The Zero Mile Post marked the meeting of two railway lines and possibly the beginning of the city of Atlanta. Zero Mile is a series of fictionalized stories based on real life in Atlanta, Georgia.
By Nicki Salcedo
I spent the first half of my life trying to convince everyone I met that I was like them. I was kid. But people would remind me that I was different. They’d tell me: “You’re not like them. You don’t talk like them. You don’t act like them. You’re different.”
But if I got too close, they’d also remind me that I really wasn’t part of the “us” either. “Don’t be silly, you’re not like US? You don’t look like us. You’re different.”
I wasn’t like the people I was supposed to be. I wasn’t like the others. I didn’t want to be different from anybody. But for half of my life, I did things to prove that I was the same as other people.
I know about football and baseball. I know about physics. If you give me a wavelength of light that comes from outer space, I can determine the distance to that star using calculus.
I know all about “Days of Our Lives” and “General Hospital” and “The Young and the Restless.” A soap opera from each TV station. If there is a lull in the conversation, I can quote an entire poem to you. I’ve got Nikki Giovanni in one pocket and Rita Dove in the other. Just in case. I’m like you.
Do you like food? I like food. I’m kosher, vegan, vegetarian, and carnivore. I eat all the food. I’m not picky. Do you like to travel? Me, too! I’ve been there.
Do you want to talk about religions? I know all the verses of Amazing Grace. All seven. Do you want to know my favorite Bible verse?
Deuteronomy 23:1: He who has had his male member crushed or cut off shall not enter into the assembly of the Lord. Look it up. That’s a good one.
Name a religion, and I’ve been to that kind of wedding and not only for the good food and the smashed glasses and the brides lifted in the air. I’ve done these things so that I can remind you, that I understand you. I’m not so different from you.
I spent the second half of my life embracing the fact that I am different. I am other. I am not from this country, I am borrowed from another. So I remind you. I don’t want you to get too close to me. I don’t want you to think that we’re the same. We’re not.
My roommate in college was a life-sized cutout of Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the Starship Enterprise. If anyone asked me who was sexy, I’d point to that a bald white guy who lived in the future, on a spaceship with a Klingon. I’m not like you.
I’m different. I like differences. Differences are good. Because I believe they lead to intersections.
I’ve spent the past two years of my life no longer proving that I am the same. And not reveling in my differences. I’ve tried to look at other people and see myself in them. It works.
I’m friends with any guy named Bubba and any lady who thinks it is a sin to place her purse directly on the ground. Even though they are not like me.
But this summer, we got in the car and started driving across this fine and strange country. This was not a good year for a road trip. I have small children. We have to stop all the time. We know which gas stations have good bathrooms, and we know when the emergency requires a pit stop with the truckers.
I stood with my daughter in a long line for the only restroom in truck stop in South Carolina. My daughter is five. She is different. Mexican and Jamaican and hellion. She has brown skin and feet that never touch the ground. She holds my hand whenever she can, because love makes us the same.
My daughter was doing the potty dance. It was an emergency.
A bald white man approached us. He was not like my Jean-Luc Picard. He was tattooed and wearing a mesh front camouflage hat. His biceps were as big as my thighs and that’s saying a lot. We were in South Carolina, almost home. But far from it.
“Ma’am?” he said. I looked at him without responding. Why wasn’t he talking to the other people in line? The white people. Why was he talking to us? The others.
“Ma’am, there’s another restroom on the far side of the truck stop if you daughter really has to go.” He points. I look across the convenience store and restaurant to a door that says, “Truckers Only.”
“I can’t go in there?” I say.
“It’s ok, your daughter really has to go.”
So my daughter and I sprint through the truck stop and make it to the toilet right on time.
There’s my daughter on the toilet and me feeling like crap. I don’t want to be that person who sees someone else as other. I was “other” for way too long.
Whatever fear or change is trying to come over this country, I was guilty of it for a moment. I was like them, the others. But never again. I am different. I was born to be different. Like that guy, another Bubba, I will continue to be different.
A variation of this piece was performed at Bleux Stockings Society, Volume 8: Otherness. The Bleux Stockings Society is a monthly live literature show featuring cis/trans women and non-binary people. If you want to see Nicki Salcedo live, catch her tonight (Wednesday, March 8) on stage with Write Club Atlanta. 9 pm at the Highland Ballroom.
Nicki Salcedo knows the loops and the backroads of Atlanta. She is a novelist, blogger and working mom. Zero Mile stories will appear on the Atlanta Loop on Wednesdays.