Today I almost beat up a teenage mom. Yep, that's my subtitle. I was never bullied as a child. Luckily, the worst form of bullying I endured was in eighth grade algebra class by a boy named Ben, who would, forced to sit at the back of the room due to his unruly behavior, shove the desk that separated he and I up against the back of my chair, pinning my long hair between the two structures so that when I stood up, I would fall back into my chair in pain. I would give him the dirtiest look in return, as I was rightfully annoyed and angered. I didn't realize that he was "flirting" with me until someone, midway through the year, explained that that was his way of getting my attention because he liked me. Disgusted, even at the young age of thirteen, I knew that that kind of behavior was ridiculously annoying and immature and I would never acknowledge attempting to rip someone's hair out as a way of conveying positive feelings toward her. Needless to say, I never spoke to him and instead of glaring back completely ignored him from then on. These days I get similar forms of bullyish flirting. Of course, I get the whistles and the catcalls that every other female on the streets of New York deals with. And while occasionally, VERY occasionally I will add, the calls to attention are somewhat surprisingly funny and amusing, most of the time they are not. You see sometimes they are very odd. For instance, not too long ago I found myself walking up the stairs from the subway and hearing the man directly behind me ask me, "Is that real?" Turning around, I asked, "Is what real?" He, in a very matter of fact way, replied, "Your A#$. Is it real?" This is of the sort that I qualify as odd. And then other times the flirting seems more distinctly like bullying. For example, when I am following the social norms that all of my other fellow organized Americans follow such as walking on the right side of the sidewalk to make everyone's day less confusing and more energy efficient and I see a man coming toward me who clearly steps TO THE LEFT so that he is DIRECTLY IN MY PATH, I consider this a form of bullying. Or if he stays to the right but suddenly turns his head to the left and hurls saliva in my pathway just before passing me, I consider this a form of bullying, as well. And let's talk about the subway. I know that I am smaller-framed than most and therefore can keep my own person (I always hated that term) more easily confined to the orange or yellow or orangish-yellow seat that distinctly divides my assigned real estate from that of the person sitting next to me. But there are far too many times when a man, having a butt and legs far smaller than mine, sits next to me as if he is doing a grande plie in second position, forcing his leg halfway over the line of separation from his seat and what should be mine.
Now I know that sometimes these behaviors that I speak of are unintentional. I know that not everyone is as spatially aware as I am. Or perhaps I should say as spatially psychotic as I am. (Why do you think I always stand in the back corner of a dance studio??? If even a shoelace threatens to dangle in my apparently much needed bubble, I immediately start scoping out a bigger uninhabited piece of land.) But there are other times when it is obvious that this is an intentional gesture, a call for attention, perhaps. And if these men think that this old-fashioned girl from Kansas would ever bat a measly eyelash at that behavior, they had better find someone else to go a'courtin. I'm more likely to shove my boney shoulder into theirs, spit right back at their shoe, or "accidentally" dump my green tea with lemon in their invading laps.
But let's leave the discussion of the world's lack of chivalrous men out for today. Instead, let me tell you about the other forms of bullying that I currently endure. The first form: name calling. I get called names, namely the b-word, on a semi-regular basis. I will be walking along, minding my own business, probably mentally planning what to cook that night or wondering when my next book is due at the library, when I pass a man who grunts something. I usually completely ignore the grunts, as I have learned that at least 97% of the time it is stuff I'd rather not hear, and it is at that moment that the men get angry with me for ignoring them and call me the b-word, or as my little brother grew up saying, "BEEP!" This happens almost everyday. I won't spend too long on the second form of bullying, having my life threatened, as I think it is fairly self-explanatory. One night, for instance, a man I had never seen, spoken to, or even looked at chased me a half block yelling repeatedly, "I'm going to kill you!" Enough said. The third form: grabbing. Yes, I get grabbed. Mainly by a particular woman who parks herself on a corner a couple blocks from my apartment. She stands there all day, yelling "Excuse me!" to all of the passersby. Most locals are very familiar with her and ignore her, having probably gotten her drill: she asks for money, and, upon receiving money then yells, "Three dollars??? That's it???? That's all you're going to give me???" If we are speaking in terms of "the teacher always picks on her favorite," well then, my friends, I am extremely proud to say that I am this woman's absolute prized pupil. You see, I don't just get the yelling. When I pass by, she takes me by the shoulders, shakes me violently, and, God willing we are in comfortable shoving distance from the historical stone church at the corner, she throws me up against it until I am able to wriggle my bruised body free. Mind you, I have never seen her do this to anyone else. Nor have I seen anyone besides me actually give her money.
I am sick of this bullying. And I have only had to deal with it for a short amount of time. I cannot imagine growing up being bullied. How horrible that must be. The fear a child feels when rounding the corner the go to his locker (do they still have those?) must be similar to the fearful dread I have when I hear Crazy Grabber Woman yelling, "Excuse me!!!" up ahead. The anger a child must feel when being called a name like loser or BEEP by a peer is, I'm sure, far worse and more scarring at a younger age than the names I get called at my, ahem, seasoned age. I'm sure enduring about five years of this would put me in the funny farm, or perhaps more accurately prison, and my guess is that so many children who are bullied put up such a wall to keep dragons away that their poor little tender hearts get forgotten about not just by others but by they themselves.
