How I Learned I Was Pro-Choice by Secretly Aborting My Friend’s Baby

For the record, you can get pregnant in a hot tub. A lot of people don’t think it’s possible. I don’t exactly know what science they’re using but, whatever they’re telling themselves, they’re wrong. It happens. It happened to a friend of mine. After his hot tub one-night stand, the girl he had sex with came to me and told me she was pregnant. She informed me and not him because she was my girlfriend’s roommate. And she needed my advice. But before she told me she was pregnant, she asked me if I could keep a secret. I said I could. Like Heath Ledger’s Joker, I’m a man of my word. But I had no idea of the impact of the secret she was about to share. I figured it was about my girlfriend. I was dead wrong. She told me she was pregnant and my friend was the father. And since she was in college, she was thinking about getting an abortion.

She wanted to know what I thought. More importantly, what my friend would think. I told her I had no clue about his opinion on abortion. We’re guys. We don’t often know each other’s middle names, which means when it comes to really serious personal information, like his stance on abortion, I was even more in the dark. I knew my friend’s middle name but had no clue if he was pro-choice or pro-life. All I really knew was, like me, he was raised Catholic. I told her this. She asked me to decide for him, whether or not she should get the abortion.

I asked why she couldn’t just tell him. She refused. She admitted her mind was made up. She really just wanted to know if he would hate her for what she was planning to do. For some it’s easy to have an opinion on things like the death penalty or abortion; but I found it’s quite different when you’re the one who has to throw the switch.

After what seemed to be an interminable silence, I told her I’d need the night to think about it before I could tell her my decision. I wanted to say it was totally unfair she put me in this position, but I didn’t. She thanked me and made me promise again not to tell anyone, not even her roommate/my girlfriend. As you might well guess, I didn’t sleep much that night.

How do you decide something like that for someone else? How do you know what the right thing to do is? What grounds do you use to decide if an abortion is the right call? Morality? Practicality? I had nightmares of babies cussing me out. I had dreams of my friend pushing a stroller and cursing my name. There was no way to be certain. And, in the absence of certainty, my mind offered me lots of ways I might ruin the lives of others.

The next morning, puffy-faced and tired, I pulled myself out of bed and kissed my girlfriend, who was already up and ready for class. She said I was tossing and turning all night. I lied and said I was just having some silly nightmare. She said her bed was too small and she should get a new one. I said it wasn’t the bed. She kissed me and left for school. She and I had gone through one pregnancy scare in the time we were together, but we got the morning-after pill and nothing came of our scare.

In the kitchen, I drank a glass of water and took a few long even breaths, knowing that in a few moments, her roommate would be awake and I’d have to tell her my decision. It was the toughest decision I ever had to make. And I was going to take every second I could to agonize over what to do. When I heard her bedroom door open, I felt something inside me move. It was my stomach falling, twisting and knotting up in my gut. She managed a pained smile and said, “G’morning…” And then went to bathroom and got sick. I heard her vomit. I don’t know if it was psychosomatic, if it was the stress, or if morning sickness starts that early in a pregnancy. I knew so very little about babies and pregnancies. I wanted to call my parents and ask them what to do. But I swore to hold her secret. After she washed up, I poured some juice for each of us and asked her if she’d thought more about it.

I heard myself say “it” and knew that given enough time “it” would need a name and a social security card and new shoes and haircuts. But for now, it was still “it,” and just as easily “it” could still be in reference to her situation, her condition. She looked at me. Opened her mouth and said nothing.

I knew her answer. In that quiet morning moment, I slowly nodded. She asked me if I would go with her. She had no one else to take her. Again, I nodded. She said she wanted to go that day. It was all happening. With two head nods I’d decided to secretly abort my friend’s baby. But I didn’t really see it like that. I felt that as long as it was in her body, it was her choice, and that it wouldn’t be my friend’s baby until she’d carried it to term and delivered it. This is how I learned I’m pro-choice.

After some bullshit breakfast of Pop-Tarts that neither of us finished, I walked out to my car, and then drove around in front of their little cottage-style apartment. And she walked out. The heavy passenger door of my ’65 Chevy slammed shut with all the finality of a decision that had now become a course of action.

Neither of us really spoke as I drove. We went to the next town over, so she wouldn’t be spotted coming out of Planned Parenthood by anyone in our small college town. Long swaths of fields stretched to the horizon, separating the two towns. Tomatoes. Corn. Sunflowers. Alfalfa. As I drove, the fragrance of the fields wafted in the open windows. My car had no air conditioning and the day was hot enough that the breeze of motion provided some comfort, but our destination counterbalanced the cool air, and left us both feeling a heavy and unspoken dread.

