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Sunday, Sep 20, 2020

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What I mean to say is....
The crazy lady
by Beau Burriola - SGN Foreign Correspondent

We walked through the bustling crowds of Washington D.C.'s Union Station, train passengers spilling from arriving gates like little rivers feeding into the much larger ones lined with expensive fragrance shops, restaurants, bookstores, and newsstands. Julien and I walked hand in hand, excited to spend the weekend in a city more used to Gay folks than my rural North Carolina home.

Approaching the baggage storage area near Gate A, we came upon a woman and a man involved in an intense conversation.

She didn't seem crazy when I first saw her as we approached the baggage storage counter to leave our bags. She didn't even seem crazy when she turned to watch us approach while continuing her conversation. She looked normal.

"Yes, the human heart is the last thing in the body to die," she said to the counter attendant, but staring directly at me.

Figuring she was drawing us into the conversation, I thought back to a Rah Dahl story about a man whose brain lives on for years after he dies.

"Surely it's the brain?" I offered, with a friendly enough smile. She did not smile. Instead, her stare grew sharp and her tone grew loud. "I was a nurse for ten years. Did you study medicine?" I admitted I did not.

"Did you take physiology?" Another no.

"Then you don't talk. I have ten years of experience as a nurse. You practice medicine for ten years and then you can talk."

Surprised, but not offended ("she hates her life and takes it out on everyone around her," my sister used to say about pissy people), I turned to the counter attendant to conduct my business, feeling slightly uncomfortable that the woman continued to stare at me from only a few feet away.

Soon enough, Julien and I walked away, no more words with the lady. It might have stayed that way, only an uncomfortable chance encounter easily enough forgotten by everyone as we continued through the station. But as we exited the station's main hall at the other side of the building, we heard her calling after us. She had followed.

"Do you know why I left medicine?" She asked us, with the same intense stare. Figuring some personal story was the source of her strange outburst, I humored her and asked her why.

"Because I saw too many people sick from taking it up the rectum, and you see, the body just isn't designed that way..." and although she continued to speak, my ears stopped listening. I was stunned at this tiny woman, with her face revealing a storm of anger, sneering with a deep personal poison. Did people like this really exist? Was the right part of her mouth really turned up in a smile?

I glanced at Julien and then turned directly toward her. "Ma'am, after ten years of experience, I can assure you that a person will die far more quickly from the poison in their heart than from anything up the rectum."

At least, that's what I would have said. It's one of the many responses I thought up the next few days to replace the wordless silence I left when I grabbed Julien and just walked away from her. The way it really went, there was no victorious last word, no zinger to bring it all together.

What I meant to say is, instead, some perfect retort, maybe with equal parts wisdom and guttural roar; enough to make her see the world my way and put her in her place. In the moment, though, my surprise was too great and I was caught off balance. Though I felt I should have said more, I said nothing at all.

Most of the people I cross every day just simply don't care about two Gay men and we are left in peace. They go along unremembered in time, and it's instead people like the Crazy Lady who stick in the memory.

She is a jolting reminder that no matter how peaceful we live our lives, people who do not know us will hate us. In those cases, when we can't find the right words, all we can do is hope that we are fortunate enough to bother them as much by our loving as they bother us by their hating.

Beau Burriola is a writer still as foreign to some people as they are to him. E-mail him at
visit Beau at
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photos by Joey - SGN photographer

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