Today I found myself in what I would consider a bullying behavior scenario. I had just gotten off my trusty (although with the recent "power outages" not so trusty) A train. Earphones in, sun shining, it was looking like the beginning of a great day. I had just had coffee with Bryan and was on my way home to get ready to go for a jog, and, in order to pep myself up, was listening to a very pompous and celebratory-sounding upbeat march. Stepping in rhythm and nearly whistling along the way, I came up to a young woman pushing a stroller. "I. Love. Moms. Push. Ing. Stroll. Llllerrrrsss," I hum to myself, stepping right, left, right as I start to wind around her to the left (pass on the left, must pass on the left as if you are driving, people, easy to remember.) As I continue to attempt to pass her, I notice she is yelling something angrily to her friend up ahead and meanwhile edging the wheels of the stroller toward my practically pas de chevalling feet (step of the horse, people, if that helps with your visual). Chest high in the air, arms in full swing, I now imagine myself a majorette, spritely leading a parade of a, you guessed it, brass band. "Keep. In. Time. De. Anna. Don't. Trip. On. The. Ba-by," I hum to myself, careful not to swing my imaginary baton into the stroller that is now threatening to roll over my imaginary white leather boots. I see a man up ahead coming toward me, so in one swift ball change of a step, I clear the stroller, successfully passing it without losing track of the fantastic figure eight baton choreography my mother taught me from her days of being Dainty June. And as I hum, "Good. Job. Ma-Jo-Rette. De. Anna!!!" I hear the mother of the stroller behind me say, "B@$%&, get the F@$& off my stroller, you F#%^ing B#%#^," and I realize that she is now shoving the wheels into my imaginary white leather boots as if her stroller is a bumper car and my heels are the other bumper car. "Get the F##$ out of my way, B#$^!!!" she yells. Celebratory march still playing in full force, I take the right earbud from my ear and say, "I'm sorry???" having heard every word but wondering if she will repeat it. "Move the F*(& out of my way, you F*(^#*(&ing bitch," she mutters back, continuing to press her toddler's sneakers into my now torn up imaginary white leather boots. Left ear still marching along, I ask, "Are you okay?" Clearly, she is not, but I wanted her to know that I was acknowledging that she probably wasn't having the best day. "Get the F(*(^^ out of my way, stupid B&*^#." At this point, of course, I wanted to argue with her that 1) I'm not a B&*^#, nor do I know anyone who would describe me as such, so surely she has me confused for someone else, and 2) I'm certainly not stupid and I could probably have my alma mater send her a transcript if she would like written proof of that. Needless to say, I didn't argue either point. Instead, in my best I'm from Kansas meets Disney Princess voice I sweetly replied, "I'm so sorry." Followed by, "I had no idea this was your sidewalk." And then, putting my right ear bud back in and imaginarily (yes, it's a word) adjusting my white leather boots I turned left at my corner and continued to march on.
Now, I'm sure this young mother has rough days. And I'm sure this was one of them. I'm sure she doesn't always call majorettes these names as they pass by. I probably just caught her at an off time and she probably had no idea there was even to be a parade today. I imagine this woman feels her life is heavy. Her load is too much to carry. She feels people are always trying to trample over her. She is always getting passed. People are always skipping by and she is just trying to press on and continue up the hill.
I'm not sure how I could have better handled it. Some would say that I shouldn't have said anything and that I should have just turned the other cheek. Some would say that I should have stuck up for myself and called her a name. Or just thrown her a mean punch. (I'm capable of that, you know.) I know how I would have liked the scenario to have played out. I would have liked for her to be open with me after I asked her if she was okay. I wish she would have stopped jamming the stroller into my callused heels for a second and slowed down and just stood there and spoken to me. And instead of again calling me horrible names, I wish she would have said something like, "Look, I'm tired. I'm exhausted. This kid is a pill. And I don't know how I'm going to get through this week. And when you came strolling by, trying to pass me, it made me mad. It reminded me how slowly I'm moving these days. And how tired I am." And then I would have pressed pause on my vivacious iPhone, taken the left earbud out, and reached out to take ahold of her stroller and started to push it up the hill for her, saying, "I understand. My mother was a single mother. She raised me here in the city. Two of us. I don't know how she did it. And that's why every time I see a woman entering or exiting the subway trying to manage her stroller up and down the stairs, I make sure that I help. And always tell her that I know it's not easy. I had no idea you were having a hard time. I was just trying to get out of your way. And have a parade. I know it's not easy being a mother." And she would then look at me, tears in her eyes and say, "It's not." And I would say, "I can't imagine."
And then we would slowly walk away, each realizing that it's better to talk it out. It's better to try to understand each other. Because isn't that why bullying occurs? I think even the person doing the bullying feels bullied. Even if, in reality, they aren't being bullied. But they probably feel as if they are. Maybe this young mom thought that I was trying to bully her with my parade, which I know I wasn't. But maybe that's what she thought. Maybe she thought that I was one of those people who elbows her way through life, taking no prisoners, and making sure that her parade is uninterrupted no matter what. Little did she know that I am certainly not that person. Nor do I want to be. I aim to be the type of person who will stop my parade for anyone. Who will blow the whistle and halt the horns and command the army of brass to bevel in silence for just a second so that this majorette can lend a hand (or baton) to a pedestrian who doesn't even realize there is a celebration to be had.
I suppose I shouldn't have gotten snippy with my last reply to her. In fact, I'm going to try next time to ask twice if the person is okay, the second time being even more sincere than the first so that they really know I want to help not hurt. And maybe, just maybe, they'll end up wanting to join my parade!!!!