It's Atlanta, After All

It’s been one of those days. It’s raining. I’m late for everything, people have been rude. I’ve soaked in all the abuse I can take, and I’m behind in getting Jackson from school. I’m coasting through yellow lights, and taking questionable routes to make up time. I get over to the right lane too soon and bam, I’m stuck behind a bus. Now I’m still. Completely still, and surrounded by busy people trying to get where they’re going. I’m looking in front and behind for a way out, while the MARTA (Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority) slowly releases its brake pressure from the underside holding tank. My toes move up and down quickly in my shoes, my fingers start to tap the steering wheel, I check the clock. I’m three minutes give or take, from Jackson’s school. The bell has just rung. The traffic is building up behind me, and to the left of me. Contorted faces in the rearview mirror. Hand gestures. Exasperation. Yet the bus just continues to sit. From my vantage point I can see its door open, but no one is getting on or off. I inch up. Wonder what the hell is happening. Then I see her.

She’s probably eighty years old. She’s at least eighty years old. She’s in a long rain coat, one that’s seen better days. She’s wrestling an umbrella too big for her, and one of those wheeled carts, the kind that fold up, store neatly in a closet, or a pantry, or slide under a bed. It’s packed full of groceries in transparent plastic bags. I notice we were just at the same grocery store, but I didn’t see her. I eye the bags as she shuffles past my car. Coffee, milk, peanut butter, is that a cake mix? She’s shuffling, as fast as she can toward the bus stop. The bus driver has spotted her. I watch black shoes hop down to the curb, blue cargo pants.

The woman holds her hands out, as if to say stop, stop look at me, I’m coming as fast as I can. The driver touches her hands, puts them down in a comforting way, says something to her. I can’t hear what he says, because my windows are rolled up. In the warm, calm of my car I relax into my heated, leather seats. Subconsciously I lay a hand on my cage-free, brown eggs on the passenger seat. The driver puts one hand on her cart, the other he uses to steady her at her small, fragile elbow. My wipers swipe.

The cars behind me start to honk. Because it’s Atlanta, after all. I throw my hands up, to tell them they are out of line, but I don’t curse them. Because it’s Atlanta. The driver and the woman slowly make their way to the bus. I watch as her small blue shoes make their way up the steps. Then I see a space, watch the black shoes lean in, he’s putting her cart inside the bus. Then I see the black shoes step up the two steps. The door closes.

The bus inhales. Lifts a couple inches off the ground, and crawls forward a bit. I’ve already missed the light. We all have.

M.

Do You Smell Toast?

Yesterday I was walking around trying to figure out why I smelled burning plastic, thinking that I was probably having a stroke, when I happened by the dishwasher and realized that no, it was actually burning plastic that I was smelling because someone loaded a plastic container at the bottom of the dishwasher and it was burning. So no stroke, that’s the point here, no stroke. Then I was telling my husband and he was all, “It’s toast. They say you smell burnt toast when you’re having a stroke.” And I was all, “Bitch, you don’t know everything!” Then I huffed upstairs and Googled, “What do people smell when they are having a stroke?” and the answer is a resounding, “Toast.” But it doesn’t matter for two reasons. One, the toast thing is a myth and two, none of this has anything to do with this post.

This post is about how stressed-the-fuck-out I am, and how I have no real reason to be. So maybe there is a connection because stress causes heart problems and if I’m going out, listen, I’m probably going out that way. Just based off the amount of stored fat around my heart, and an extensive family history of heart disease. Still, what is up with all this stress? Things are actually going okay. Wasn’t it just three weeks ago where I was all, “How lucky am I to have this life?!” And now I’m all, “What the hell is wrong with my life?!”

I’ve narrowed it down to three things:

  1. The world is a dumpster fire, upside-down, pile of steaming dog shit right now. If you ask me, it has been since 2016.
  2. People are rude as shit to each other.
  3. I’ve cut back on my carb intake.

