I live in a very friendly neighborhood. People mow their lawns with smiles on their faces; children play with chalk and ride scooters up and down their driveways. Joggers pass each other with friendly nods or waves, out-of-breath mutterings of “How ya’ doin’.”
Imagine my surprise, then, when Saturday morning, I came face to face with a psychopath.
Okay, maybe she’s not a psychopath. I really hope not, for my sake.
Backstory: On Friday, I took my kids for a brisk morning walk in a double stroller, weaving up and down familiar streets, my forehead sweaty and my legs enjoying a familiar bright burn. Nearing the end of our walk, we approached a woman with a fit but stocky frame. She was heading toward us, walking determinedly, and crossed the street onto our sidewalk. I continued pushing the heavy stroller, planning my strategy to move a bit to the side so we both could fit. But here’s the thing: she didn’t move. She kept walking toward me, her eyes focused on the distance beyond my feet, and stayed firmly in the middle of the sidewalk. We got so close to each other that she stopped, and it wasn’t until I was through struggling to get my stroller onto the grass and around her that I looked back with a furrowed, angry brow. “What the hell?” I thought.
Manners are really important to me. I get very frustrated when I hold the door for someone and they don’t say “Thank you.” (I’ve been known to pointedly utter, “You’re welcome,” anyway.) I feel the same way about drivers of cars who don’t usher a friendly wave when you let them in. (Again, “You’re welcome!”) If someone is not polite to a waiter, I will never dine with him or her again.
By and large, my experience with carting around kids is that people are friendly and helpful. They hold doors for me. They smile and wave at my cute baby. I don’t need someone to give my adorable family attention, but I do expect decent manners, an acknowledgement that we’re sharing the same sidewalk.
The woman who I passed yesterday had a striking, stiff look. Her high cheekbones hid any humanity in her eyes. Her sure walk made her look like she had been through fire and survived. But surely, she knocked some people down and stepped over the pleading, struggling bodies in her path. Her whole aura said, “You will not fuck with me.”
What she didn’t know is, that’s the same thing my aura says.
Saturday morning on my jog, sans cumbersome stroller, I decided that if I ran into her, I would not move out of her way. I’d walk head on and see who shied away first. It wasn’t going to be me. We’d have a game of Exercise Chicken, if you will.
Early in the jog, I passed her on the other side of the street. Oh well, I thought. No Chicken today.
But then, as I wrapped up the morning’s exercise and headed home, there she was, turning the corner.
I walked proud and confident. (Thank you, endorphins.) She walked proud and confident. Finally, we came face to face. Except her face kept looking at some random spot beyond my feet. We stopped. She wobbled, one foot stepping into the grass before she finally looked up. Since I wasn’t going to move around her, it became imperative to say something. (See, I have not been through the fire and stepped over dead bodies; my humanity still forced me to communicate.)
“Do you have a hard time going around people?” I asked.
She paused for a minute.
“What d’you say?”
Damn, I thought. She doesn’t speak English. Who’s the bitch now?
I didn’t repeat myself. I decided it was time to move on. Then I heard:
It was now that I realized–as I should have before–that this woman is not right in the head. She was angry. Very angry. I had awoken some demon that maybe she tried to keep at bay during her morning strolls around the neighborhood.
I walked around her, my shoulders tall, as she shouted after me. I looked back and smiled broadly. She mimicked me smiling broadly, then shouted some more. I kept walking, deciding that if she did run after me, I could take her. I took out my headphones to be sure I’d hear her approach.
Now, when I go for my early morning jog, I fear I may need pepper spray.
Image: “sunset runner” by Grant MacDonald via Flickr using a Creative Commons license.