Monday, May 2, 2011


As soon as I returned to my car, I regretted what I’d said. I’d lost an opportunity, a moment I’d not even recognized as an opportunity. But of course, that is what every moment is.

I’d almost passed the service station when I remembered I needed gas. I cut the wheel sharply and drove in. One pump was free, but because my tank’s on the driver’s side, I had to pull around the other pumps to align the hose and tank. By the time I was in position, a young man in a white sedan had scooted in from the other side. Grill-to-grill we idled, eyes locked through the barrier of our windshields, waiting to see who would back down.

I’d been in high spirits when I swung into the station. I’d finished a big project at work, the air was soft through my open window, and daffodils beamed yellow against pale green grass. I’d received the results of a clear PET scan the week before and was still basking in that joy, in the promise of a future newly confirmed.

If that wasn’t enough, K.C. and the Sunshine Band were rockin’ on the radio and I was tappin’ my boogie shoes right along with them.

So I felt strong, a feeling rare enough that I relished it. And this little showdown at the pump roused a cockiness that felt good. I did not toss my head defiantly or jut out my chin in a show of obstinacy, but I felt that energy and it was as glorious and novel as the spring evening. I was there first. He could move.

But he didn’t. Beyond our two windshields, he appeared young and muscular, with short, dark, curly hair, a handsome youth of twenty or so. He looked a little tough in fact, and I read his expression as saying, “I’m stayin’ right here, lady.”

As a rule, I am easily cowed, and would have wavered almost immediately – out of timidity or graciousness, it’s hard to say - but on this occasion of spring air, new hope in the future and boogie shoes, I had a right to that pump and was not going to be intimidated.

But I’m also fifty-seven and it became clear the kid was not going to budge. Staring him down made no impression, so eventually, I shifted into reverse, gave him the pump, (take it, brat!), and wound up one stall over. We emerged from our cars simultaneously. Loving the brazen, fearless, boldness bubbling within me, I met his eye and said in a tone too close to a sneer to make me comfortable now, “I’d wondered if you were going to be a gentleman, but nooooo…”

I’m not proud of that, but I wasn’t finished. The boy smiled sheepishly (he probably wasn’t a bad sort) and walked toward the Medi-Mart. I called at his retreating back, “What would your mama say?”

It sunk in quickly, my poor behavior, and I winced as I slunk to my seat behind the wheel.

I fuel myself regularly with the wisdom of self-help books about being loving and kind. I know, very well, that everyone has a story and a hard life or a sad morning can lie behind pursed lips or shadowed eyes. I am mindful of ripples, of how the good or ill in a moment flows on and outward, a continuing current of impact. So how had my joy and energy so misfired? How did feeling strong become cocky and snide?

As I drove away, I wished I could re-wind. What if I’d stepped from my car, and said with quiet humor, “Okay, this time, you win”? - a jolly encounter to send us smiling on our way instead of this mutual shame.

My husband, Dave, is ever my defender. When I confessed to my lapse, he said, “The kid should have backed down. Maybe he needed the reminder.” But I know better: this wasn’t for the boy; it was for me. It felt good to snarl, to say exactly what I felt, and I hate that, unguarded, I was a bitch.


gail said...

One "snide" comment does not a bitch make. Ya live, ya learn. Let it go. But I do hope the kid thinks twice next time he's head-on with a boogie-bumpin middle aged babe ;-)
xo gail

Unknown said...

What a timely post as I was a bitch today and it startled me! I say it coming but couldn't stop it and have felt sorry all day....Ah well, we must discuss over tea....

Unknown said...

Whoops, this is Carey, not Hayley!

Eliza said...

I love this. I love you! Isn't it great to be human????

MotherZ said...

Lea, dear Lea, he got off easy - if it had been me we'd still be sitting bumper to bumper! Hanging on to that "lady" thing, huh???? Sometimes you've got to pretend that the Main Line is really the BRONX - and let it fly!!!

I love you, sweet pea :O)

Veronica bailey said...

is there a book that teaches this quiet humor? if there is, i need it right away..i struggle with this too. I want to say the perfect witty thing that will get the point across, but not be mean, but like this example, i don't think of it until much later!

Anonymous said...

Lea: I just wanted to let you know that I ADORED your column in today's Post, and that I'm going to have to start reading your blog! :-)