Moral critics like to paint the young women and teen girls who get abortions as people who are casually using abortion as some lazy last line of birth control. They act as if it were done with all the care one might put into littering. I ashed my cigarette out the window and knew how wrong those critics were. This woman was terrified, angry at herself for being in this position and scared she might ruin any chance of her ever having a baby in her future. I know because just before we got there words started to spill from her mouth. Unformed thoughts jumbled on top of one another. I don’t think she was telling me why, or justifying our secret decision, I think she wanted to hear her own fears and anxieties spoken aloud so they might be diminished by the light of day.

When I parked in the shopping mall parking lot where Planned Parenthood was, we were both slow to get out. I made a bad joke and said if she was good then afterward we could go get ice cream, like she was a kid going to the doctor. It wasn’t funny, but it seemed to shift the context enough that we both got out of the car smiling. At what, I don’t know.

In the waiting room, there was plenty of reading material. I mutely stared at the really old Seventeen magazines and the brochures on birth control options, comparing IUDs to diaphragms and condoms to abstinence. She didn’t read anything. I flipped through a Cosmo, but the over-sexed articles seemed grossly ironic reading for a waiting room of an abortion clinic. Not even my dark sense of humor found much funny. I put the Cosmo back. I saw her hand on the armrest and covered it with mine. She lifted her hand and wove her fingers between mine. I could feel her heartbeat pulsing fast like some small mammal.

The receptionist called her name. She squeezed my hand. And then, she stood up. I told her everything would be okay. I had no real proof that what I was saying was the least bit true, but somehow, saying it felt right. She smiled weakly, apologetically, and she knew I had no idea if everything would be okay, but she seemed happy to hear it. The receptionist held the door. I watched it sweep close and they disappeared from view. I knew the next time I saw her she would be a much different woman. She’d just crossed a dividing line. No longer a scared college girl, she was about to become a woman who’d dealt with a woman’s troubles.

In the waiting room with me were a few other girls. All of them were teenagers. And all of them were there with what looked to be their mothers. No one was talking. No one was on a phone. No one was doing much of anything, other than quietly confronting their fears or steeling themselves with what I imagined was something similar to what I told her, everything will be okay. When I made eye contact, the scared teen girls looked through me, not at me. I was presumably the only man in the building. And I felt like it.

As I waited, one image kept flashing across my mental theater — my friend’s face. I would see him soon and not be able to tell him what I’d done. And if I ever did tell him, would he forgive me? Would he thank me? Or would he hate me for making such an important choice in his life? My feet didn’t fit the shoes of Fate, but here I was deciding the course of my friend’s life, unbeknownst to him. I felt like I wanted to vomit. But I remained seated.

When the door opened and she came out, I felt relieved we could finally go and put this all in the past. But then I saw her, like, really saw her. She was hunched over like she felt empty inside and the void in her middle made it impossible for her to walk upright. I sprang from my seat to help her to the car. The nurse said something about the signs of complications, and how if there was excessive bleeding to take her to an emergency room and that she’d need to rest for a few days, and other things that turned into a stream of words, ones I could no longer focus on, because I was focused on the look in my friend’s eyes. She seemed so lost, shell-shocked; her eyes were unfocused and staring out at some distant point a thousand miles away. I put an arm around her and helped her to the car. I saw two of the waiting teenagers stiffen at the sight of this stooped young woman who’d just had the procedure. They stared at the face of their potentially near future. They studied this young woman who could only shuffle because some of her insides had just been vacuumed out and now she was showing all the signs of that trauma.

At my car, I unlocked the passenger side door. But before I could open it, she started to cry. And it quickly escalated to sobbing. I hugged her. And we leaned against the back door. The keys were still in the lock. The sun was bright. The crows cawed in the distance. Cars slowly drove around in the parking lot. But for that moment, we just held each other, bonded by our secret and her pain. Again, I told her everything would be okay. I repeated it a few times as my shoulder grew wet with heavy tears. And then in a tiny voice, she said, “I wanna go home.”

Driving back past those fragrant fields, the smells of spring seemed cruel. All of their fertility was some mean reminder. As we got closer to our small college town, I asked her if she was hungry. She nodded. And then shook her head “no.” I told her that since they didn’t have many groceries in their fridge, I’d stop and get her some comfort food for later in case she got an appetite. She waited in the car while I ran in and bought pre-made mashed potatoes, baked chicken, some side dishes.

Back at her place, she lay down on the couch and I fetched a quilt and blanket. I made her as comfortable as I knew how. Neither of us had an appetite. So we watched television. It was hard to find something that wouldn’t remind her of couples, babies, sex, children, the future, etc. So we watched Antiques Roadshow on PBS. Safe with the flea market crowd, although neither of us were really watching the glowing box.

