As soon as I see the news of a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, I Google Brian.
Brian* sat in front of me in math class in 1997 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I’d like to tell you he was the Aaron Samuels to my Cady Heron, but this isn’t that kind of story. Brian was cute, in a good old Southern boy kind of way. I’m sure I had a crush on him for at least 48 hours. But he also had the kind of blonde bowl cut that made you quite certain he had at least one Confederate flag in his home. I had the kind of name that made you quite certain I had at least one menorah. We weren’t meant to be.
I think of Brian every few years — when I see a swastika spray-painted on a synagogue wall, or when David Duke rears his ugly head.
(Before 2017, I used to think of him far less frequently.)
I think of him because you never forget your first anti-Semitic taunt.
In that math class in 1997, I sat behind Brian and next to my best friend Rebekah. Bekah and I were feeling silly this particular day. God only knows what we were doing, but I can’t deny that it was probably annoying. Brian turned around, rolling his eyes.
“Now I know why Hitler killed all the Jews.”
I’m not sure what I expect to find when I search for Brian, now, in 2017. At the very least, a MAGA hat. At the very worst, a recent photo of him, Richard Spencer by his side, Tiki torches raised proudly. The smallest part of me hopes the rally inspired him to write a heartfelt, 37-part Twitter thread condemning the anti-Semitic things he said to that frizzy-haired girl in seventh grade.
Picture me, the night after Charlottesville, channeling Carrie Bradshaw in front of my laptop. I couldn’t help but wonder… Nazi, or not-zi?
I quickly find Brian’s Facebook page and scan his “likes”: Lynyrd Skynard, cooking, snakes.
In his first picture, Brian holds a fish twice as large as he is. OK, I think, he fishes. Doesn’t confirm white supremacy, but certainly doesn’t exclude it.
In the second picture, Brian wears camouflage overalls. Not my style, but not damning.
Then: Brian holds a dozen giant dead frogs. I… didn’t realize we were even hunting frogs?
Brian with 36 dead ducks. Thirty. six.
Brian’s dog with five dead ducks. Brian with two dead turkeys, one dead deer.
Brian posing, Kate Winslet style, on eight dead alligators.
At this point, I’m not even sure what I’m looking for anymore. I’m just fascinated.
In the end, the most damning thing I find is that someone — a former high school classmate of mine — has tagged Brian in a post complaining about sensitive Muslims and “pussy” PC culture. I’m satisfied, or something like it.
Truth be told, I don’t remember what happened after Brian’s Hitler comment. I can’t remember if I cried or told my parents. I imagine my friend and I went to her house after school and drowned our sorrows in Velveeta shells and cheese and Super Nintendo. I think Brian was probably forced to give a fake apology. Maybe one of our parents came to school, passed around a dreidel, promoted tolerance.
But I do remember that before Brian, my knowledge of anti-Semitism was only abstract — a relic from another time and place. Brian ushered in a personal era of suspicion and alertness that still serves me well to this day.
After Charlottesville, people were horrified. Who among us, they wondered, was a secret white supremacist?
That’s a game I’ve been playing since seventh grade, amateurs.
* Until I have proof that this guy is actually an awful human, I’ve chosen to change his name so as not to shame him on the internet.
Image via Flickr/Chris Luczkow