Archive for the ‘when bad things happen to good people’ Category

I love to walk; it’s my primary mode of transportation, and while I know that there are definite benefits to driving – primarily being that I could leave things in the car, rather than toting everything I own around with me all the time so that I can get to work, eat lunch, and go to yoga all in the same day – I am, at my core, a pedestrian. I like the fact that it takes time to get places, that I can let my attention wander as I go; as a pedestrian I can stop without warning if the candy factory smells particularly good, or turn around to head back the other way as soon as I realize that I’ve forgotten something or that I did, in fact, just walk past a yard filled with poultry. You can’t do that with a car. Nor can you find the amazing things that people drop in the gutter; it’s not just doll heads, you know – sometimes it’s money.

Of course, there are drawbacks to being a pedestrian, and, as with driving, the biggest problem is other pedestrians.  (Well, with driving, it’s other drivers; you know what I mean). You don’t hear about it much, probably because it’s not sexy like Road Rage and Air Rage, but Pedestrian Rage is a very real problem, even on the historical brick sidewalks of Cambridge, as I was reminded tonight.

I was making my way to yoga after work, as I am wont to do. To be honest, I was not moving as fast as I could have been – my feet hurt a little bit, and I was preoccupied with my plan to stop at CVS beforehand, which suddenly seemed ill-considered – but neither was I moving unreasonably slowly; in my opinion, I was moving at an entirely reasonable rate for a person carrying 3 bags and a yoga mat, who has more than enough time to arrive at her destination.

The gentleman walking behind me felt otherwise. I know this because, as he walked past me he turned his face toward me and said “I guess I’ll just walk the other way.” And even though, in that context, the words he used don’t make any sense, I knew exactly what he meant. As a pedestrian, I have felt it – the rage that builds as you’re stuck behind someone who is so inconsiderate as to be walking slower than you want to be going; or a group of people so up their own asses that they dare walk 3 abreast on the sidewalk, leaving no room at all for those of us who actually have places to be to get around them; or some mother who UNBELIEVABLY actually purchased a sturdy stroller in which to push around her stupid baby she’ll probably spoil, a stroller so unwieldy that her efforts to navigate around the tree roots buckling up through that historic brick back pedestrian traffic up so far that you actually have to WALK IN THE FUCKING STREET just to be on your way.

As I huff past these inconsiderate people who are willfully ignoring my presence – they know I’m there; they’re just being dicks – I often have the urge to snarl something at them, along the lines of a sarcastic “no, that’s fine; I’ll just go around,” or, on days when I’m not feeling quite so expansive, a simple, barked “MOVE!” But I don’t, because I know, no matter how irritated I am, that I am being ridiculous; that the people most likely don’t know that I’m there, or that I am filled with hate for them, and a simple “excuse me” would probably get them out of my way; in short, I know that, the novel of my life, wherein I am the heroine and also the center of the entire universe, is only being read by me. The people in front of me don’t realize they’re inconveniencing the most important person who ever lived because a.) they don’t know I’m there; and b.) from their perspective, they’re the most important person who ever lived. Which is as it should be, I think; no one should be a supporting player in their own life.

So when this gentleman said to me “I guess I’ll just walk the other way,” despite the nonsense of his words, I knew that he meant “I AM VERY IMPORTANT AND YOU ARE HOLDING ME UP!” Which is fine – I get that; he jangled as he walked passed like he had a lot of keys on him, and I saw what looked like a pair of needle-nosed pliers in his back pocket, which, to me, signify a man who means business, a man of action, a man who will be prepared to change the channel on a broken television set if he somehow gets transported back to 1978.

So I wasn’t offended by this comment of his, and despite recognizing his importance, that he was inconvenienced by me didn’t strike me as a terribly pressing issue; despite the multitude of bags, I was one person, on a wide sidewalk that was completely clear of the snow that can reduce the world to walking in single file, and no one was walking toward us – conditions could not have been more favorable for easily passing me. So my response to him was a relaxed “That’s why there’s the whole sidewalk; so you can go around.” Not, it should be noted, said sarcastically, but in my soothing voice, the voice I use to help people find things in the library : “Oh, you can’t see a way to get around me? That’s ok, I can help; there’s a whole sidewalk right here that you can use. Look at how life works, making things easy for everyone; isn’t it grand?”

