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Friday, February 25, 2011

The Walk

I have the stomach flu and I am irritable and grumpier than usual. I stayed home from work yesterday and slept all day long – it was wonderful and I needed it. This morning I got up, got my clothes out for work, opened the refrigerator door and just about heaved. Picked up the phone and called in sick again.

For those of you who don’t live in Canada, we have walk-in clinics that you can go to if you aren’t feeling well. They’re very convenient, but sometimes you might sit for two hours or more to be able to see the doctor. I just wanted to know if what I had wasn’t an ulcer. So I brought my book and picked up #89, waiting to be called like I was there for take-out.

People watching is my hobby because I believe that there are countless stories in conversations, in the way people sit, in how their bodies move. I watch them all the time and stories swirl in my brain. It’s great entertainment if you don’t have the stomach flu.

I should physically describe myself. I’m 5’1” and I weigh about 220 pounds. On top of that, my hair is spiked, I’ve got black circles under my eyes and when my face has no expression at all, I look surly. People often think I’m angry when I’m not even mildly peeved. It’s kind of embarrassing really because, inside, I’m a ball of emotion and I cry at the drop of a hat...or at least a good GE commercial, anyway.

Sitting in the chair as far away from the door as possible, away from any infants, with my back to the wall – I settled in with my book and was all snugly inside my blanket-coat. Before Christmas, my husband took me coat shopping at the French River Trading Post and I finally got the rainbow-colored sweater coat that I had eyeballed for two years. It’s particularly warm and cozy; and it is so thick that the coat requires its own seat at the movies. Reading, I heard this little boy. He was babbling and singing; fidgeting in his chair and generally being all of 3 or maybe 4 years old. I looked up from my book and smiled in his direction, letting everyone around me know that the surly woman in the gay pride coat was thinking that the little monster was cute. Smile!

Creeping silently back into my book, I tried to concentrate on a paragraph and I heard his mother say, “Stop being so bad! Stop talking to me like that!” He was standing in front of her and she had her hand around his wrist. The younger woman she had with her was trying to circumvent whatever was happening and pulled the boy away to put him on her lap. Then she placed him back on the chair and they played rock, paper, scissors until both of them lost interest. I went back to my book.

“STOP playing with those blinds! I told you to behave...” the mother leaned over him and was face to face, scowling. She didn’t even have the temerity to whisper. Personally, I always used to say to my kids – in a whisper – “If you haven’t realized it yet – you keep behaving that way and sooner or later we’re going to be alone.” Generally, that got their attention right away. The next question in your mind, did I make good on my threat? Stupidly, the answer is yes. More than I would ever care to admit, I promise you.

Ok, so now I’m talking to myself in my head and I’m saying, “SueAnn, this is none of your business. Yes, she grabbed his wrist, yes she twisted it. Yes, she got right in his face...” and I could feel my heart thumping in my chest. It was the old fight or flight feeling of “I have to say something. I have to protect him. I have to stand up and deck her properly.” So I continued talking in very stern tones to myself, “You are a grown up. If you deck her it’s called assault. This is socially unacceptable behaviour. And besides, you are that brash American Yank living in Canada where the people are polite and don’t go up and deck bad mommies.” Back to the book... my stomach was doing belly flops in stress acid.

I could feel it. I could feel the little girl in me going, “Be good. Be good and she’ll be nice to you.” Well, yeah, that’s me, and it happened a long, long time ago. And I wrote a book and outted my bad mommy. That isn’t this woman, it’s not today. It’s a memory.

“If you don’t stop what you are doing, I’m going to take you for a walk.” She’s got him by the wrist again and he’s kicking his snow boots at her, not a full out tantrum but he’s scared and not willing to back down. Other people are coughing politely into their hands and looking away. I get up half out of my chair and then sit back down. I’m too angry to do what I want to do. So I sit and watch. I’ve put my book down and I’m looking right at her. I won’t break my stare. I smile. She has no idea what is smiling at her.

Finally, after what seems to be hours, they are called into the office and he walks past me. I want to grab him and say, “Listen – you talk about those walks, ok? You tell everybody within earshot about what happens on those walks. Ok?” And I don’t. I duck my head into my book and lament that I had my chance to say something and it has passed. Admittedly, I feel relief.

The woman, her friend, and that little boy walk out the door. I go into see the doctor and they’re gone from the lobby when I get out. So I’m walking toward the doors between the clinic and the pharmacy and here comes that mother – and she’s alone. I’ve got her now.

“Excuse me? Ma’am? “ My Texas is coming out. “Excuse me?” She turns to look at me and stops, even though she’s in a hurry. She’s young. Her eyes are light green... almost sea green. She has braces. “Erm... well, I couldn’t help but hear what was going on in there and I want you to know that you have a smart little boy. He knows how to push your buttons.” She smiled, “Yes, he’s a handful, he really does.” “Well, ma’am... boys like that will push every button you have if you let them know what they are...and he’s a smart little boy.” She nodded, still smiling, and my heart was calming. I smiled at her again. “But ma’am, one more thing, I have a suggestion. The next time he acts up like that – YOU take the walk by yourself, ok? He doesn’t need any more walks.” She stopped smiling and got the message.

You just never know who is listening in the clinic. You might just end up on YouTube... or at the end of the arm of a 220 pound woman who is walking down memory lane.