That’s it. That’s all I can come up with. The problem is the first two things I can’t control, and if you’re like Patsy, my awesome therapist, then right now you’re saying to yourself, “Missy, you can’t change people.” And you’re right, but that doesn’t stop me from trying to, or desperately wanting to. I’ve read “Adult Children of Alcoholics” I know my strengths are my weaknesses. Shit, Patsy.

And honestly that’s really what I want. I want people to be nicer to people. Kids to be nicer to kids. I want all kids to be as nice as my kid, is that too much to ask?! I suppose so, my kid’s pretty fucking nice. I want all people to look at strangers and think, “Hmm, how can I connect with this person on a spiritual or human level?” Not, “I bet he’s a Republican.” Or, “I bet he doesn’t have a job.” But it seems that most people, MOST people not ALL people, are incapable of that nowadays. We’ve taken up our side of the fence post and we are not budging. But that’s not the part I’m struggling with. I’m good with my side. I know my side is the “right side of history” side and I know that I am squarely in the “Humane Middle” part.

What I’m so fucking tired of is walking this tightrope of trying to figure out which side of the fence someone else is on. Like will this person like me if I say I don’t go to church and I’m married to an Atheist? Or will this person think I’m a loser if I say, “I’m voting for anyone who isn’t Trump in 2020.” Will this person invite me to coffee if I say that I don’t work, because my husband makes enough money for me to stay at home and work on my writing? Will that person not want my kid to play with theirs if I tell them that we live far away from our families, and it’s on purpose? What if I tell people I am just meeting that I think every child should have an opportunity to experience preschool for free? Or if I leave a room when someone brings up abortion because I just so tired of having that discussion with people? I literally just want to say read my story about abortion, and shut the hell up. I’m out of steam, y’all.

So now what?

Yes, you’re right, I can control number three. So I’m going to go to Sam’s Club today, order an entire sheet cake that says, “People Mostly Suck” and I’m going to eat it alone in my car in the parking lot of Planet Fitness. Good plan.

I’m just complaining. I’ll feel better soon. Probably.

Be nice to people today, just for me.

M.

Showmars

One day a few months ago I was out and about, having a hectic day. My lunch date had cancelled, my doctor visit had not gone as planned, my husband was having a bad day at work, I was confused about some choices I had, and I had spent about two hours in Jackson’s classroom, reading and working math problems with a couple of kids who needed the extra help. It was a chaotic morning and by the time I realized I hadn’t eaten all morning, I was already hangry. I was on my way home to see what Sir Duke had destroyed in my absence, when I decided I would stop by the nearest restaurant and have lunch. It seemed like what I needed to do at that moment, so I quickly pulled into the nearest lunch spot which happened to be a Showmars in Midtown, right near the hospital.

I like Showmars. It is fast and clean, the staff is friendly and efficient, and they have a variety of choices. In fact, Jerimiah and I will often meet there for our “weekly lunch dates” when we just don’t know what the hell we want. This day I was feeling out of sorts, so I knew exactly what I wanted, comfort food, which for me means fried food. I walked up to the counter and ordered the chicken fingers. I paid, got my number and drink, and walked to a booth by the windows. It was a nice day, mid October I believe, and there were people sitting inside and outside. I sat my items down on the table, making eye contact with the woman behind me who was alone, though there were two plates on the table. I smiled at her and she reciprocated, though she looked preoccupied.

I walked into the bathroom. There were only two stalls and one was occupied at the time, so I went into the empty one. While I was in the bathroom stall, the occupied door opened and the woman went to the sink to wash her hands. I was in such a weird head space, that I didn’t pay much attention to the noises. I assume she unlocked the door, I assume her heels clicked toward the sink. I assume she pushed the soap dispenser and the water shot on. I didn’t really hear any of that though. I was so frustrated at myself for saying the wrong thing to the doctor, for sending an email out of frustration, and for not giving the kids my undivided attention, that I was berating myself as I finished up. In fact, it wasn’t until I flushed that I stopped and actually listened to what was happening.

