Skip to the article, or search this site

Home: The Toast


Editors Note: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

I went on a date tonight with this cute anthropologist. He has blue eyes, a beard, and his online dating profile says he’s good with knots, but not in a creepy, kidnap-y way, more in a handy, Boy Scout-y way. I was trying really hard not to rant about feminism and misogyny during our date, because he seemed nice and listening to me rant isn’t that much fun. Besides, I was pretty sure that he wasn’t anti-feminist because it says right on my profile that I’m a feminist and that I’ll yell at you if throw around “slut” or “pussy,” and I’m usually enough of a pain in the ass that the real assholes don’t consider me worth their time. I wanted to rant about feminism because four days ago this other guy shot people because he thought women owed him sex and they didn’t give it to him so he wanted them to die. He left videos all over the internet telling us about it. Since this guy shot those people I’ve been reading and ranting about misogyny, but that’s not really the best thing to talk about when you’re on a date with a dude. I mean, even the best of them start to get defensive after a while.

But ranting is sort of a habit of mine so instead I ranted about the misrepresentation of science in this novel by this famous author about a group of ecoterrorists faking environmental disasters to convince people that global climate change was real. The novel cited real science, but I’m trained as a forester, and every bit of forestry science the book cited was explained incorrectly or taken so far out of context that it made no sense. Also, the ecoterrorists tried to fake a tsunami, which is bullshit, because there’s not really any science to suggest that a warming planet would cause tectonic plates to move and create an underwater earthquake, at least in a human timescale.

Ecoterrorist is such a crappy term, anyways. Ecoterrorists hate it, because most ecoterrorists consider themselves to be nonviolent. They pour sand in the crankcases of logging equipment, break into mink farms and set the minks free, and burn down empty ski lodge buildings that are encroaching into lynx habitat. They don’t hurt people, or at least they try not to. There was this one time when a spiked tree was run through a saw mill and the saw blade hit the spike and the tree jumped and killed a mill worker. He didn’t deserve to die, but at least it was an accident. Tree spikers have been more careful since. Now they warn the logging company or the Forest Service where the spiked trees are, so that the company or the Forest Service has to check each tree with a metal detector. It makes it much more expensive to log, which really is the theory behind ecoterrorism, to make it too expensive to do whatever bad environmental thing someone wants to do.

So, I was ranting about this novel to this cute anthropologist and I can’t remember why or what exactly the context was but he made a little joke: “Well it’s not like you’re an ecoterrorist, are you?” And I shook my head, of course, and said no, which wasn’t exactly a lie, but it would have been a lie ten years ago. Well, ten years and one month. I remember because the statute of limitations is ten years. I should probably check with a lawyer and make sure that normal arson statute of limitations apply and that they can’t get me under some special anti-terrorism thing, because ecoterrorism got folded in with all that homeland security stuff after 9/11 even though it’s not really terrorism.

A lot of people who are mad about misogyny and racism are saying that the guy who shot those people because women wouldn’t sleep with him is a terrorist, but the news is mostly saying that he was mentally ill. Which he might have been, but mentally ill doesn’t really explain shooting people just because women wouldn’t sleep with you. I know you don’t believe me, but if you look it up you’ll see that there isn’t any science that says mentally ill people are more likely to shoot people. The science actually says that mentally ill people are more likely to be victims of violent things like shootings than non-mentally ill people, but it’s easier to blame things on craziness. Crazy is out of control. Crazy is other. Crazy doesn’t make a society fix itself from the inside out; it’s just this amorphous blob that everyone feels powerless against. I think that guy who shot those people because women wouldn’t sleep with him is a terrorist, because he wanted to make women everywhere more scared than they already are, which is what terrorism means after all. Wanting to control people through fear. I think if he was brown instead of white-passing, everyone would be calling him a terrorist.

When I was an ecoterrorist, I really loved nature. I thought people were killing it and taking it away from me, so I hated people but not enough to kill them, which is why ecoterrorist really isn’t the right word. I believed all the usual crazy environmentalist things like humans are cancer and the Earth is dying, except those ideas really aren’t that crazy either and I wasn’t mentally ill, I was angry. The problem with being a person who hates people is that you hate yourself too, and you believe the world would be better off with you dead. You get mad at yourself for breathing air that an ocelot could breathe instead and driving a car that burns oil and will make the ice caps melt and kill the polar bears. Being mad at yourself isn’t any fun and you feel guilty all the time, so I decided to be mad at someone else. I lived in my parents’ house in a subdevelopment and someone was building a new subdevelopment close by. This new subdevelopment was home to two endangered species of birds, just like my subdevelopment used to be before my parents’ house and all the other houses were built. I decided I would stop the new subdevelopment and save the birds, so I took an empty orange juice bottle and filled it with gasoline and snuck over to the subdevelopment one night. I chose this one house that was fully framed with most of the outside filled in but no doors and the inside was all raw wood. I poured the gasoline on the plywood and the stairs so that the flames could travel up and I lit a match and tossed it on the gasoline and ran and drove away as fast as I could. It’s not really the sort of thing you tell a cute anthropologist on your first date.

What I’m saying is that I understand reaching a breaking point and doing something that seems crazy. What I’m saying is that I understand the need to show how upset you are with something physical and violent and permanent. I knew that I couldn’t save the planet by lighting one house on fire and that guy who shot those people knew he couldn’t murder all the women in the world for not sleeping with him but it was about the principle of the thing, about proving we’d risk everything for what we believed. I’m not usually angry like that anymore. I work really hard not to let myself get too angry because I remember what it was like and I didn’t like being that person. I still love nature and I still think people are doing bad things to it, but it’s easier to handle if I tell myself that the Earth and life will survive us no matter what we do to it, so I tell myself that all the time just to be safe. Once I stopped hating people so much I was able to work with them to try to make things better by improving forage for elk and burning wood for energy instead of coal. I don’t know if we really made the Earth any better, but it was way less miserable than hating myself and feeling guilty for breathing all the time.

