I should be careful what I watch or think about. Lately, the turn around has been fast, less than a day in some cases. Last year I spent the winter and early spring on the Cape with my friend Liz and her two girls. I was on an 80s movie kick in between cooking and watching out for the kids, and early springtime I called up Heathers on my laptop. I loved the counter cultural thread running through it, and I thought Christian Slater’s dad was just outrageous. I was about to get a taste, however, of one of the more unsavory aspects of the narrative.
I walked in the woods almost every day on Cape Cod. It’s a habit I’ve been in for years, and the closest place I could find to where I was staying was Dennis Pond Conservation Area in Yarmouth. Easter Sunday’s walk was sunny, and the perfect temperature. I circled around a secluded pond and saw geese, ducks, seagulls. I passed an older couple who smiled and wished me a Happy Easter.
I found my way out an hour or so later. I would have stayed longer but I needed sustenance and had my mind on the peanut butter and raisin sandwich I’d packed earlier that day. I had parked on a back road called Summer Street in Yarmouth, right next to this conservation area with water and forested trails. There was an ample shoulder off this very rural street for parking, an SUV parked in front of me where I’d landed.
I found my way back, got in my truck, ate, drank from my water bottle. There was a house right across the street, with two healthy German Shepherds running around a fenced in yard. I had actually chatted with a lady already on previous walks past their house. She had reached out and said hello, chatted about their dogs, Cape Cod versus Western Mass, the forest versus ocean.
I noticed a car pulling out of their driveway, a man of about twenty-five driving. He stopped in the road next to me and motioned for me to roll my window down. I pressed the power window button but it didn’t work; the keys were on the passenger seat. I motioned for him to wait, took my time putting the key in, rolled the window down and smiled. I assumed he was going to ask for directions and I was ready to say “Sorry, I don’t know anything here.”
“What are you doing across from my parents’ house!?” he demanded. His tone was not pleasant.
“Ahh… finishing up a walk, eating a sandwich,” I offered.
“What are you doing?” he said.
“A walk in the woods,” I tried again. Perhaps he hadn’t understood me the first time.
He got out of his car. His manner was abrupt and aggressive.
“In these woods,” he said, pointing beyond me, to my right. “I know what you’re doing here. I know what goes on in those woods. Fags go in these woods!”
I wondered why he was sharing this information with me.
“What are you doin’ out here across from my parent’s house!?” he demanded, his tone more aggressive. “I know what’s going on here. Fags go in those woods.”
Apparently, this man thought the woods in Yarmouth Port were reserved only for straight people. He also appeared to have made several incorrect assumptions about me: one about my sexual orientation, the other about where I’d come from, as I’d actually been in the much larger patch of forest down the street, none of which his parents owned. That’s one quality you’ll find in the arrogant: they often extend their own boundaries and become quite hostile about this mistaken territory.
The mom came over. That’s when I learned his name was Jerry. I hoped his mom would help me, but took one look in her eyes and saw that wasn’t going to happen.
“Jerry, watch your language,” she said.
He was aggressive and profane, threatening in his tone. I was not afraid of Jerry. I was blindsided by his completely uncalled for hostility though, and concerned there was going to be some kind of scene. I hate encountering this kind of hostility, especially when it’s so completely unnecessary. It truly feels awful.
I looked at Jerry’s mom. “He really has the wrong idea,” I told her.
“What’s your license plate number?” he demanded. That was a pretty inept question on Jerry’s part. I was sitting in my truck, with the plates right there on the front and back of the vehicle.
I didn’t point out to this guy that I’m straight, and have nothing to do with the assumptions he made. It was not relevant and wasn’t his business. One interesting detail here is that Jerry twice pointed to me and said to his mom, “He said he was going into the woods to meet someone,” something I had definitely not said. Why would I have? He literally imagined this to fit the scenario he’d already decided on. This, right here, is the most astonishing and telling part of Jerry’s performance, and it bears repeating. Jerry literally inserted words into his memory that had nothing to do with me, words that fit the bizarre scenario he had imagined. It’s clear Jerry has very strong homosexual fantasies. I just wish he could have kept them to himself.