Unfortunately, angry people sometimes don’t like a calm response; sometimes, in fact, it only makes them angrier. As it did in this case, when the gentleman responded with a very sarcastic “Oh, like I could really go around,” while stretching his arms out wide as though he were going to wrap them around a hippopotamus, as though embracing a hippopotamus weren’t the worst idea ever due to their notoriously bad tempers AND their habit, when they defecate under water, of using their tail to churn the water, in essence flinging their poop everywhere.

Which, in a nutshell, is kind of what this guy did to me. Which, in a weird way, makes me feel a little bit better about the whole interaction. Because at first, I was extremely upset; not because of any aspersions cast about my weight – I realize that any suggestion that my circumference presents a challenge to navigation is patently ridiculous. Yet, however invalid his word choice, as with his first sentence, his intent was clear and that intent was aggressive hostility. And no matter how may times I replayed the encounter, I could not for the life of me see what I’d done to deserve that. I wasn’t mean to him; I was utterly neutral.

And that, it turns out, was the problem. Because when I took a moment to attempt to read that chapter of our lives from his novel through the lens of my novel, it went like this:

Him: Pay attention to me!
Me: There’s no need to pay attention to you.

Since we, as a species, frown on violence but also eschew the waste-based communications, this gentleman had very few options – I didn’t escalate the argument giving him reason to attack, but he had to express his frustration in some fashion, so he chose to fling some metaphorical feces at me and deliver a personal, albeit groundless, insult.

And that’s what makes me feel better, weirdly. Because always, always the most upsetting thing about this kind of interaction (which, you’ll come to see, happens kind of a lot) is that it upsets me. No matter how many times I think “Don’t let it get to you,” it does, and that makes it worse. Should I not have a reaction when someone deliberately throws poop into my day? I think I should. What I would like, however, is to be able to respond to it a little bit better. Not that I want to walk around expecting angry jabs and spurious insults from every person I meet; that wouldn’t be better. Nor would I necessarily want the presence of mind to think of a cutting insult in response; like with the hippo, once you start spraying that shit around, it just gets everywhere.

I feel as thought I’ve fallen into a rut with the blog lately, with every post retelling the story of something that happened a while ago, a few jokes and a literary reference, only then to go on and tell another story of a present day event that mirrors the previous event to a greater or lesser extent (most often lesser), and then wrap everything up with an attempted profound(ish) insight into human nature that has almost no bearing whatsoever to the series of words that preceded it and is most likely inaccurate.  And though it can only help one’s popularity to have a hook, especially one that can be so easily summarized as the preceding sentence, my oft-mentioned and utterly natural fear of repetition has made me worry if, instead of developing a style, I wasn’t just becoming lazy. Or, if not just that, also that I was boring the pants off of you, my beloved readers.

I worried a little bit about what to do. At first, I considered just writing in some other way, but with the aforementioned issues I have with introductions, it seemed like trying to overcome that without knowing first if anyone else was bothered by it might be an unnecessary effort. Then it seemed like polling you all, to see how you felt about it, might be in order. Except that I kind of don’t want to know what you think, but only because it can be difficult to discuss certain things if I know too much about who’s reading. Like if I want to talk about Brussels sprout but I know that Tom hates them, I might become reluctant to post something that seemed designed to elicit Tom’s tiresome fool opinion in response.

So I’ve been in a bit of a bind, as you can see, and unsure as to how to proceed. And then I got hit by a car, and it reminded me of something that happened before. Not the time 8 months ago when I was also hit by a car (a strange thing about aging is that you’re prepared for many of the minor changes; although frustrating, I expect that it will take me longer to call up the name of that one person I interacted with 15 years ago, or that I’ll spend 3 entire minutes searching through my purse for something that I’ve been holding in my hand the entire time; yet I’ve been completely unprepared for earrings suddenly to start falling out of my ears, or that I’m being hit by cars all of the time, despite a lifetime of successful street crossing), but something else before even that, many years ago, when I went to New York for the weekend to visit Naopi. Which, I was a little unsure I should bring up, but then I remembered that I was hit by a car, so I get to do pretty much whatever I want for the next couple of weeks, and if that presents a problem for you, well, as someone may or may not have once famously said, just close your eyes and think of England and it will be over soon enough.

