Tolerance. What a funny word. We tolerate the antics of toddlers because they don’t know any better. We tolerate that friend of ours with no tact or social skills because they have no one else. I tolerate that fucking blinking light outside my apartment because I pay a measely $475 a month for this cramped studio apartment. I even tolerate Mrs. Kilpinski’s damn cat because she brings me dinner every Thursday night.
Yeah, we “tolerate” a lot of things. So when Rebecca touts her liberal religious tolerance to me today, I want to rip off her head. Damn left-wingers. Spouting about tolerance and equality and liberty, like they’re all intertwined, compatible—synonymous even. Some noble vendetta in creating a world full of fucking butterflies and rainbows.
We tolerate annoying shit. Annoying friends, annoying pets, annoying blinking lights. The euphemism has lost its power. Apparently we’re supposed to do the same thing with annoying religions. That’s what Rebecca tells me.
“Religious tolerance means we’re accepting of other religions. Like, I totally get that Christianity isn’t the absolute only religion. Lots of people practice different beliefs.” She was excited. Her words started to blend together. I hated it.
But I tolerated it.
“Lotsa different people means lotsa different beliefs, I totally get that. We hafta tolerate other people’s beliefs and respect that!”
Tolerate and respect. So, like, totally contradicting, dontcha think? I wanted to spout off in that valley girl accent. But I just tolerate it. She keeps talking. I ignore her. She hums in my ear about some more political debates, shit she picked up that week on MSNBC or in Newsweek. She stayed there, hovering like a humming bird searching for nectar in my flowery ears.
Yeah, I tolerate her. Not for long though.
“You know what I mean?” she says, and the long pause tells me it’s my turn to interject some contributing comment to the conversation.
“Yeah, people are fucking ignorant.” This line usually worked.
“I know, right?” she squealed, pleased with what she must have thought was a decent argument. I wouldn’t know—I never listened anymore. I was at least mildly pleased that I could drown out her rambling and answer with something so vague and ambiguous. She never did catch on. Probably because she liked to talk so fucking much. She just never shut the fuck up.
I sat down on the bench by the fountain, lit a cigarette, and tipped my head back. I took a long drag, letting the toxins fill my lungs and filter into my bloodstream. The pounding in my head subsided. I exhaled. The sun came out behind the clouds and warmed my face. The rays were the only warm thing between me and Rebecca anymore.
“Hey babe, I’ve been thinking.” My voice sounded deeper than usual. Almost sinister.
“This thing, with you and me? It’s not really working.” I took another drag. I could feel her staring at me, the confused look that probably washed over her peppy face. The way her rosy lips pushed together in a tight pout and her brows furrowed into a sharp V above her piercing blue eyes.
Those eyes. Those baby blues. The little discs of death that sucked me into this draining relationship in the first place.
“Whatareyoutryingtosay?” The sentence sounded like one word. “If the ‘thing’ you’re talking about is our relationship, then, well…what the fuck Michael? You’ve never said anything before! This is just totally out of the fucking blue—”
She morphed back into her hummingbird, flitting from one ear to the other, dancing around like a clown at a 5-year-old’s birthday party. Hummmmmmmmmm. Hummmmm. Hummm. Hummmmmmmmm.
“Michael! You could at least fucking look at me! Where the hell is this coming from?” she screamed, grabbing the attention of some family across the fountain. A little girl with pigtails peered up from just above the ledge, wide-eyed and mouth open. She tugged on her mother’s sleeve and pointed at us, obviously distressed at Rebecca’s choice vocabulary. The scene kept me calm, kept me on track. I didn’t want to look at Rebecca. To see the hurt and the pain and the anger in those big blues. Yeah, I knew I was being a coward. But it was always easier that way.
“Let’s just say I’ve been tolerating you for a while now.” I stared straight ahead, completely aware of the fury and rage boiling in the pot beside me. I thought if I looked at her I would see steam coming out of her head. I had to check.
Big mistake. As soon as I did, a hard slap landed across my face. The force knocked my sunglasses off my head and flung my cancer stick from my mouth. It landed in the fountain. Dammit. I reached down for my sunglasses, and when I looked up Rebecca was already walking away, flinging her grotesque Prada bag over her shoulder. I remembered when she bought that thing, fucking $500 for a damn purse. She was preaching about starving kids in Ethiopia that day. The flop, flop of her yellow sandals faded the farther she walked, and she disappeared from sight.