And then she started to cry. I comforted her best I could, but nothing could take away the pain and hollowness. Unable to make her feel better, I distracted myself from the waves of guilt wrecking my peace of mind. I was still unsure if I’d done the right thing or not.

As afternoon slipped into evening, the room grew dark, lit only by the flickering television. Outside we could hear other college kids coming home, laughing loud, talking about their weekend plans and enjoying that Friday afternoon-turned-evening. As the antiques on TV were appraised, I got high. She did not. Just before her roommate/my girlfriend got home from class, she got up and went to her bedroom to take a nap. She thanked me for driving her there and taking care of her. It was the last we spoke of the clinic. Ever. We had our secret and that was that. When my girlfriend got home, I said nothing of my day and instead concentrated on how hers was.

The next day I woke up early, and coming out of the bathroom, I saw her. She thanked me again for giving her a ride the day before. Casual. No indication of our serious business. I told her, as a big brother, I just treated the women in my life the way I hoped other men would treat my sister. She cried a little. But stopped herself. And then she told me she was driving to her hometown for the weekend. Her parents were away and she wanted to be alone in her childhood bedroom. I didn’t know if that was a good idea, but I was done making decisions for other people.

I carried her overnight bag to her car. She was still walking with a slight hunch, but doing her best to hide it from anyone. At her car, I asked if I could ever tell my friend what I’d done. She said, many years from now, if I still wanted to, I could tell him. But she didn’t understand why I would want to. She wasn’t raised Catholic like my friend and I and so she didn’t understand the idea of absolution. I needed to know that one day I could be free of how I was feeling. I also felt somewhat empty inside. She thanked me again, we hugged and then she drove home to spend the night in her childhood bedroom all alone.

Years later, after he started his adult life, got married and had a child, I took my friend aside one day and told him I needed to share something with him but I was afraid of how he might react. He saw in my eyes it was serious. Without any hesitation I told him some years back a woman came to me and said he’d gotten her pregnant. She was certain it was him because she hadn’t slept with anyone else that year. And she and I decided it was best for her to get an abortion. I let the word hang in the air. I waited. He processed what this meant. After a long and painfully silent pause, he let out a sigh. You never know what those mean until some words follow, but they were slow to appear and clarify. Finally he said, “Thanks, man. You’re a good friend.”

I’d waited years to hear that.

It’s easy to say we’re pro-choice or pro-life in theory. When you argue about abortion politically, it remains someone else’s problem. But when you have to make a judgment call, it’s far harder to choose to stand by a woman, a person who’s scared and desperate, and decide that despite any doubts or reservations you may have, her choice is the most important thing in that moment. No matter what she chooses, you’re gonna have her back and support her.

And that’s how I learned to be really and truly pro-choice. It was the toughest decision I ever made, but I’d do it again if I had to.

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Next Story — Why a Buddhist Therapist Made My Girlfriend Break Up With Me
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Why a Buddhist Therapist Made My Girlfriend Break Up With Me

The moon fell fast towards the western horizon like it had been shot dead. There was a smattering of stars left in its wake that decorated the mostly empty night sky. We sat below a giant eucalyptus tree, close together, sipping on wine, relaxing on a wooden bench that wrapped around a stone fire pit that held no fire. The raccoon came out of the bush like some ancient reminder of Nature. She trundled out, not expecting us to be there. Startled, she reared up in a defensive pose. The raccoon was three feet from me. I was surprised I didn’t spill my wine all over myself when I saw it. I was already a bit out of my head since my girlfriend had just broken up with me.

I grew a bit more concerned when a baby raccoon followed its mother out of the dark. A scared mother will do dangerous things to protect her young. Seated on the other side of me, my girlfriend shifted her weight fast against my hip. A few breaths after breaking up and fear had thrust us back together. This pattern would repeat itself. For months. But this was the only time that involved a frightened raccoon.

When we first started dating I told her I would never marry her. In fact, I told her this so many times it became a running joke between us. Secretly, though, she thought one day I’d change my mind — or more accurately, my heart. How this would happen I don’t think she ever properly worked out in her head; she just blindly trusted that it would. She thought somehow, she would change my heart for me. Prove me wrong. She often warned me that her mother wore down her father. I countered with the fact that I was far more stubborn than her father. It’s easier to turn lead into gold than to change a person’s heart with logic.

When anyone asks what happened, and I sense they want a real and nuanced answer, I always say, “our troubles started when her Buddhist therapist said I wasn’t earnest.” Whatever that means. He warned her my lack of earnestness would doom our relationship. He and I agreed on the doom part. We just had a difference of opinion about the particulars.

