The key to a good Monday, I’ve found, is to keep yourself so busy over the weekend that you barely have time to notice that your weekend has ended. Also, the promise of seeing a friend’s beautiful new baby after work followed up by a Monday Night Football beer’n'sandwiches extravaganza doesn’t hurt.
Like any span of days, the weekend had its high points and low points, the low points leaving me to wonder what the fuck is wrong with people. I realized I wonder this quite a bit, as there seems to be something in my psyche that craves an actual, decisive, black and white answer to that question, even though I know full well there isn’t one. I also spend a great deal of time trying to justify the shitty behavior of others (and an equal amount of time trying to understand my own shitty behavior), all in the name of trying to decide whether I think some people are born assholes or just a product of the assholes who shaped their lives for the worse. Wow…shit sure got heavy in here for a post that started out talking about babies and sandwiches. Time to cleanse the palate before we go on:
I subscribe to a listserv for my neighborhood and the adjacent neighborhood — it’s kind of like a mini-Craigslist for my little pocket of the city, with the occasional complaint about noise and/or report of petty crime thrown in for good measure. I have seen everything on there from an unintentionally hilarious diatribe about how the wild turkeys in a nearby park are dangerous (“It charged me and tried to take my hat!”) to the monthly reminders of a singalong hosted in someone’s home (which, incidentally, spurred a conversation between Brad & I about the singalongs probably being a cover for the dirtiest, nastiest sex party in town).
Anyway, people are always getting shit stolen out of their cars in the neighborhood next to mine — sometimes because they flake and leave their vehicles unlocked, and sometimes because a group of surly teenagers or a desperate junkie sees something they want. I’m used to seeing reports of stolen property, but nothing like the email that came across this weekend. A woman announced that someone had stolen her 2-year-old son’s pediatric wheelchair from the back of their van overnight. Her son has cerebral palsy, and needs the chair to eat without choking and participate in therapy. Her family waited 6 months for the chair to become available, and cannot afford a replacement (or the wait for one). She attached a flyer and asked that we post it wherever we could to get the word out. On the flyer was picture of her 2-year-old son, sitting in his wheelchair and being pushed by his twin brother.
Crying Dawson and his Creek aside, I can’t tell you how much this bothered me, Internet. I mean, of course it did — it’s horrible. It upset me not just to imagine the family’s situation, but to imagine what would prompt a person to do such a thing to someone else. The person who stole that chair knew they were stealing from a child — and not just a child, a disabled child — and they still didn’t care. The money they’d get off the chair was far greater than what they’d get from, I don’t know, a few car stereos and a hand job here and there? So they took it. The end.
After reading that email, I thought back over the past few days and remembered all the insanely shitty things I’d heard of in one week alone. Like my Facebook friend who posted during her bus commute that she had just witnessed a woman slapping her toddler in an attempt to stop the poor kid from crying (SPOILER ALERT: it did not work). Ignoring the obvious brilliance of this woman’s plan, I ask you: WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH PEOPLE? My default explanation for people who are shitty to their kids is that they were treated just as poorly (if not worse) throughout their own childhoods, which is obviously very sad. But it’s hard to feel sorry for someone when they resort to violence (bonus points for the dickwads who feel so entitled to abusing their children that they do so IN PUBLIC), even if it was modeled as an acceptable method of parenting for them. I can accept a deeply shitty childhood as the reason for someone’s clouded judgment in this area, but it in no way excuses it. Abusing a child is WRONG, and even people who were abused themselves know that. Right? Maybe the woman on the bus was abused as a kid, or maybe she was stressed out beyond belief and having a horrific day, but still: no excuse. Does this make her a horrible person? Just inherently bad? Because who else would think slapping a tiny kid is OK?
And then there was “The Case of the Dick Who Thinks Differing Political Opinions = an Excuse to Gleefully and Cruelly Wish Death Upon Someone.” This one pretty much floored me. I will be the first to admit that I can get pretty het up and angry over certain political issues, but dude: making fun of someone’s disfiguring and deadly cancer? Telling that person you will happily celebrate his eventual death? Because you disagree with his politics? Again: WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH PEOPLE? I understand how easy it is to let things get ugly when you can hide behind the relative anonymity of the Internet, and I’ve always believed that trolls are to be pitied more than anything else, but this felt different to me. Purposefully and joyfully hurtful. I can’t even come up with an excuse for what would make a person say such ugly things, except to say that this guy is a Bad Person. And saying that makes me feel even worse than the article does.
