I’m walking in a very isolated area in the Susana Susana mountains. It’s not too far from my house, but it’s remote. The dirt road is rutted and steep, surrounded by giant boulders and twisted trees. It’s about a thirty minutes from sunset, and I figure I have enough time to locate the abandoned cabin in the hills that my mother in law tells me never to visit alone. Every time I think I hear a car coming up the road, I tense up like a hunted animal. I get nervous when planes fly overhead or something rustles in the bushes. The hills have eyes. I remember that there are people out here living off the grid. I think that means that they make their own electricity and store water in huge containers.
I run across the white pickup as I round a corner. I stop dead in my tracks and stay very still. I can tell that there is nobody inside, but they could be hiding, crouched down behind the backseat. I immediately rebuke myself for my silliness. Why do I even think this way? I convince myself that this is just an instinctual, reptilian brain thing that makes me behave like the deer that sees tigers around every corner. I walk closer. Nope. There isn’t anybody in the truck. I notice the stickers on the back: “Buck Ofama,” an American flag, a Confederate flag and some pro gun statement that I decide not to read in its entirety.
I feel sick and panicked. The guy who owns this truck probably hates women like me. I’m guessing that he knows that I’m some liberal college professor with a gay kid who works with undocumented immigrants. If he sees me, I think, he might corner me by a boulder and assault me. Maybe he has friends with him, and they’ll gang rape me. Could I yell loud enough for the nearest neighbors to hear me? Is my cell phone fully charged? Should I just call the police now? I have no cell connection up here. I can’t call anyone. I feel that rush of adrenaline that will soon propel me down the hill and back to my house in record time.
At work, I forget about the white pickup truck and start teaching. The boys in the back talk and text. I tell them not to. They do it again. I tell them not to. Next time, I say, you will be asked to leave. Not, “I will ask you to leave and you will comply,” but “you will be asked.” The passive tense allows me to avoid relying on my authority, which they will ignore. One of them smiles at me with half of his face while staring me down. I know what he is doing. I avert my eyes. I lose. I end class and a kid walks up to me and hands me a piece of paper with the name of a male colleague who teaches Political Science. “Call him. You are very emotionally unstable and he can help you, put your mind at ease.” I had committed the indiscretion of tearing up during class when some of my students were sobbing. They were worried about being deported under the new Trump administration.
He and I argue about whether or not I need to learn ‘the facts’ from my colleague who I have never met. I try to explain that sexism is about telling–for example–your female professor that she is too emotional and unstable to present the facts to her class, and that she must confer with a male colleague in order to get herself under control and educated. He never understands my point of view. He comes back to class the next day, but now he gives me the sardonic half smile and waits a few moments before answering questions; just long enough so that I understand that he is choosing to answer me, not in any way bowing to my authority. I wonder when he is going to report me to the administration for liberal bias.
Danny waits for me because he wants me to understand the following: “You’re ridiculous,” he yells, “Nothing is going to change under Trump.” I explain that I have no reason to believe that he won’t attempt to deport my undocumented students or repeal vital climate change policies. I try to defend myself as he moves closer and closer to me. I back up to the wall. He still moves closer. “Are you going to cry just like my daughter? You don’t like Trump? Then DO something about it, don’t whine about it.” I can smell his stale coffee breath. He’s close to 70, but strong and burly, like a lumberjack. I am about to respond when a female student from my morning class rescues me with an urgent question. He moves off, and she cocks her head and says, “I saved you!” Yes, she did.
I check Facebook, always a mistake. I had decided, finally, to abandon the cat photos and state my true feelings about the future Trump presidency. I worry for my daughter, my students, all the vulnerable communities that surround me at work. Someone who I have never met responds to my fears by telling me that I should get my liberal ass of the sofa and get a job and thank God I have Trump to pay my bills now. I’m not sure what any of that means, but I figure I have done something wrong by expressing my concerns. “It’s all going to be OK,” my colleague says the next day. “Let’s all get along,” says another.
“It’s better not to discuss this in class.” Five minutes later, Patricia is crying on the bench and says, “Profesora, I’m not a criminal, I haven’t done anything wrong, and now I might have to go back to Mexico and I haven’t lived there since I was two. I feel like . . . I feel like all that progress I though we had made didn’t really happen, like it’s still the 1950s and I thought, I mean, it’s like we’re back to zero again.”
Home again. The television is back to cute stories about kittens and dogs sharing the same bed and the latest way to smooth out your wrinkles for a fraction of the cost of a facelift. My gaze drifts over to the angel on my shrine. She has a lovely face. Someone told me that angels have no gender. So I’m not sure how to refer to my angel. She seems female to me. Something about those eyes. They are kind and beautiful, but if you look closely, there’s a tinge of fear in them, too.
My angel is definitely a woman.