I knew I didn’t want her to be my life partner, and I told her that. Which, I would say, was pretty earnest. He was still of the opinion I lacked this quality altogether. Whatever. As I used to say, fuck him. This is not the best thing to say about your girlfriend’s therapist. Especially if he’s also her Buddhist guru. It tends to come off as combative. But it’s how I felt.

Was he a board-certified licensed counselor? I don’t know. He may have just been a white Buddhist guru dude from Long Beach using the most dignified phrases of the day to pass himself off as far more qualified than your run-of-the-mill life coach. The important part was that she called him her therapist. That’s all that mattered. Well, that and the fact that he had the extra benefit of being her Buddhist guru, so she listened to him with the unwavering faith of a true believer. Not all therapists hold such powerful sway with their clients. To her way of seeing the world, if he said it, then, well, it must be true.

He was mindful. He was present. He saw those things we all habitually ignore. He bravely spoke the truth as clearly as we could hear it. Or something like that. Like I said, fuck him. If I were to have to place the onus on one person, like this was a murder trial, I’d say her Buddhist therapist killed our relationship.

Play brought us together. The sound of my girlfriend’s laughter was my introduction to her. I heard her sounds of pure joy expressed above the din of a college party. I had to know: who was this woman? I made my way through the crowd toward her. After many months, she finally took me seriously. You could say my earnest pursuit brought us together. Yet, if you asked me, I would’ve said it was her laugh. Guess it’s all a matter of perspective.

My girlfriend came back from her latest therapy session and her counselor had determined, from what she’d told him over the last few months, that her troubles stemmed from the gloom looming over our future. That darkness was my doing.

That night, as we lay there in bed, she confided that she agreed with him. She could never put her finger on it. Not before. But now, hearing him put it so eloquently, that’s what the problem was: I was not earnest.

How do you prove your earnestness lying naked in bed next to your girlfriend? It’s a fucked moment. If you argue, your defensiveness will lose the debate for you. Why would you argue… if it’s obviously untrue? If someone tells you the moon is made of cheese, you don’t spend the night arguing about it. If you laugh, like it’s a ridiculous accusation, you sound flippant, dismissive. Definitely not earnest. Go ahead, try lying in bed naked, laughing at your girlfriend’s Buddhist therapist. Trust me, I tried it, that’s no way to prove your earnestness.

After she got mad at me for laughing at her therapist, I did what any Zen-koan loving master would do in that situation. I agreed with her. I said “You know what? You’re right. I could see how someone could say that I’m not very earnest.” (Which is the most earnest thing anyone could say in that moment.) But my confession won no points with her. If anything, it was the beginning of the end. Or maybe not.

Maybe nothing has a beginning, just the point when you pick up the story.

The next morning, over breakfast, my girlfriend told me the reason her Buddhist therapist felt I wasn’t earnest. He said I was playing at life. I knew that to laugh this off was another losing gambit. So, I did the same thing I’d done the night before, while lying naked in bed with her. I agreed. It worked better this time. Part of me truly agreed, I was playing at life. It’s an apt description of my approach to being alive. Was that a bad thing?

No one has ever successfully convinced me that life is not best lived as if it were a game. Not like a sport where there are clear cut winners and losers and you keep score, but rather like a game where the goal is for everyone to have fun.

I know I risk sounding like a child but, for me, life begins anew each morning. When I split open my eyelids and first catch sight of the morning light there is a gossamer thread that ties me to yesterday, there are memories and plans that stretch from way back then to right now, and, possibly, will connect me to who I will be tomorrow. But, for right now, all I have is… right now.

Each morning, I start the day with this sense that life feels very fragmented. Like, we each live thousands of lifetimes. All lived one after another, day after day, always you, yet, always slightly different, until one day, you look back and you feel impossibly different, like you can’t imagine ever having been that person, the one you remember, but it was you, and one day you might feel that way about today.

Which one is you?

They’re all you.

All of this starts to get a bit muddy. Apologies. Please forgive my crude attempts at metaphysics. Let’s just say every day you wake up, it feels fresh and new, yet, you also feel bound and defined by yesterday as you wait for the surprises of tomorrow. That fragmentary feeling makes it hard for me not to inhabit this moment. It’s all I really have. So, I make the most of whatever there is right now. I like to have a laugh, as the Brits say. So, yes, I play at life.

But not like a sport, I live like it’s a game, like a child who’s awoken from a nap, and, suddenly reminded how awesome the world is, eagerly wants to go make some fun of what he or she finds left of the afternoon. I always found it odd that a dude who said he was a Buddhist would be against such a view of life.

