Atheists are bigots. If I had a pie for every time I heard that, I’d be Kirstie Alley.
When I was in college – and I really have no idea how I did this – I worked at YVR airport. I had a full course load, and then went to the airport at night and cleaned planes until morning. I do not recall if sleep really ever happened. I do recall, however, being in such a sleepless stupor that my boss appeared to me as Hulk Hogan… but that’s a whole other story.
I had the extreme pleasure of peeling the NHL’s sticky used condoms off the ceiling of their plane. The exact plane I speak of flew none other than the Great One, Wayner, into Vancouver when he played with the Kings. I was excited as I waited on the tarmac with a bottle of degreaser in my hand while the Kings disembarked before me, and the cologney air that surrounded Gretzky encircled my blonde hair as he rushed past with barbecue sauce on his shirt. My excitement soon turned to horror when I saw how the Great One had left his plane.
In spite of how disgusting humans suddenly become when they’re barreling through the air in a metal tube, I loved that job. I made 86 new friends who, to this day, are some of the best people I’ve ever known.
Goran Visnjic is R.’s doppelganger
A few weeks into the job, I was sitting in the lunch room with the Fijian woman who had taken to me so well that she brought me homemade Fijian food for lunch every day. Shovelling roti in my mouth and moaning in absolute unparalleled pleasure at how fucking good the shit was, I looked up to see a man I thought was Goran Visnjic, the Iranian wet dream from TV’s ER. It wasn’t uncommon for us to see celebs on the job, coming and going from planes, but in the lunchroom? That was strange.
Before I could get up and wipe the spinach off my chin, I was being introduced. This was not Goran. This was his extremely close look-a-like, and my coworker, R. He’d been off with a broken hand longer than I’d been working there, so I had never seen him before. I gaped, spinach just resting there. He must have thought I was… slow.
After I said hi for the third time, R finally asked if I was ok and then promptly told me the spinach on my chin was hot. In a Middle Eastern accent. So, naturally, I ignored the spinach once again and asked him where he was from. He said Iraq, grabbed a napkin, and wiped my chin.
From that point on we were pretty inseparable. The job, which was officially titled “groomer”, had a lot of downtime. Some days we’d have an 8 hour shift and one 5 minute turnaround clean during the whole 8 hours. R and I would talk and talk and talk during all of our downtime.
He told me the story of how he, as a Kurd, escaped Iraq under Hussein’s rule. It was pretty intense and involved him killing a man in self-defence, leaving his Mom behind at the Turkish border, walking through Turkey to Greece and eating wild plants just to stay alive. All when he was 15 and alone. It was gut-wrenching. I told him I wanted to write his story for him.
So, he started to come to my apartment to work on the story and before we knew it, we were officially dating.
It did not last long.
Within just a few weeks of us making it official, he began to get irritated with how I dressed. Jeans and a t-shirt were too much for him, and he would become particularly uncomfortable if that t-shirt was a v-neck. He never made me change though, and it came across as just simple irritation like I would be if he wore crocs, so I let it go.
He also began to treat me differently around other men, barely allowing me to talk and constantly commenting on how all of them were after me. But he never blamed me, so I didn’t worry too much.
It appeared, to me, as though it was a huge struggle for him – he wanted to adjust to Canadian life, accepting that men and women here are more or less equal, but you could see him struggling with what his own culture pounded into him. I respected him for fighting against what he had always known.
But then he told his mother about me, during a phone call from Iraq. She was fit to be tied that he’d picked one of the only two white girls at our job to date. She kept telling him, any time they spoke, that he could not marry an infidel.
When he told me this, I just about jumped out of my skin.
“Marry? Who the fuck said we were going to marry? I literally just met you!”
He agreed that it was silly to be talking about this now, but as time went by, he would talk about Islam more and more.
I became increasingly uncomfortable.
Finally, one day, during a discussion with him about Islam, I referred to the prophet without saying “praise be upon him” (the same way I always did) and he lost it. He got so upset, that he let it slip, “If you can’t even respect my wishes about my own religion now, how will you ever make a good Muslim?”
I was in complete shock.
“R., I’m not going to become a Muslim. It will never happen.” I tried to be gentle.
“Then why are we dating?”
“You tell me.”
And with that, it was over.
I have always been an atheist. I was an atheist then, just like I am now. I was not afraid of him, I did not treat him with disrespect. In fact, I was pretty fond of him and I still think he’s a fantastic guy. It’s the belief I have a problem with, not the person.
On the flip side, when the Christian part of my family found out I was dating an Iraqi, I got heat from every direction. “Be careful with them!”, I was constantly being cautioned.
So, I ask you then, who is the real bigot here? Me? Or all of the religious people in this story, including R.?