Changing the Story
In the photograph, Janice is giving the ref the finger. Of course. Of course that was the moment captured. Of course that was the photo included in every newspaper article, news report, blog post. Of course.
Janice sat at her kitchen table drinking her coffee. She thought that, of all mornings, she deserved to roll back her sugar industry ban just on account of that photo, but she resisted the pull.
“I don’t even swear,” she said as Tanya walked in. “I’ve never given anyone the finger in my life.”
“Well, now you have,” Tanya said, taking down her oversized morning mug and filling it almost to overflowing with the strong Jamaican blend they both preferred. She walked to the table and sat across from Janice. “You’re worried about the campaign.”
“Don’t you think I’ve already been painted as angry enough without this?”
Tanya smiled. “Sure, but this time, you actually were angry. They’re saying something true for a change.”
Janice nodded. “Yes, there’s my consolation.”
“Look, honey, you can’t control that nonsense. Just like you couldn’t help your response to that ref.” She shrugged. “It’s done. You did it. All you can do now is move forward.”
“Is this going to be another of your “change the story” pep talks?”
“In fact, it is.” Tanya reached across the table and held her hand open in front of Janice, waiting for her to take it before continuing.
“You’re good at this,” she said. “Each time some ridiculous story about your anger has been put out there, you’ve been able to turn it into a story about an issue, a policy piece, something to shine the light on Tipton’s failings.”
“Sure, but – as you so nicely pointed out — this time I really was angry.”
“And you weren’t angry about the benefit cuts to families with children or the diversion of funding for the arts to pay for private school vouchers?”
“Ha, ha. Yes, of course. Those were different.”
“Why’d you flip off the ref?”
Janice finished her coffee. “I told you –”
“Tell me again. You’re going to be answering some version of this question all day, right? So, why?”
“He called me a dyke under his breath.”
“You are a dyke.”
“It’s a pejorative when he says it.”
“So? It’s the first time you heard hate speech?”
Janice brought her mug to the sink, rinsed it and set it down. “I’ve got to shower.”
“Go shower, but that’s the heart, isn’t it? You don’t swear. Giving someone the finger isn’t the norm for you. So why last night? Was it that insulting to have him call you a name? The “what” of this is how you change the story. You need to find it.”
Janice frowned and walked out of the room. She knew Tanya was right, would have known even if her whole body wasn’t giving up the signs. She could feel everything acutely: the tie of her robe creating friction at her waist, the bandage on her left thumb feeling tight, the hard soles of her slippers not offering any give against her heels.
Why had she given that foolish man the finger? It definitely wasn’t the first time someone had thrown her orientation in her face in an attempt to shut her down. So why?
She was willing to bet that, by the time she finished her shower, that ref would have made the circuit of morning shows talking about how shocked and offended he was, how he’d only been doing his job, but she’d been so angry.
Yeah. She’d handed him the club to beat her with, handed Tipton’s campaign another media moment to grab hold of. He couldn’t attack her on issues, but he could go to town on her being such an angry black woman.
Refreshed from her shower, she chose her red jersey v-neck dress that fell to mid-calf. No way she was going to dress quietly when she faced reporters. She’d wear a gold chain belt and her black, oiled leather knee-high boots with the four-inch heels. She’d tie her twist-out back with her purple and green paisley scarf that would drape down her back. She would look tall and strong and fierce and feminine. She would talk about hate speech and how her orientation had nothing to do with the disputed call. She’d apologize for offending people with her vulgar gesture, but also talk about passion.
She frowned. It didn’t get at the “why” exactly, but it might start to get there.
She could hear Tanya on the phone and smiled. Tanya would raise an eyebrow when she saw the outfit, but she’d also nod her approval.
The “why” still caught in the back of her throat. She knew she’d have to be careful, that because she hadn’t articulated it for herself yet, it was dangerous. It could bubble up and out in the middle of an answer.
She’d get there in time. Probably not until after dinner, after she’d had the day to see herself standing tall, to see ease return. She’d come home late, she and Tanya would watch a movie and eat popcorn, and then they’d talk. And talk. The way they always did with problems. Tanya threw the question out over coffee so it would sit over a low flame all day to simmer and burn off the rancor, get to the core. They she’d be there to help with the harder part, the pain of an old hurt or shame that had been stick-poked and uncovered.
Janice definitely wasn’t ready for that first thing in the morning, but she could use its fuel to drive her day, push her past the insulting questions, put that ref on the defensive, force something substantive into print.