I wish the guy who killed those people had learned that. That if he stopped hating women he could have been friends with them and felt better. Maybe some of them would have even had sex with him, because lots of women like nerdy men as long the nerdy men aren’t jerks. I should know, because that’s the thing I like best about this cute anthropologist, that he tells me true stories about how genetic testing has just about proved the Etruscans were originally from Anatolia or how there’s evidence that legends of Cyclopes came from ancient Greeks finding mammoth skulls. I know that’s not really the point and that being a virgin is probably the stupidest reason ever to shoot people, but I’m just saying that if he had learned to stop hating women and to treat them like people he might have gotten what he wanted.

That guy was better at murder than I was at arson. I kept checking the newspaper looking for pictures of that house where I’d poured the gasoline and lit the match but it never showed up. Even though I knew that everyone gets caught by returning to the scene of the crime I finally drove and looked and from the road the house didn’t look damaged at all and I felt like a failure. I did a bunch of research about why the house wasn’t damaged, and it turns out that gasoline doesn’t burn that hot and I should have either mixed it with diesel or made napalm. I used to have a recipe for napalm memorized. All you need is dish soap and gasoline. I don’t know why nobody came and knocked on my door and asked me why I was looking up napalm recipes on an ecoterrorist site. Maybe because they weren’t as good at following people online then or maybe they thought I was researching a novel or maybe it’s because I was a teenage white girl who fit the profile for shoplifter better than terrorist.

They knocked on that guy’s door, the one who shot all those people, because his parents saw some of his videos and got worried and called the police. My parents were worried when they found the recipe for napalm between my mattress and the box springs, but they didn’t call the police. Not that it would have mattered. The police didn’t do anything to that guy and he wanted to kill people and I didn’t want to kill people. I wouldn’t have minded if Ebola or antibiotic-resistant plague or something had killed most of the people for me, but I wouldn’t have done it myself.

Like I said, I work really hard to not be mad because of that one time I poured gasoline on something when I was mad, but I’ve been mad since that guy shot all those people because no women would sleep with him. I’ve been mad because people are acting like it’s just one crazy boy, but I know it’s bigger than that. Because even though I was usually enough of a pain in the ass to run off all the real assholes, I wasn’t always enough of a pain in the ass or maybe sometimes I was too much of a pain in the ass and they wanted to take me down a notch. All I’m trying to say is that men have hurt me and that men have hurt me so many times that if I tried to list them all right now I’d forget at least three or four because people don’t hold lists of more than five items in our heads very well. Even though I have a good memory I still can’t remember all the times someone hit me or threatened me or stuck part of themselves inside me when I didn’t say they could, unless I have some time and paper to make notes on.

I told the cute anthropologist before our date that he couldn’t have my phone number until I met him in person and made sure he didn’t attack people with chainsaws, only zombies. I made a joke about it, but it wasn’t really a joke. Really I was scared, like all women are scared even though we like to pretend that we’re not. I don’t like being scared. I like being scared even less than I like being angry, because at least I don’t feel weak when I’m angry.

I’m angry now, because it feels like those are my only two choices, being angry or being scared. Sometimes I hear people talk about anger as if it’s red hot, but for me it’s always felt like a shiver through my chest that freezes solid, leaving me hard and strong and unable to feel much of anything. I didn’t want to be mad on my date with the cute anthropologist, so beforehand I was listening to music that I thought would make me feel better, songs by this woman who was popular back when I was that teenage me who wanted to burn things down and save the planet. Her music is sad about the world but hopeful that she can make it better. She sings things like, “In the end, only kindness matters” and “I am never broken.” I tried to keep listening and to believe all that, that all I have to do is be nice to everyone and the world will get better, but after my date with the cute anthropologist, I was too tired to be nice anymore. I started listening to this other song by a different woman that was popular a few years before. This song is about fire. This woman says “dry is good and wind is better” and “strike the match go on and do it.” It makes being mad feel powerful.

Part of me wonders if I should be worried about how angry I’m feeling, if I’m going to try to light something on fire again. I don’t know what I’d light on fire though, because I don’t really know what I hate. Certainly not the cute anthropologist. If I burned him down I wouldn’t be able to kiss him or maybe sleep with him, and I think I’m probably going to want sleep with him after another date or two because he really is cute and I like talking with him about nerdy things like whether or not other species of hominids that coexisted with early Homo sapiens are the source of our legends about elves and dwarves and hobbits. But if I could burn down this thing that tells me all the time that I’m not worth as much as people who aren’t women and makes me scared of meeting cute anthropologists, I would light the match all over again. But that thing is in all the men, even the cute anthropologist, and it’s in me and all the people who aren’t me too. We’re all part it even though it hurts the people who aren’t men more and I can’t light it on fire without lighting everyone on fire and I tried that before and I wasn’t very good at it, and really I don’t want to kill people.

I just remember how brave I felt, striking that match, and how invincible. I miss that.

Erin Zwiener lives at the base of Panther Mountain with a corral full of horses and is an MFA candidate at the University of Arizona. She no longer dates anthropologists.

Add a comment

Skip to the top of the page, search this site, or read the article again