to make you harrass a mother and daughter walking to elementary school, but it’s pretty sad. I can’t imagine how we could possibly offend you.”
“You’ve offended me in more ways than you know,” he said.
We headed down the trail. I was glad we didn’t happen to have hyperactive barky Ace with us. I wondered if it was this man’s trash I’d tossed plastic-knotted dog dumps into. Maybe he’d watched me this whole year clean up after Ace, training his crosshairs on me as I walked the poo to the nearest dumpster. Is that how we offended him?
“I shouldn’t say this, Megan, but he’s probably a republican.” I shouldn’t say that because there’s probably a republican in East County who’s not a jerk, to be fair. I told her he was a complete jerk, extremely rude to us.
Megan was shattered. What used to be a fun boulder trail scramble was now a horrible nightmare walk into school.
“I don’t want to come here ever again, Mom. Let it go. Don’t talk to him. Let’s go home the back way. Please. He’s scary. I don’t ever want to see him again.”
I told Megan she had every reason to be scared of him. “But I refuse to be bullied. I WILL call the County and see if this trail is in fact private property. Megan, there are no signs that say Private Property, Keep Out. That’s the rule. If it’s private, they have to tell us. No one has the right to come yell at us like that. And you know what? He may be scary, but remember that I am a second-degree black belt and if he tried to do anything to hurt you or me I would tear him apart. I could kill him with my bare hands and believe me I would if I had to. Don’t you worry! He’s just a bully.”
“Mom, don’t call the County. Don’t talk to him. Please just pick me up at the back ramp. You promise you’ll remember? I don’t care about the trail anymore. Will you? Be there at 2:30? (She always has this paranoia that I’ll forget to pick her up on time.) Now she was really thrown. I pinkie swore with her that I would be at the back ramp at 2:30, and we’d walk back home on the tortuous Tropico in the afternoon.
I kissed Megan goodbye, apologized that she had to experience such a very rude grownup. Maybe he just didn’t have a happy childhood, I told her, with a mom who walked him to school, and this makes him weird. I didn’t know.
Fuck him, I thought.
I headed right back up the trail. I thought of knocking on the driveway people’s door and asking what the hell.
He was waiting for me toward the top, where the chain-link fence skirts the trail. “What’s your name?”
Oh, that old power trick. “My name is Gayle Early. And I want your name and address.”
“How do you spell that?”
I spat it out the letters. “And give me your information.”
“You can go research that with the County.”
“Fine, I will follow you home to see where you live. This trail doesn’t look like ANYBODY’S private domain. How could you be so hateful to ruin a perfectly good and safe place for us to walk to school!
“Where’s your sign that says Private Property–Do Not Trespass–Keep Out?” I asked.
“You go ahead and call the County,” he said. “Go get yourself a lawyer, spend yourself $10,000, and I’ll see you there court. Let you pay for a judge to tell you to get off my property.”
Ah. It is an easement, just like I thought. He’s on shaky ground. Easements do run through some properties, but it’s gray. I could see five different houses backing the canyon, none that clearly “owned” it.
“Oh you can count on seeing me in court,” I said, shaking but standing my (his) ground.
He muttered something about why he should tolerate these kind of families walking on his property–again, a blur–I was so bewildered, not accustomed to running into such bewildering hate. Usually people walk or drive past us and smile, probably wishing they were walking with their child to school, or rememebering some other happy time.
He was spitting something insulting, asking me how I voted on Prop 8.
I was instantly alarmed.
I pretty much guessed that the driveway people were lesbians. Did he harrass those women, too? Did he somehow guess that I had a No on 8 sign in my yard, did he see my unshaved pits and figure out I wrote for the only progressive rag in East County? There were so many Yes on 8 signs around here, was I being sniffed out as a witch?
I exploded. “What the hell does this canyon trail have to do with politics?”
I can’t rememeber what he said.
“What does politics have to do with me walking my daughter to a fucking elementary school down a fucking canyon trail!”
I can’t remember what he said.
“Well if you want to fucking know how I voted on that fucking fucked up proposition, I voted NO and furthermore I just fucking marched with 20,000 fucking other people this weekend.” Then, like an idiot, I started crying. Not like a girl, but just tears of outrage. Was some freaky bigot questioning my beliefs and how dare he, and…what did the trail have to do with Prop 8? Why was he ruining my walk? Was he going to target me now?
He held out his hands. “You don’t need to get angry. No need to swear, here.”