This was on the first night of this particular visit to New York, and of this particular trip I remember only this : that, as we exited the 6 train at 96th Street (I think; it might have been one of the stops in the 100s), I carelessly rolled my suitcase over the foot of a fellow train passenger, a gentleman who likely was of African heritage. Looking him directly in the face, I said “Oh, my god, I am so sorry,” all the while still making my way toward the doors, lest I miss my stop.

As I joined Naopi on the platform, she turned to me and asked “Are you scared?”

Baffled by the non-sequitorial nature of the question, I asked in returned “Of what? Why would I be scared?”

“You just sounded sincere.”

At the time, I was under the impression that this was exactly the sort of normal exchange that passed between friends, and so  I responded as though I should actually have to explain that, explaining that I was actually sincere : “My suitcase rolled over his foot; that might have hurt. Of course I was sincere.” And though I’ve had plenty of time in the intervening years to ponder on how unpleasant an interaction that actually was, it was not how heinous a bitch some people can be that I thought of after being hit by the car, but my own insistence that sincerity was the only possible response to injuring a stranger.

The first time I was hit by a car  served only to reinforce this belief. While I was initially prepared to unleash wrath on this first driver to knock into me, she was clearly so, so upset by what had happened that I spent our entire interaction not only assuring her that I was fine, but trying to calm her down. After all, she had seen me, she was prepared to let me across the street, and then, unexpectedly her foot slipped off the brake. Because she had begun braking in advance, it was only very slowly that her car rolled into me, and, though startling, in reality the impact it was only a light tap on the leg; a light tap from a thousand-pound vehicle, but a light tap nevertheless.

The second accident, though, that was different. Because the driver didn’t see me in advance. Stopped at a stop sign, he was in position to see me step into the crosswalk, as is my inviolate right as a pedestrian; I, in fact, saw him stopped at the sign, and then, albeit too late, accelerating into his left turn, unaware that he was heading into me. And though it all happened very quickly, I had the time to think “Oh, this is my death; not atop a log flume, but here, in this intersection : that car kills me. That was so fast,” before some instinct took over and I made an effort to turn away from the car, to curl up into a ball to protect myself, as though a car plowing into my back will do less damage than if it plowed into my front, but it was too late. The grill of the car slammed into my chest – probably the most padded and well-protected area of my body – and it hurt much more than the previous accident or even the incident with the shopping cart, and for some reason I was facing down at the street and all I could think was “Don’t fall down; don’t hit your head; as long as you don’t hit your head you’ll be fine.”

In retrospect, I am aware that the reason I am actually fine is not because of my hasty self-assurance that I would be, but because the driver did eventually see me and so pressed down hard on the brakes in the hope that he wouldn’t hit me, ideally at all, but had to settle for not that hard. Even at the time I was aware of this in the back of my mind, that my not being dead or even obviously injured was to the credit of the very same driver who seconds before had posed such a serious threat. Yet, interestingly enough, one emotion you don’t feel, among all of the adrenaline and fear and horror, is gratitude, gratitude for the person who came so close to killing you. So, when I straightened up and looked right into the face of the driver who very nearly triggered Oola’s vengeance protocol, and was treated only to a half-hearted wave and a mouthed “sorry,” the very same duo of gestures I would get the following morning from a woman who didn’t stop for me even though I was in the crosswalk, yet didn’t hit me with her car, I was furious. And so began the shrieking.

A very kind misperception under which my friends seem all to operate is that I remain calm and cool in harrowing situations. This is not generally the case; if there are other people around who are freaking out, I can be calm. However, if hysteria is called for and no one else is present, I will step forward and fill that void. So when I say I was shrieking, believe that I was shrieking like an inebriated maenad, one drunk on anger, with all the wild gesticulations and flecks of spittle that entails.

