|"She was not fragile like a flower; she was fragile like a bomb." - Poetry at Most|
I like to tell myself I’m slow to anger but that’s an inaccurate statement. The truth is I’m quick to anger, storing that emotion in the deepest of crevices, thinking it’ll somehow disintegrate like compost and recyclables.
Perhaps those feelings take the same amount of time to break down because they sit and pollute my temple for years with their stench.
I oftentimes maintain this toxic internal dialogue, acting and sounding out what I coulda-shoulda done and said. I realize it becomes a continual process because there’s no outlet. There’s no meaningful discussion, no resolution, no apology, no release, no forgiveness. There’s no one to receive my wrath or rather I tend to not unleash it on the appropriate parties because I hoard it. All of it. I allow it to fester until I’m unable to stuff another emotion and then I explode.
A few months ago, a relative and I decided to lunch at a popular casual restaurant. I didn’t like what I ordered years ago on two prior occasions and she’d never patronized this particular establishment before so we studied the menu board near the entrance as two pairs of individuals walked in behind us – a mother-daughter duo and an elderly, presumably married, couple. We smiled and waved them by.
They knew exactly what they wanted so they were able to order their food and seat themselves rather quickly: the husband and wife in the front of the restaurant where two other couples sat and the mother and daughter around a left corner in the back.
I got a spicy Korean beef noodle dish while my relative chose Pad Thai with no egg. She decided to wash it down with a fountain drink. I, on the other hand, had consumed too much dark soda over the past months so I was faithfully within a two-week hydration period of strictly water. However on this particular day, my eye lingered on the glass bottles tinted with pinks and oranges and blackberries. I hadn’t drunk one since my corporate days when daily lunch outings were a thing: a grapefruit Izze. I got one. The cashier handed us the little placard with the number 17 on it.
The soda fountain is one of those updated ones where you can infuse flavors and create mixtures like peach Sprite. I automatically assume that anyone over 50 can’t operate these new age machines so I placed the “17” on a center table along with my Izze and joined my relative at the beverage station barely 20 feet away.
She laughed, assured me she was okay and told me that she only wanted a regular ol’ Coke, anyway. I laughed, too, as I proceeded back towards our table. Although the front seating area was small, I temporarily lost our spot. My landmark wasn’t where I thought I put it.
My smile diminished in confusion the same way we turn down our car stereos when we try to locate a house number or a street name.
Where the fuck is my drink, I whisper to myself.
As I walked, I glanced around at the other tables. The other couples appeared to be in their respective spots still deeply engaged in their conversations. I arrived at the “17.” Then I directed my attention to the immediate left of the table where no one was sitting before I went to the soda fountain.
The mother whom we motioned ahead of us earlier had suddenly made her way back to the front and sat at a table next to ours. She was perched on the edge of her chair guzzling a pink Izze.
I was pretty sure it wasn’t hers.
I tapped my right pointer finger on my table as I calmly spoke: Did you just take that drink off of this table?
Without removing the bottle from her lips or missing a gulp, she vigorously shook her head from side to side.
My vision blurred. The bottle no longer reflected a ruby red. The color had shifted to merlot as swiftly as a time-lapsed sunset. My fingers curled and met my pointer at the same speed as I grabbed the once cold, unopened bottle by its neck.
“Yes, you did,” my voice boomed, “and if I’m not going to enjoy this drink, you aren’t either!”
The mother held on and threw her throat muscles into overdrive as she tried to down a few more gulps but I only gave her one more because I snatched my bottle from her lips.
My eyes darted the area for a trashcan but I didn’t see one right away. For a hot second, I seriously contemplated pouring the rest of my Izze all over her head but I remembered I – a pissed-off black woman – was also inside of a suburban noodle joint.
By the time my relative reached our table, I was back at the cash register, the Izze thief close on my heels unzipping her wallet.
“Sorry, Lady,” the thief finally said.
I directed my attention to the two cashiers.
“I step to the soda machine for two seconds and this woman proceeds to take my drink off of the table, pop it open and drink it!” I sputtered.
“Sorry, Lady,” the mother repeated before walking away. I assumed that she, too, was afraid of that 9-1-1 call and left the restaurant at this point.
The cashiers looked back at me in shock.
I was equally as shocked. I knew I could be lethal with my words if pushed but with my hands? I’ve never been in an actual fight* yet here I was a 43-year-old adult about to whip another adult’s ass over some juice.
