It all started at the gas station.
It was Friday night and raining. It’d been a long week: conferences, cheer practices, papers to grade, homework to check-in, planners to sign, lunches to be made, dinners to assemble–you know the drill.
I had picked Lance up from school about 4pm–the same time that Mady’s first middle school dance was ending. (Eek!) Rushed home because our new next-door neighbors were hosting a Halloween party to gather all of the nearby families together for a meet and greet; and then Mady was to head off to the high school football game with her friends.
Busy. But fun busy.
After the new neighbor “howdy-do’s”, I just wanted to put myself on sleep mode. The earrings and the makeup and the accessories and the cute outfit I chose to wear to impress the new neighbors…gone.
I opted for my fleecy jams, wound my hair into a messy pony, and put my glasses on.
Now off to get my middle-schooler to Friday Night Lights.
Mady spiritedly perched herself into the passenger seat–cute, stylish, young, carefree. Definitely unprepared for the rain.
No matter how many rhetorical appeals I pulled out of my motherhood instruction manual, she would not, could not take an umbrella. She would not, could not wear a coat. Not here, not there, not anywhere. She did not like them…no way, ma’am! She did not like them, Sam-I-Am!
Alrighty then. I pick my battles George S. Patton-style. Natural consequence? Freeze your ass of then. Don’t say I told you so. Whatever. I’m only your mother. What the hell do I know?
I didn’t say any of that…out loud. Like I said, it’d been a long week.
I dropped her off at her friend’s house, told her I loved her, have fun, make good choices, yada, yada, yada.
Words mean everything. Words mean nothing.
There I was: just me inside my car with the quiet again–out of gas, both literally and metaphorically. I hate pumping gas. I hate gas stations. The whole process (though quick) seems so daunting. I have to get out of the cozy warmth of my car. And anybody who knows me knows how much I hate feeling cold. Plus there are so many icky things at gas stations. Germs. Cigarettes. Booze. Weird people. The only good things to come out of gas stations are the following: Slurpees, scratch-off lottery tickets, and Walt’s Crawlers. Okay, and gas. Which I needed.
To make matters worse, I only had cash. This never happens, but I’d hit the ATM on the way home for grocery shopping the following day (read “Headspace”). So I had to go INSIDE. I know, I know, I sound like such a princess right now.
I went in. The line was long. I made the mistake of making eye contact with the woman in front of me. And off she went: into a monologue about her eldest daughter who had worked at a nearby 7-11 for years. But it was okay because the cops came in every few hours to hang out. Which made this woman both upset (tax payer dollars!) but also relieved because cops were there to keep an eye on the place, yada, yada, yada. Turns out the same 7-11 was robbed a week after her daughter quit.
Two parts of my brain were definitely engaged during this conversation:
- Nice side: “Wow. She must be lonely. Hear her out. She finds you accessible. Use that in life. She’s a person, too. Be empathetic. Practice patience. Smile and nod. Be kind. Learn something from this conversation.”
- Other side: “Wtffffffff?! What is happening right now?! Why isn’t this line moving faster? Why am I such a terrible human being? Nancy Kerrigan: whyyyyy meeeeee?!”
Words mean everything. Words mean nothing.
I paid. I pumped. I pulled out.
Something was happening at the intersection in front of me. Three men got out of a white SUV and approached a woman in a car behind them. I watched. Other people honked, swerved, gawked–annoyed at the hazard lights and inconvenience.
I kept watching. There didn’t seem to be any major damage nor injury.
The three men exited their vehicle, surrounded her, yelled at her. She, smartly, stayed in her car since she was alone, but had rolled down her window to exchange information. Despite her compliance, they continued to bully her.
I called 911–just in case. The woman’s story from the gas station had me on edge. I revealed to the dispatcher that a fender bender had occurred at Rochester and Tienken. She said she’d send the nearest deputy right away.
I waited. I watched. The harassment continued. The woman remained in her vehicle, but I could see she was crying.
I rolled down my own window (very Nancy Drew) to overhear them. Apparently, she had “ruined” their night because they had a whole “guys’ night out planned!” and “this bitch just ruined everything!”
She apologized, wiped her tears…alone. Every other car with a human being inside simply swerved around. Was I the only one seeing this? If my own kids had been in the backseat, would I stay to witness or swerve around, too?
Finally the three men got back into the SUV. Phew, it was over.
Still no deputy.
Both the men and the woman pulled into the nearest parking lot, out of the intersection. I guess it wasn’t over. I followed in a roundabout way, parked into a corner spot, turned off my engine, and rolled down my window.
I was just going to wait until the deputy arrived.
Still harassment. Still no deputy. So I called 911 again. I told the same dispatcher of the new location, what I was witnessing, and she assured me the deputy was on his way.
Was I the only one seeing this?
Moments later we all heard sirens. The men and woman looked confused: who called the police? I hunkered down.
But the flashing lights of an ambulance, not a deputy, came and then went…
That was enough to spook the guys, though. They drove off quickly. Guess the damage wasn’t that bad. Guess their guys’ night was still in the works. Lucky ladies, look out!
Once they were gone, I pulled over to the woman’s car and rolled down my window.
She was sobbing. There was a baby girl in the backseat.
I asked her if she and her baby were okay. She sobbed even harder. Told me it was just a dumb accident. A fender bender. She was distracted by her little girl. She was so scared.
I told her I was watching the whole time and had 911 on standby in case anything went wrong. She made the sign of the cross and thanked me. Her baby waved at me from the backseat, and I waved back.
Still no deputies. Eleven minutes had passed. Maybe they were hanging out at a nearby 7-11. Maybe they were at a robbery. Maybe they were on their way.
I’ll never know.
But I do know this: Words mean everything. Words mean nothing.