I once lived in Maryland, and let me tell you, that whole state sucks. It's nowhere near as friendly as North Carolina — but they didn't vote for Trump, so now I don't know what to think.
In any case, I showed up at my new job on a gray December day, right on the banks of the Chesapeake Bay, where wind was washing the steely water right over the pier. My boss was nice, the work focused on environmental issues and I settled into my office in a sort of annex: a one-room cheerful blue trailer.
At least, it was cheerful in color. The four people in the office with me were quite the opposite. None of them would talk to me. One of them, a blue-eyed princess, made it a point to say hello in the mornings and goodbye in the afternoons, only when her back was turned squarely against me. Her friend, a short little miss, had more of a conscience, so she would have two-minute conversations with me every third day — her maximum quota. You would have thought that their boss, a forty-something grizzly man, would be more polite and mature.
But in a reversal of the normal boss-employee relations, Grizzly seemed to be under command of the Princess. I told Grizzly goodbye once, and he first glanced at Princess for permission before managing a scant reply, eyes averted from me. Grizzly's wife came to visit for an afternoon; she returned my smile and greeting with the coldest look I've ever seen in anyone's eyes, but her husband calls her "babe" on Facebook, so I guess she's okay.
My four office-mates would spend the whole day loudly talking about how they were all going out for a dinner and movie after work and never once ask me if I wanted to come. I had moved over two state borders, and I didn't know anyone in the little town I found myself in. It was their right to fling their exclusive fun in the face of the outsider, but it was rude.
Luckily, people in the main building didn't see fit to treat me as a contamination, with the exception of those who were the close friends of the Blue Trailer crew. One of these was, without exception, the ugliest man I've ever met. I wanted to be nice to him, in my heartfelt, sympathetic way, as I do toward all ugly guys, but this ugly man wanted nothing to do with me. It was insulting beyond belief.
Another was a red-head known by all as so sweet, so nice. Her parents came to visit once and her dad would not look at or acknowledge my existence. I would love to know what tales of oppression his dear, darling daughter had primed him with before he met me.
If I joined them for lunch, silence reigned at the table. If I hid myself during lunch, merriment reigned at the table. Finally, I stopped talking to them, or trying to infiltrate their lunch, after Princess literally had tears springing into her eyes when I sat down with my sandwich opposite her. The short little miss kept telegraphing her wordless comfort.
Hurt and confused, I figured they all must have somehow received advance notice about how weird I am, and decided to take preemptive action. After a few months, it occurred to me that there might be a religious issue at hand, but it was hard to accept, because this is America, and I had never, except when wearing a headscarf, had anyone look askance at me from the first day I walked in. Perhaps after getting to know me, but not from the start. I couldn't believe that four environmental liberals had decided to ostracize me, in perpetuity, because I was Muslim.
Even with those suspicions, I didn't tell anyone — although this was a government office, and the people most likely to enforce anti-discrimination laws are the ones making those laws. What was I supposed to tell my boss? "Why is no one talking to me at lunch?" What if he said: "I've only just hired you, and already you're steeped in middle school shenanigans!" What if he questioned my office-mates and they said: "Well, we try to be nice to her, but she's just so weird."
It might have remained a mystery, but not so in the Internet era. I found the Facebook page belonging to the father of the Princess. Apparently, he does hate Muslims, at least enough to share Islamophobic posts. If he wants to make his page private now, that's OK — I took screenshots of his 43 greatest hits from his 2011 to 2014 glory days.
The sad thing is, the father of the Princess likes to bike, like me, and he cares about the environment, too. And I know this sounds unusual, but I tend to really like older white men. We would probably have gotten along. Did he instead teach his daughter to hate all Muslims?
Did I sit a year in the Blue Trailer in isolation for that reason?
Is that what he wanted?
Did he really raise his daughter thinking that one day when she's 25, she'd sit in an office and make everyone gang up against the newcomer if she were Muslim?
Is that what he meant when he taught her how inferior Muslims are, and how superior he and his daughter are?
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