“‘Sorry’? You drove your car into me and all you can say is ‘sorry’?”

I find it very interesting that both times I was hit by a car, this is the sentence I constructed : you drove your car into me. Obviously an accident, but still a deliberate action on the part of the driver; right from the outset, I am all about assigning blame. Yet, in the first incident, I had no need to deliver this judgement, as the driver acknowledged immediately that it was her error and went so far above and beyond “sorry” that I felt a little bad about the fact that I inadvertantly had probably ruined the rest of her day. Although it will probably never happen, I like to think that if she and I met under other circumstances, we’d be friends, or at least friendly acquaintances.

Additionally, while the first driver did explain that her foot slipping off the brake accounted for the impact, she did so in  the form of an apology and an acceptance of responsibility. Not so the second driver, who explained that he had been focused on the oncoming traffic, looking in the other direction in order to make sure it was safe for him to turn in so defensive and unapologetic a tone as to suggest that of course he couldn’t have been looking where he was going, that any driver in the same position would have done the same thing, and the only reasonable course of action in that situation had been to hit me with his car.

I, obviously, was not having it. “You didn’t see me? You didn’t see me? I was standing RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU!” I was aware that the driver’s son was sitting in the passenger seat of the car, and I wanted to be rational for the sake of the child, but I failed. That child, incidentally, may one day grow up to be the greatest poker player in the world, as his face revealed only a very careful expression of neutrality; I can only hope one day that I exhibit the same composure of that small child.

The driver, however, was not neutral, and not in the mood to continue the conversation. Now that I had moved to the side of the car (the better to continue yelling at him), he completed his left turn unobstructed, and drove off, calling behind him “I said ‘sorry’! What more do you expect?”

This, finally, is what made me think of that long-ago trip to New York. Where rolling a likely half-empty suitcase over the foot of a stranger had triggered a very genuine concern on my part for the well-being of that stranger (that I had a suitcase at all for a 2-night stay is another something I think too much about in retrospect; I’d tried to pack a small bag, like Naopi who traveled light, who went without toiletries, who wore the same underthings for days; yet my small bags always were too heavy when filled with a weekend’s worth of things; I’d had to borrow my roommate’s suitcase), for this man, crashing his thousand-pound vehicle into someone was not an occasion even to utter a full sentence : in his mind, that soundless ‘sorry’ met fully his obligation in our interaction.

“I’m sorry,” was what I wanted to hear; not an effort to cover his own ass, but an expression of concern for the damage he might have done to a fellow human being; that he recognized not necessarily his error, but that my existence has a value and that he endangered it.

I stayed in my house that night, eating junk food (which I had just bought from the store; had I not stopped for it on the way home, I wouldn’t have been hit by the car; just another of the myriad ways that junk food is killing you) and lying on the couch with Oola. The next morning I considered the benefits to staying home from work; after all, even if I hadn’t been injured, I had been hit by a car, and that seemed like a pretty solid excuse. Ultimately, though, I chose to go into work for two reasons: 1.)because I had a lunch meeting that day was getting free Pad Thai; but more importantly, 2.) because the longer I stayed in the house, and I wouldn’t have left the house that day, the longer that accident would be my last contact with people. It may – again – come as some surprise, but shrieking at a stranger who has carelessly driven his truck into you is a pretty negative interaction to have; to have that be the last thing that happened to me was unacceptable.

As I left the house in what was still an understandably foul mood, I thought “Well, just so long as nothing annoying happens today, I’ll be fine.” It seemed like an absurd thing to think, as what is annoying is most often determined by the annoyee, and I am one of the most easily annoyed people I’ve ever met, and I smiled at the unlikelihood that I would get through an entire day without encountering even a minor annoyance. But I did. In fact, I even had several pleasant interactions with strangers, and have done so almost every day since then. I hate to think that I owe something to that d-bag who hit me, but getting to do whatever I want can really improve a girl’s mood.

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