Romeo and Juliet and the Culture War

Usually the American culture war is something you see from a distance, that you read about in the media. But sometimes it’s a person you know and it’s something that stops you in your tracks. 

I met her at some tennis courts I frequent in National City, when she was by herself, practicing serves or hitting a ball against a backboard. I asked her if she wanted to hit the ball with me. 

I’m going to call her Gabi, which is not her real name. What drew me to her? The novelist John le Carré called it love or lust or whatever it is that makes us into fools.

She looked like she was close to my age, and she was beautiful in that way Phillipina women often are. She had a pretty smile, a soft voice and expressive eyes. Her figure looked youthful and, well, sexy.  

We ran into each other several times and we played a set once. Gabi was basically a beginner but very fit and a natural athlete. I asked her for her telephone number. Soon we played together again, and I asked her if she’d join me for lunch. It wasn’t a big deal but it was definitely a date, which I hoped would lead to others. 

Gabi was a schoolteacher, a profession I thought had some things in common with my own. I remember exchanging texts with her, where I described my reaction to getting a COVID vaccination. She told me she wasn’t going to get vaccinated. It was a time when pandemic politics were still not entirely clear to me. 

If they had been more clear I don’t think I would have asked her, as we sat in that restaurant, why she decided not to get vaccinated. But I did. She looked downward and shifted in an awkward way. She told me she was a born-again Christian and belonged to a church that was well-known for refusing to wear masks or disband their worship services, due to COVID concerns. 

Pretty soon she was telling me she thought Anthony Fauci was a fraud. She told me I should read what some guy, I’d never heard of, said about the pandemic. What she said bore all the signs of Trump politics, religious fundamentalism and distrust of mainstream science. As you can guess, our date did not end well.

Before we talked about COVID that day Gabi and I talked about some of our travels and we’d both been to England. She told me she loved Shakespeare. I told her I did too.

After politics pulled us apart, I thought about Romeo and Juliet. The intense sexual attraction of that story didn’t apply to us. I guess we are a little too old for that. 

But I came to see our story as a version of the play. We were like members of warring families who could have fallen in love. But the politics in our lives meant we — becoming a couple — was just not going to happen. I expect that’s a story more commonly true than the one you hear in Shakespeare’s play.

On Tuesday the California Recall Election took place, when Republicans tried to remove Governor Gavin Newsom from office. I heard from Gabi that day.

She sent a text to me and several others she knew, urging us to vote for the recall, which ended up failing by a wide margin statewide. That election was a referendum on dealing with COVID, and the governor had created regulations and urged people to get vaccinated and wear masks, the kind of things Gabi and her fundamentalist friends opposed. 

I expect I will run into her again at the tennis courts, and I’m sure we’ll be polite to each other and exchange a few words. But I think that text she sent me on election day will be the last one I’ll get from her. 


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