The worst thing about this incident was that for a few minutes I felt isolated and guilty, as if I had done something wrong. I can see how a situation like this could escalate in a predatory way. It’s called projection. I had, in fact, done nothing wrong. There certainly appeared to be parking on this quiet, forested side street; I parked in the shoulder behind another vehicle. I hadn’t even been in the woods he was pointing to and as for what he was referring to, that was a projection of Jerry’s own inner fantasy; it had nothing to do with me. It’s clear no one has confronted Jerry about his own unhealed emotions, and how rather than turning inward and facing them, he projects them outward in an extremely unprovoked, mistaken and essentially violent manner. His mother does nothing but support this. Apparently, it doesn’t occur to Jerry’s mother that Jerry’s hatred and fear of gays represents a deep fear and hatred of femininity, and thus her own gender. It is troubling to me that there is such illness in the world, and worse than that, that rather than face whatever painful or hideous emotions such people have, they attack others.
Jerry swore again and ordered me out while I drove away, as if he could have commanded me to leave.
It’s clear that if Jerry had actually thought through his bizarre homosexual fantasy, he would have had to realize he believed I was going to walk back to my truck after having parked it for more than an hour and a half on a sunny Easter day, sit quietly on that secluded country road and eat half a peanut butter and raisin sandwich, while secretly planning some kind of covert exchange with an as yet absent partner in the woods across the way. This doesn’t seem very plausible to me, but I can’t speak for Jerry’s mental acuity, or stability.
I think the hardest part of this ordeal was looking in Jerry’s mother’s eyes hoping for a semblance of humanity and compassion, just a little of the sanity so needed in this situation, and finding none. She did nothing to curb her adult son’s pathological behavior and completely mistaken assumptions. If confronted with how horribly mistaken he was, I suspect Jerry would mutter some lame apology, and mumble about how they’ve had issues in such and such woods, etc, but I don’t buy it: I think Jerry is so submerged in his own shadow issues, and so unwilling to deal with them, that his penchant for projection makes him a predator.
It is disconcerting to confront the ignorance and loathing loose in this world. It is truly uncomfortable to feel the vibe change to one of fear and hatred so quickly. I’m sure it’s the same fear and hatred that’s gotten people dragged to their deaths behind pickup trucks, or strung up from a tree and hanged to death. None of this happened to me. Homophobia, however, appears to be a particularly virulent kind of bigotry. I suppose my gay friends are used to it, but I found it shocking. Jerry’s behavior was more than abrasive; it was a kind of assault. Jerry certainly has a sense of right and wrong and a willingness to act on it, but that’s not really helpful to this world when he’s a hostile, out of control moron. It is equally important to be able to recognize when you’re mistaken, step back, and humbly apologize.
One detail that I can’t forget here is that when I’d had a casual conversation with Jerry’s mom after coming back from a similar hike a few weeks before, she had mentioned her son was in law school. Very serious, she had indicated, his dedication. I find it worrisome that a man as sick as Jerry may be entering our legal system.
I think that when you’re broadsided like I was with Jerry, you don’t need to internalize. You don’t need to analyze and think too much about what you might have done differently to keep this person from attacking you, and so on. That’s victim mentality, and you don’t need it. There are people like this in the world. I see no harm in being prepared, or being aware they exist, but their toxicity does not belong to you. Defend yourself if you need to, but then move on. I think that because I’m an introvert, a person as pathological and delusional as Jerry can project all kinds of bizarre things onto me. My quiet openness makes me a kind of screen, or, more accurately, a mirror. It’s clear Jerry’s thoughts are on gay sex; he’s at war with himself on the topic. One thing is for sure, it had nothing to do with me. With Jerry’s ability to imagine and then project the most bizarre kinds of guilt, it seems plausible that the worst case and most likely scenario if he did pass a bar exam, would be district attorney. One thing I’ve found, the psychopaths and narcissists of this world cannot stand your happiness. They will make up any bizarre reason to attack; and thus they are drawn to positions of false authority, where they can really ruin someone’s day. I don’t see how a person as dangerously pathological as this could serve any community.
But let me end this story on a positive note. The day before this saga, a Saturday, I had several quite pleasant encounters in those same woods, one with a lady and her three dogs, another with a nice couple and their two canines, each of whom smiled and chatted as if they’d been expecting me. We talked, laughed about dogs and their antics, and I got expert advice on some good spots to hike on the Cape. In each case, these people treated me as if they recognized an old friend, and I was pleasantly surprised by the relaxed, easy way they fell into kind conversation. The good guys won.
-Tristan L. Sullivan