You see it in films.
You read about it happening to other people.
You imagine what you would say to a stranger, if they were bold and infantile enough to say something blatantly rude to your face.
And then it happens.
I am almost 40 years old and it happened to me for the first time today.
I am one of those people who has imagined what they would say in those circumstances, because apparently I don’t have enough to do in a day. I also always pictured myself karate chopping them in the windpipe, frankly, but I know that I would never go that far. At least, I think I wouldn’t.
I left my husband and daughter in the car to pop in to a Starbucks. I was being preceeded into the store by a young couple in their late teens. They had both turned and looked at me, a mere three feet behind them, when they heard my heels on the pavement and I assumed, wrongly, that they would go in ahead of me and hold the door for me. Silly me.
B-boy, as I will call the charming gentleman with the too big baseball cap, crotch dropped jeans and chunky, oversized gold necklace layered over a hoody, just dropped the heavy door into my shoulder with nary a look back. I must have said ‘oof’ or something because they both paused to look at me.
“Thank you very much” I said, with a touch of sarcasm.
He shrugged and said: “Whatever, bitch.”
And here was me thinking that $5 coffee would attract a better class of wannabe tough guy who would apologize for letting a door bang into someone. Apparently not.
Something flipped in my head. Call it a switch, call it a visceral response. I wasn’t thinking entirely clearly except that for the second time in my life, I was able to say exactly what I meant to say, the moment I meant to say it (ask me sometime about the first time I accomplished that).
While giving him the universal backhanded wave that says: ‘Come and get me‘, I said: “Come here and say that!”
His eyes widened slightly – and then he remembered his tough-guy persona. He grabbed his girlfriend around the shoulders in that proprietary way that young, stupid men do, and took a step back as I took a step forward. He laughed a little. I raised my eyebrows, waiting for the next clever come back. Alas, in this too I was to be disappointed. He just shrugged again and stepped towards the counter to order. The barista, who had watched all of this transpire, looked at me and said: “What can I get for you, ma’am?”
Vindication. Except for the “ma’am”. If there is a word I HATE in the English language, it’s ma’am. That and ‘moist’. But I digress…
I ordered, gave a tip to the guy behind the counter, collected my coffees and left, never looking at the pair again but knowing that they were hovering in the corner of my vision, waiting their turn quietly.
When I got to the car and told my husband about it, he was a little annoyed with me.
“You should have called me! What if the guy had a knife?”
“What was I supposed to say? ‘Excuse me from replying to your nasty comment, I have to call my husband to rescue me’?”
He looked at me sideways and we didn’t talk for a few minutes while I drove out on to the highway. Then he said: “You have some brass ones, you know?”
I laughed. It was a good feeling to know that my gut reaction was to fight. I had always assumed this to be the case but never really put it to the test before. It was a relief to know that I veered towards fight instead of flight. I know I shouldn’t have this proclivity: precaution in this, at times, totally demented world demands flight, but I smiled nonetheless.
Come and get me.