I couldn’t concentrate on my meal. I started rewriting the whole scenario with annotations – maybe she’s homeless or suffering from early-stage dementia – and alternate endings, like one where I didn’t trust the handful of suburban patrons in the dining area – mere steps from the cashier station, mind you – enough to leave my unoccupied drink or one where I just let her have the juice, after all I’d been rather content with lemon water for over 14 days.
Only none of that made me feel better and the latter is what I always do: Just let folks get away with everything.
Besides, my remorse left 20 minutes later when she and her daughter resurfaced from the back of the restaurant looking satisfied from fulfilling lunches. They casually walked past our table, exited the building and remotely unlocked the doors to a late-model Toyota Highlander, which they drove out of the parking lot.
This bih. Her actions were intentional and she had already erased the incident from her memory. I had not.
In the heat of the moment, I wasn’t sure if I was more upset at the fact that the woman helped herself to my beverage or that she blatantly lied to my face while she drank it. Or perhaps at her audacity. I mean, couldn’t she have taken the drink back to her original seat?
Or maybe all of the above.
In retrospect, though, it wasn’t even about a $3 sparkling juice; the cashiers told me to grab another one from the showcase. But the universe always sends signs. I smelled that familiar whiff of disrespect and dismissal. I seem to be a magnet for the worst kind of people: Ones who treat me as disposable, secondary or temporary.
Those who’ve felt comfortable enough to tell me I “ain’t shit” when I didn’t succumb to their demands. Or the stranger who asserted I was an outcast and felt compelled to appoint himself as my mentor and approach me like I’m an at-risk youth in need of direction.
Or do and say mean or petty shit to me like I’m too slow to catch it.
And you, too.
In my mind it was yet another cosign that folks tend to view me as if I’m stupid and insignificant.
As if my words are invalid.
As if my feelings are irrelevant.
As if I’m somehow undeserving even if I had just claim.
Even if it were given to me.
Even if I paid for it.
What was clear was some presumed entitlement to me and my shit.
Yet it took me years to understand that none of this is coincidental. There had to have been some subliminal approval short of “I don’t mind if you talk down to me or invade my personal space and privacy and take all my shit” tattooed across my forehead, specifically within the past five years or so. It’s a period where I find myself more vulnerable to excessive scrutiny and judgment as I try to create a more intentional life. I had burned myself out trying to be a superwoman; now I just want to be a peaceful and joyful me.
Oddly the most egregious violations were mainly from people with whom I already had the most fractured or non-existent relationships and they were rather aggressive with it.
“That’s because you allow it,” one of my cousins said to me when I vented to her a few years ago.
As I write this, I realize I made myself a target. The old, more vigilant me wouldn’t have left an opening for vultures to swoop in and peck away at all that I was (and all that I had) and then offered up my carcass because I felt trapped with no escape.
And that feeling of helplessness only attracted even more of what I didn’t want yet felt obligated to tolerate.
Admittedly I was the go-with-the-flow type chick. I didn’t want to incite any conflict or appear difficult or high-maintenance or sensitive or selfish so I often went along with whatever others said or did.
I’m not picky, I’d say. I don’t like to argue.
I didn’t feel positioned to fight back.
I was humble.
I rarely spoke up. I allowed everyone else first dibs while I settled for the leftovers. It was easier, sort of convenient because I neither had to defend nor debate, until key decisions started being made without me and I started losing things of both monetary and sentimental value, not to mention I started playing small with my owndamnself. While I was imploding, I was also shrinking, until it became ingrained in my spirit. It ultimately whispered to mere strangers that I was indeed invisible.
Only invisibility continuously assumes inferiority and carries unnecessary guilt in the name of virtue. In reality, it doesn’t feel good – in the interim or the long run – to always take the high road and let everything go.
Only invisibility dims its shine or constantly cloaks itself in the oldest clothing in the closet or chooses to dine on the chipped dishes while others feast on fine china. But at some point those of us who know we really do matter eventually toss all that garbage in a real trashcan.
I’m so over being a receptacle.
I want to secure my space with concrete boundaries with no welcoming doormats. Carte blanche access has been revoked.
I want to beautify it with a renewed pep in my step and a voice too powerful to only resonate within.
And I want every trespasser to heed the visible “Do Not Litter” sign plastered all over my face. Save your trash for your city landfill because this space is zoned for calla lilies and unicorns.
*Full disclosure: One weekend when I came home from college, an older woman tried to lure me into a fight inside of a KFC, on behalf of her younger sister who claimed to date my cousin’s boyfriend.
Her: I should punch you in your fuckin’ face.
Me: Yeah? Well punch me in my fuckin’ face, then.
She swung and decided to hit my aunt in her face. A brawl ensued. My aunt beat her ass.
That was 25 years ago.