The woman who had come out of the occupied stall was crying. At first I wasn’t sure what I had heard. I waited for the toilet to finish up its water cycle, then I tried not to move, tried not to breathe, and I put my ear to the crack at the door. That is when I heard the unmistakable sound.

If you have ever cried in public before, you know the sound. Your body, full of fear or grief or anger, is forcing this reaction on to you and you are not ready for it. Or more likely the people you are around are not ready for it, and you know this. So you try to make yourself stop. You try to look up and bat your eyelashes, you sniff hard, trying to stop your nose from giving you away. You dab paper towels at your eyes so you don’t smear your makeup. You wave your hands in front of your eyes. You close them, praying to whomever, whatever, to be rescued from these emotions. From this moment or this memory.

She was doing all of those things, I assume. I was still nervously hiding in the bathroom stall, wondering what to do. My first instinct was to open the door and take the woman into my arms. Just stand there and let her cry. But, I had recently been trying to stifle these emotional reactions with people, particularly strangers, because I don’t want people to be put off by me, and I am afraid I have put people off. So instead I stood silently, and listened. I listened as she pulled more paper from the machine, as she blew her nose, as she splashed water on her face. With each moment I grew more and more upset with myself, until I couldn’t take it anymore and I opened the door.

There, standing next to the trash can, her hands steadying her small frame on the sink, was a woman in a neat pantsuit, hair pinned back, make-up running down her face. When we made eye contact she immediately apologized. I took a couple of steps toward the sink and she stepped back to let me get closer. She grabbed more paper towels, and dabbed her eyes. I didn’t know what to say, so I didn’t say anything. I just washed my hands and kept my face down. Then as I reached for the paper towels the words just sort of came out of my mouth.

“Are you okay?” I asked her, meeting her eyes.

“No,” she said. In that moment I didn’t want to push, so I didn’t. I dried my hands. I should have made a step toward the door, but I didn’t. Instead I put my hand on top of hers.

Her name was Mary. Her husband of 42 years had just, that morning, passed away in the hospital a couple of blocks away. Heart attack. There was nothing they could do. Her daughter was waiting for her in the restaurant. I didn’t know what to say. She didn’t look at me to say anything. In that moment, I just had to listen.

They’d met in high school.

They had three kids and a lot of grandkids.

She doesn’t know who she will talk to when she has a bad day. She doesn’t know who will tell her it will all be okay. They had plans and he didn’t uphold his end of the bargain. Her daughter is busy. Her son is gone. So many years, so many miles, so many separations.

I just nodded and gripped her hands tighter.

I told her that I didn’t understand her grief.

She told me that was good, and that she hoped I never did.

She said she had to go. She said her daughter would be worried.

I watched as she wiped her face one last time. Then she grabbed my hands, tried to smile, and she walked out the door.

I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how long I had been in there, but I stood there for a bit longer. I didn’t want to go out into the restaurant. I didn’t want to see her daughter again. I didn’t want to see her. I was sad. I was sad for her and I was suddenly sad for all the people in the world like her. I was afraid. I never want to be in her shoes, but it is an inevitability. Inevitably, we all lose someone.

Eventually I made my way back to my table. My chicken fingers were there, but Mary and her daughter were gone. I sat down at the table and called my husband. He answered. I wanted to burst into tears, but instead I just told him that I loved him. That his day was bound to get better and that this low spot we were in, these changes we find ourselves fighting, they would all work out. I told him it would all be okay.

Then over the next hour I sat quietly, watching people walk in and out of the restaurant. I overheard conversations about hurricanes and hydrangeas. I watched an old man flirt with a young server. I smiled as a mother struggled with a child on her hip and a newborn in a stroller. I thought about this life, and how we live it. I thought about death, and how it scares us. I wished good thoughts for Mary. I realized, maybe for the first time, that we aren’t just here for one reason, with one talent or one gift, but that we are all here for a lot of reasons, buttloads of them in fact, but rescuing each other might be the most important.

As always, be kind.

M.