Since I play at life I’m typically very much in the moment. Not worrying about tomorrow, or dwelling on yesterday. Really, what’s the point? And, thanks to that simple reasoning, I’ve always found Zen a concept easy to understand. To me, it’s a lot like the feeling that occurs when engaged in the middle of a game — without thinking about it, you can feel the sunshine on your skin, you feel the breeze tickle the tiny hairs on your ears, you hear the distant sound of a train whistle announcing itself to the world, and all at once, all of this mixes together, into a meaningful moment that has no real meaning — for a briefest bite of time you peek a glimpse of what it would be like to live your life as poetry. That feeling that feels like total consciousness. I like it. Thus, I play at life.

After my girlfriend and I broke up, we still saw each other, and slept together. It happens. Most times, I would drive the hour in traffic down to Long Beach to see her. I still wanted to see her. I still loved her. I was being honest that I didn’t want to make a life with her, I just wanted right now with her. I guess she didn’t believe that’s what I meant. No matter what her Buddhist therapist said about my earnestness, we still loved the smell of each other. That made it difficult to be too close. That made it confusing.

After we broke up, all it took was one weak moment. One person contacts the other. Then, you get back together. For the night. For the weekend. For a long lingering moment with someone you trust. Someone you know will ease your loneliness, even if they’re also the cause. We needed each other, earnestly.

It all finally melted one morning, when we were deciding what to have for breakfast. Really, the discussion was about where to go. We brunched with her friends the weekend before. They were older, married, and buying their first home. With memories of our weekend with them shading our breakfast decision, she mentioned the next time we saw the home buying-couple, we could tell them that we were now in a book. The way she said “the next time we” let me know, in her mind, we weren’t really broken up. She was still wearing me down.

I asked about the book. She said her Buddhist therapist had written one. I said I didn’t particularly care. She knew how I felt about him. I mentioned that I still hadn’t read any of his old books, even though she had copies on her shelf. She said in his new one, he’d written a whole chapter about us, well, really about me. I coughed on my chai latte. Excuse me? How the fuck do you write a chapter about a guy you’ve never met?

She explained that based on what she told him about me and our relationship, he’d conceived a whole chapter that used me as an example of how and why women should avoid men who lack earnestness. Now he’d turned me into a book chapter? She told me she was kind of flattered he’d written about her. I said nothing more about it. She told me it wasn’t a big deal. Don’t be upset. I knew I had to earnestly stop seeing her. I was confusing her, I was confusing me, and that wasn’t fair to anyone. People were getting hurt, and that’s not supposed to happen in a game.

Thanks to my ex-girlfriend’s Buddhist therapist, who I never met, I learned to trust more deeply in my belief that you’re winning at life anytime you’re playing. And you’re losing whenever you let someone else convince you not to play. And you can earnestly play. Like, it was no longer cool for me to play with my ex-girlfriend. To continue would be cruel, even if she said she wanted to go on the way we were.

If I ever ran into my ex-girlfriend’s Buddhist therapist — let’s say I was wandering around Long Beach and bumped into him — I might not say it to him, but I would think it: Fuck. that. guy. Then I would laugh and keep on gliding along like my feet are rollerskates. Why? Because I prefer to play at life than be earnestly upset by bullshit.

It took me a while to realize I was playing with my ex-girlfriend’s heart. I earnestly didn’t intend to do that. She was lying to herself, while she still hoped my heart would change. And frankly, I had to agree with her Buddhist therapist. I should be earnest. So I finished breaking her heart and said we shouldn’t see each other anymore. At all. She broke up with me first, I broke up with her last. And it didn’t feel good, but it did feel earnest.

Read more from Zaron Burnett III:

Love, Sex, and Other Things You Might Find At The Airport

How to Be a Fearless Badass

How Do I Survive This Shit?!

If you like what you just read, please hit the ‘Recommend’ heart below so that others might stumble upon this essay. For more essays like this, scroll down and follow the Human Parts collection.

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Next Story — Mama, There’s A White Man At My Window!
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Mama, There’s A White Man At My Window!

The last of the rain hits the pavement in waves of soft violence. The drops gather into puddles or merge into streams, rushing headlong for the gutter. Meanwhile, I flip pages in my window seat, enjoying the storm-sweetened night. I love a good thunderstorm. They’re rare in Los Angeles. The smell of positive ions and wet dirt mix. It refreshes the air. The night feels kinda electric. Or maybe I just feel that way after reading Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist. The chapter “What We Hunger For” just gutted me, left me split open to the world, desperate to understand our propensity for ugly.

Setting the book aside, I jot down a note. My thoughts come easily. I’ve been working on a bottle of red wine. The words pour out of me, lubricated by crushed grapes. I feel calm after I see my thoughts written out on the page. There is an emptiness growing in the night. It’s the sadness of instant nostalgia. Or maybe that’s the wine. The storm just ended and already, I miss the sound of the raindrops. Life is so fleeting. Yet, this persistent passing of time lends beauty its value. Thankfully, nothing lasts.