Early Thursday evening, I picked up Sadie from daycare and rushed home to hand the car off to Brad, who needed to be back downtown for rehearsal by 6:30. For situations like this, we don’t bother to park the car in our detached garage, as it’s quite the production maneuvering our 2009 car into a 1920s structure that likely housed Tin fucking Lizzies and the occasional horse. It’s not a big deal, though, because there is usually a generous amount of on-street parking in front of our house. I always try to leave ample room for each of our next-door neighbors to park (they don’t have garages), and Thursday was no exception. I left plenty of room for our neighbor to the right to park her tiny Corolla behind me if she happened to come home in the 15 minutes I’d be outside, although another car parked on the end of our block meant that she’d have to parallel park. Well, OF COURSE she came home just then, and OF COURSE there was a giant city bus behind her, meaning that she had to attempt to parallel park under the gaze of 50+ surly commuters and an impatient bus driver. I didn’t even notice the whole drama unfolding until I looked up from peeling Sadie out of her car seat, and just as I saw my neighbor folding under the Parallel Parking Pressure (which is both real and hellish), I floundered to find a way to communicate that I’d only have the car here for, like, ten more minutes, and I’ll take the spot across the street if that makes it easier…but before I had a chance to shout or even gesture, she jammed the car into drive and sped out of her attempted parking position, slowing down only to yell at me from her hastily rolled down window: “I’m TIRED of not being able to PARK OUT HERE!”
I don’t know if it was the fact that I was pretty tired myself, or the fact that I simply can’t stand it when people are angry with me, but I lost it. LOST IT. I made it inside before I started crying, and quickly handed Sadie over to a very confused Brad before I flung my purse on the ground and flounced back outside to move the car for this horrible woman who apparently felt entitled to every damn spot of park-able curb IN THE WORLD. My legs were shaking, and Sadie was frightened by my reaction…and honestly, so was I. Even though what she said to me wasn’t very mean (and hardly personal), she was just ONE MORE ASSHOLE on the mountain of assholes in the world. Worse, I felt like she was somehow confirming all the self-doubts I’d casually had about myself over the course of the day. Maybe I was just a totally selfish shit person, and she called me on it. Great.
She was already parked across the street when I went out there to move the car up (which I did anyway, for some reason), and I couldn’t look at her. Brad had followed me out with Sadie, and I begged him to go back inside because I was terrified that he would confront her (confrontation with neighbors: DO NOT WANT). I rushed back into the house to continue losing my shit, and because Brad didn’t follow me in, I knew words were being exchanged, making me cry harder. What I didn’t know, however, was that the only words coming out of my neighbor’s mouth were ones of sincere apology and regret. Words she made Brad promise to pass on to me.
When he came inside, Brad told me that she hadn’t even noticed it was me by the car until I looked up, and that made her feel even more awful (she had assumed it was one of the many, many, many-many-many delightful-and-probably-drug-dealing visitors the other occupants of her duplex get on the reg, and let me tell you, they are just lovely and don’t sit on the porch belching and saying “cunt” really loud AT ALL).
The next day, I found an un-postmarked card mixed in with our mail. On the envelope was written “To My Neighbors” in script, and inside was a rainbow notecard that said:
“I am so sorry for losing my temper yesterday. I had a bad day at work (no excuse) and was frustrated. I shouldn’t have yelled at you, especially not in front of your baby girl. I’m truly, truly sorry.
- Your Neighbor”
It might as well have been a double rainbow card, because my reaction was pretty similar.
Just as I was stunned by the act of someone stealing a pediatric wheelchair/hitting a toddler/heartlessly taunting a dying man, I was stunned by how quickly and repeatedly this woman — whose name I still don’t know — wanted to right the relatively insignificant wrong of snapping at me at the end of a long day. I mean, she didn’t even use profanities! Sure, her actions upset me, but I know I’ve been a far bigger dick far more times without having the balls to apologize and own up to the fact that yes, I was an asshole. I made a mistake. Please forgive me.
I suppose everyone has their own way of dealing with the assholes of the world. I try to remind myself that there is almost always a reason why someone is a raging dickhead, even if that reason isn’t a very good one. I like to think that — at some point — the wheelchair thief and the abusive mom and the Twitter Bully check themselves and make things right. To err is human, after all. Even if you err, like, REALLY REALLY FUCKING BADLY.
And even if you err and the result is secretly AWESOME.
I have to admit that dealing with the assholes of the world was easier back before I finally owned up to the fact that I am a big ol’ atheist. It’s a lot more satisfying to think that the douchebag who hit your car and didn’t leave a note will rot in hell for at least a day or two. But — for me, at least — I know that’s not where I can find real peace with this type of thing. I don’t need to know that there will be punishment and payback for every wrong, I just need to know that the good is in there somewhere. That for every abusive parent on a bus, there’s a complete stranger who cares enough to genuinely apologize for an offhand comment.
I can tell you right now that I intend to always keep the card my neighbor gave me. And the next time I feel like writing off the human race…well, first I’ll probably go watch this:
And then I’ll go back and read the card. And remember that people can be pretty awesome sometimes.