“What’s next,” I asked, turning my back to continue to the top of the trail, gesturing to the wild brush choking the dry mountain wash. “Are you going to shoot coyotes, here, too? Squirrels?”
“I don’t shoot coyotes.”
“Glad to hear it.”
He said he was glad to hear that someone who lives out here voted no on 8. I turned and looked at him.
“You’re right, there’s a lot of narrow-minded, bigoted people who voted for that,” he said.
My gaydar was completely off. Here I am, fat, wearing boring clothes, dumpy mom, I must have looked like one of the righteous family-touting yellow Yes on 8 family sign stakers in the neighborhood. His straight-ar was completely off, too, not picking me out for someone who goes all out to champion human civil rights.
“Well, you’re kind of acting like one now,” I pointed out.
He said, “you have no idea what it’s like to live here, drive past these signs, in my own neighborhood everyday, and have them overturn rights we were already given by the California Supreme Court. All these people around us with their yellow family signs. I decided that if these “families” were going to take away my rights, I was not going to let you walk on my property.”
“I completely understand your anger. And I am so sorry about the idiots in this state and in our neighborhood who did this to you.”
He touched his chest. “You have no idea how this feels.”
“How do you know I’m not a lesbian?”
He raised his eyebrows. He didn’t. Touche.
But I told him he was right, I can’t fully imagine what his struggle was like, but that I was offended and frightened that a simple majority can tell others what to do, that I was afraid of what was next. I said I was married to a man, but “if Charlie were a woman I would have married her.” I told him how we both felt violated at prop 8, that we don’t feel we should have any particular right to be married if others can’t. I told him about my gay friends with kids who were harrassed and hurt deeply.
We had a long discussion about the nature of marriage, about civil marriages versus religious marriages, and how any marriage, to be recognized in this state, has to be a civil one first and foremost. I told him that members of my own family probably don’t recognize my 20-year-old marriage, in their heart of hearts, because it was conducted by a judge in a civil ceremony, not in some god’s house and according to their script. Are they going to annul me next? Take away my right to choose? What’s next?
Michael was at the march, too. His partner of 16 years, Norm, doesn’t want to go to work anymore. The only gay in the office, he’ had great rapport with all these women for years, and yet half of them voted yes on 8. Such a personal betrayal. He, Michael, said he wishes he could move somewhere else, but then he doesn’t want to be driven out of his home, too. He yanked Yes on 8 signs out of public areas, feeling that was within his right. Someone called the cops. Two–TWO–sherrif cars pulled up to question him. “I can’t even get one officer out here during a robbery, and you guys dispatch two cars for this?” He said he doesn’t know who is walking around this trail, maybe it could be someone wanting to harm them, with all the hatred and bigotry going around.
I told him I thought he was a scary militia type.
“I am,” he said.
“But I told Megan, who by the way, is terrified of you, never wants to walk here again–I said I wasn’t going to let you bully me.”
“And you shouldn’t let me or anyone bully you, just like “we” [gays] shouldn’t let people bully us. I’d like to apologize to her. She should hear an adult say, “I made a mistake.”
“She will probably understand your anger and frustration,” I said. “We counted the yellow signs, too. We hated them, too. And a guy that she had a crush on said his parents were voting yes on 8.” And now Megan doesn’t seem to be crushing on him as much now. I told him how I knocked on the door of what I thought was a lesbian couple at the bottom of our street to personally apologize that their neighbors had a Yes sign out, and I didn’t want them to feel like everyone felt that way. Turns out, the woman I talked to said, they weren’t lesbians, just have lived together for many many years. (And drive big man trucks and look the part but who’s stereotyping now).
He wants to protest at the next Grossmont High School Board meeting. He and his partner don’t have children, but they pay 43% of their taxes to public schools, something like that, and this school district took a public, political stance of Yes on 8, so he doesn’t want his taxes to go to a school that openly states bias against gays. And he certainly doesn’t want such people in this school district walking on his property.
He’s very angry and he wants to lash out. I was his first victim. He said his partner didn’t want him to go down and bother people, and that the women here didn’t mind people walking down their driveway. He realized he picked the wrong person, that he judged by appearance and misjudged. I told him we were the only people who had a no on 8 sign, but then two other families followed suit. That I feel frightened at the hostility and ignorance out there. That we should have a neighborhood alliance, and that I’m happy there’s a gay enclave in my neighborhood.
“We’re accepting, but not recruiting,” he said.
I have an appointment to meet him at his and his partner’s house at 2:30 to walk down the trail to get Megan.
I don’t know how he can get over his anger.