The classical radio station brings me back to my body, back to the here-and-now. The music is beautiful, but it’s no rainstorm. It’s just a pale imitation. Plus, I think it’s what draws the stranger to my window. I feel his presence before I see him. When I turn my attention from my notebook there he is…

There is a strange white man at my window.

I live in a basement apartment in a building that’s a short block from Venice Beach. The windows open out onto an alley that runs parallel to the boardwalk. You get used to a parade of kooks crawling past. Occasionally, if my windows are open, like tonight, they might toss me a passing comment. But the beach hippies, homeless wizards, hula hooping goth girls, and drunk German tourists almost never stop to talk with me. Unless they’re terribly lost, or really like the color of my hair. (It’s aquamarine.)

My windows are at street-height. He squats down to get a better look inside of my place. (Actually, it’s my cousin’s place. I’ve been crashing here while he’s on the road.) The white man with the staring problem is inches from me, just on the other side of the aluminum screen. All that separates us are rusty, bent iron bars.

But the white man is not looking at me. Instead, he’s looking past me. Like I’m invisible.

It’s well past eleven o’clock at night. What the hell does this mayonnaise-looking motherfucker want?

We meet eyes. I nod at him and assume he’ll walk away. I’m wrong. Instead, he hovers there, a haunting figure at my window.

“…Yo?” I say to him, expecting him to scurry away as soon as he pops out of whatever weird moment he’s having.

“Hey! Just looking at your place…” he tells me in a friendly sing-song of a sofa salesman. “I’m just that kind of guy who likes to look into windows to see how other people live. I’m curious like that.”

Well, jeez, mister, isn’t that neat? I have an idea: why don’t you fuck off? This is what I’m thinking. But this dude’s either stupid drunk, flying on who-knows-what-combo of street drugs, or bent on a bad one on hallucinogens. Or, maybe he’s just dangerously lonely. Whatever he is, he wants to talk. I want nothing to do with him. But I also don’t want to piss him off. I definitely don’t want homie to come back for more tomorrow night. It’s like John Wayne once warned the Indians, white people can be persistent. And I like to have my windows open. Have to be smart about how I play this one.

I hear myself say, “Yeah, there’s not really much to see. There it is. You’ve seen it.” I sound like a teenager trying to get off the telephone without saying goodbye.

I wonder how this strange white man would feel if our roles were reversed. I wonder if he’s even considered that. We all know that both he and our local law enforcement would trip the fuck out if I was in the alley, standing at his window, staring into his home, because, you know, I’m just curious. But for him, this is not a concern.

“It’s interesting to see… y’know? How you live. How much does this place cost? I like how this is — this place — it looks cool. This would be a good place… for me,” he says, eyeing my cousin’s place like he’s casing the joint.

Here we have a bored white man who’s walked up to my window, interrupted my work, and now, he’s staring past me like I don’t exist, declaring my home interesting, and he’d like me to help him figure out how he can have this all for himself. Ain’t that some shit? I should laugh in his face. But suddenly, it’s so clear. It’s like if Dickens was from Detroit. I’ve just been visited by the Spirit of White Privilege.

He’s in his mid-twenties; he still has the rhythm, clothing, and apparently, the mentality of a boy. He expects answers from the world. But it’s fast approaching midnight. Wearing a tank-top, tourist beach shorts intended to make him look like a surfer, but instead he looks like an easy mark for street crime. He has a baby-face, and looks like he escaped from a 1930s gangster movie. It’s the fullness of his cheeks. Faces seemed fuller in 1930s films. The shape of his gives you the sense he’s not from this time. He feels old, but looks young.

“So what’s the rent?” he asks me, point blank.

“It’s my cousin’s place. He’s on the road, so I’m like watching the place — you could say I’m subletting. But I — ”

“What’s that mean, sublet?”

“It means you rent a place for a short-term from someone who’s renting the place; but I don’t know what his rent is,” I say, hoping he’ll get bored of me and wander away.

“Is your cousin white?” he asks without segue.

“What? Is my — well, he’d say he’s Italian,” I answer, almost out of instinct. “What makes you think he’s white?”

“You look mixed. I can usually spot that. But, really… it’s that Blues Brothers painting,” he says.

His answer is so matter-of-fact. Yet, he smiled in an odd way as he casually told me he can see I’m mixed, it’s more like he can see my mother’s whiteness somewhere in or on me and that’s why he’s talking to me. At me. That’s who he’s talking to. Does that make sense? It’s how it feels.

The Blue Brothers is a white movie?” I ask.

He never answers my question. Instead, the strange white man at my window shifts gears; it’s sudden, unexpected. His rhythms are jarring. I still can’t tell what drug he’s on.

“Have you noticed how out here they try to shame you for being white? Like, they want you to feel bad, to shrink you down, and make you apologize for being white?” he says, certain that I have also noticed this rampant mistreatment of white people in Los Angeles.

“I don’t know about you, but I ain’t never gonna apologize for being white. I’m proud of what I am, just like you’re probably proud of what you are,” he says, finishing his sermon on the persecution of white people in America.

Oh shit… You would think if he wanted someone to pity the poor white man with him, I would not be his target audience. But here we are. Approaching midnight. This is white privilege at its finest.

Maybe I should tell this dude that I write articles with titles like “Kill All White People!” and “How to Overcome the Murderous Fear of White People.” But then again, where’s the fun in that?

“White people are being shamed for being white, who’s doing this?” I ask, innocent as a newborn lamb.

“This whole state! Everyone’s brainwashed. They think being white is a bad thing. They make you apologize for being white. For being how God made you. It’s not right. They’re wrong about all that white privilege talk,” he says, ready for an argument.

“Oh, yes. White privilege, I’ve heard of that stuff,” I say. “More and more people are talking about it.”

He’s getting worked up, “Out here — people — they’re brainwashed. They want gays to be married, and immigrants to get everything you and I get, and make white people be all weak. And they think they can use the media to get everyone to go along with this. I’m from South Carolina, and it ain’t like this where I’m from.”

“No, I hear it’s not,” I say, trying to bury my sarcasm somewhere a Southerner won’t look. “What brought you out here? You a tourist?”

“I’m a minister. I travel this great nation of ours to preach the word of our Lord and Savior,” he proclaims like he’s doing the world a favor.

And there it is. Of course, that’s his drug of choice: he’s high on Jesus. Awesome.

“Lots of folks, they go all over the world. They want to see exotic places, when our country is enormous — it’s filled with exotic places. It’s important you travel. See the world. But you should see America,” he says.

I listen to him, wondering how deep into his weirdness I’m willing to wander. It’s hard to gauge where knee-deep is when you’re talking about crazy.

“The thing is, you see the truth everywhere when you travel. Everything’s different. But it’s the same, y’know? You see how these people out here, for them, the only religion these people like to make fun of is Christianity. You see how the only book they like to make fun of is… the Bible. They try to dismiss the truth, but you can’t. They just make my job easier. The media — they have their Satanic plans — they try to run their agenda, but you can’t deny the power of Jesus Christ,” he concludes.

Every time he says Jesus I grow more bored with him. But I keep listening. I want to understand how he makes sense of the world. It doesn’t seem like anyone really thinks this shit. Until you meet them. But he does. Hell, he’s an advocate.

“I’ve been to sixteen states, preaching in the service of the gospel. And what most people don’t know is: this country is like fifty countries all united as one. Every state is different. They have different ways of living. You learn new things when you travel in this country. And that’s why it’s easy for me to see how people can be brainwashed. It’s so big, and you don’t know what it’s like for the other people,” he says, as if he isn’t even aware of what he’s saying.

“This is nice.” The white man at my window switches gears again, suddenly, without provocation. It’s like he just heard the classical music all at once. He’s moved by it — that is, after the sound of his voice dies away and he can hear it. “This — what you’re listening to — it’s real nice.”

“That’s Handel.” I tell him.

“Yeah. It’s real nice. …Hand-dull? Huh. I need to get a radio. Listen to music like this — it’s good to help you think, y’know? It’s very beautiful,” he says, losing himself for a moment.

“That’s why I listen to it,” I say, silently amused that I’m introducing this proud white man to the best of his heritage. Apparently, he’s missed it, thus far.

“It seems like this music is good for you. For your mind. For your body. It’s good that you listen to this music. This will help you think,” he says, explaining to me like I need his help. Thanks, weird white man.

Part of me pities this guy. We only have the one life, and it so fleeting. He wastes his looking for the Devil’s fingerprints on the culture. He harangues strangers so that they be more like… who exactly? Jesus? Is he wasting his life fighting with strangers for Jesus? I hope that if this guy hears what he’s saying, he might stop, and say to himself, “Holy shit! That’s ridiculous — that doesn’t make any fucking sense… What the fuck is wrong with me?!” (Doubtful, I know.) Instead, spurred on by the certainty of his whiteness, he finds Satan everywhere he looks.

“Y’know, these satanic messages that the media spreads, and the people believe? It’s like I was telling you about — it’s all so layered, it’s hard for people to see the truth. But it’s always there. Like, this place — Snapchat…” he turns from my window and points at the modernist building across the alley, Snapchat’s new beachside compound on the Venice boardwalk.

He raises his voice like he thinks Snapchat can hear him. “They are in the business of narcissism. They encourage materialism. They want women to act like whores, and for men to debase themselves. It’s a business of sin. It’s fun, it’s sexy, it’s young… but it’s sin. There’s a subtle message you miss, unless you really pay attention.”

“Yeah, I have trouble with that. I often overlook Satanism,” I say, flatly.

I don’t know how much further down into his crazy I can descend.

“You’re smart — you just miss the obvious. The word — computer — you know how Hebrew letters are also numbers, right? Well, if you plug the word computer in and do the math, the number value is…six six six.” he says, certain that my mind will be blown. My mind is not blown. It remains very un-blown. But I’m polite, so I nod.

“Really, so ‘computer’ translates in Hebrew into the number of the beast?” I ask. “That’s bleak.”

“It’s everywhere. Take Mac computers. You probably have a Mac — you look like the type. Next time you open it, look at it for a second. The apple logo. It has a bite out of it.” He nods, expecting that the truth is dawning in my mind.

“What do you think that bite out of an apple is referencing? What first couple tasted the fruit of darkness? Yep. Do I have to say it? Now you see the truth. Apple computers are satanic.”

Finally. Now he’s making sense. No, I’m just kidding. But it’s a fun amusement park ride of logic. He spots my eyes light up. He mistakes it for interest. He thinks he’s finally sold me.

“Here. Write this down. I want you to go to these websites and just read what they say. Read it all for yourself,” he waits for me to raise my pen. I make a bet with myself about the websites.

As he lists them, I fight back my smile. But I just won my bet. Although he doesn’t mention him by name, he wants me to check out Alex Jones. If you don’t know him, Alex Jones is the PT Barnum of the Fear the Future online product-pushers, the ones who earn big bank from paranoia. To call him a journalist is… kind.

A white modern muscle car pulls into a parking spot behind the Snapchat compound. After the car door slams shut, the white man at my window is momentarily distracted. A very big black man unfolds from the driver’s seat and gets out of the white muscle car.

The white man at my window stares at him, curious, his head does that puppy dog thing; it sort of falls sideways.

“Are you a football player?! Did you used to play football?” the white man at my window yells across the alley. He sounds like someone let a kid guzzle some shots of whiskey.

“Yeah, I used to play,” the black man says to no one in particular.

“What team did you play for?” he yells back, from my window.

“The Cowboys.”

“And now, you work here at Snapchat?!”

“Yeah,” the black man sounds as if he just said all the words he wishes to say tonight.

“Do you think Jerry Jones is evil?” the white man at my window asks.

“I have a lot of thoughts on that man.”

The white man wanders away from my window, “He’s a millionaire, right?”

“Multi. He’s a multimillionaire,” the black man explains.

“He is? He’s a multimillionaire? Wow. Do you think Jerry Jones is evil?” he asks.

I use the question of whether Jerry Jones is satanic as my best chance to escape the conversation. I step away from my window. As I open a fresh beer in the kitchen, I can hear the Spirit of White Privilege railing against modern life, trying to sway the former football player.

If I were to draw a cartoon of white privilege it would be this guy. A straight white man, emboldened to feel that he’s right, that he can decide what’s right for others, that he’s naturally powerful, that other people need to recognize this, that he expects to be heard, and listened to, to always be considered, to always be respected, and he generously expects to help wayward minorities like me realize what a good thing we have in the white man’s culture — and to better ourselves with things like classical music. What a dick. He is the image of self-assured entitlement, wrapped in flesh and motivated by the idea that the world should thank him for bestowing his whiteness on such a dark and messy place.

I should laugh at myself: I got my wish. I better understand our propensity for ugly. But equally, I do not think this white man’s angry, arrogant view of the world will be with us much longer. If you really listen to the words of white privilege, the worldview is far too foolish, too close-minded, too ignorant of others, for it to outlast this century. It must cheat to survive. It’s based on a lie. It draws all its power from the past. And the Internet will kill white privilege.

If you judge it on its merits, judge it by its preachers and salesmen, the ones who advertise it to the world, like this dude, this Spirit of White Privilege that visited my window, the whole idea of keeping white privilege alive and well is a hard sell. Since we’re all online, there’s nowhere for white privilege to hide its ugly side. The corruption of the world from the idea of whiteness is now self-evident.

Which leaves the Spirit of White Privilege to wander in alleyways, in the dark of night, looking for a friendly ear, hoping to find its way back to a better time for white people (like, Detroit in the 1950s). It’s a sad sight, indeed. Thankfully, nothing lasts.

So long, white privilege. You will not be missed.

Read more from Zaron Burnett III:

How to Be a Fearless Badass

Love, Sex, and Other Things You Might Find At The Airport

How Do I Survive This Shit?!

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