Encountering an Asshole

By: Loolwa Khazzoom, Founder, Dancing with Pain

November 4th, 2012 • Living with Chronic PainPrint Print

Today I went for a walk on a dirt trail near the water. As I reached the end of the trail, a guy on a bike came towards me – as in, right at me. I moved to the right of the trail (my right), to give the guy room to pass. At full speed, he moved to that side as well and came straight at me again – obviously expecting me to jump out of the way.

If I didn’t move — ie, if I effectively said “fuck you” to his power play — I would have taken the chance of getting hit. My health is more important to me. So I jumped to the left and yelled, “Careful!” as he passed. “There’s plenty of room,” he shot back, obviously not giving a fuck that he’d nearly run me down.

While my body is a million times stronger than in years past – I biked 30 miles yesterday, by way of example, at speeds of over 20 mph – I sill have weaknesses that are triggered by abrupt and angular movements. Jumping out of the way triggered a pain spasm that I’m still nursing with ice, two hours after the incident.

I am fairly certain that if I were a man, this incident would not have happened. No matter how powerfully women take up space, there is a general expectation that women will get out of the way of men. In my 20s, I would challenge that regularly – standing my ground while walking down the street and forcing the men to move for a change (which usually would happen at the n’th second, because it never would be the scenario they were expecting), or crashing into each other, because the men patently would refuse to budge.

While I have recovered by leaps and bounds from the decade of chronic pain, and while I am exponentially stronger than I was during that decade, my body is not back to the stability that I enjoyed in my 20s; so I still do not want to risk the physical ways I used to defend my space, unless it is absolutely necessary. As a result, my combat-response is  not as quick as it used to be. My initial reaction is now to avoid a physical confrontation.

So it did not occur to me, until the rear bike tire was by my side, that I could slam my foot into the bike. And then I did not want to do it anyhow, because not only could the impact lead to a pain episode, but one must not engage in physical confrontation unless one is willing to fight it out all the way; and a full-on physical fight definitely could trigger pain.

So all that was left was a sense of powerlessness and anger. When someone chooses to behave like an asshole, they rob us of the ability to move through space in peace. All that is left is a choice of how to respond. And sometimes the smartest response may be the one that feels the most infuriating – namely, doing nothing.

People like this assume they can just do whatever they want, with no consequence. It’s like the guy who tailed me on a narrow two-lane highway a couple of months ago, then – as I sped up and merged left to get onto the freeway – nearly slammed into me, as he zoomed right into the spot where I was merging, instead of waiting a few seconds to pass. The dude put my life in danger, because he could not be bothered to chill for a bit.

Clearly he did not think he would have to deal with me ever again. But I caught up with him at a red light and gave him an earful.

Unfortunately, on foot, it’s kind of difficult to catch up to a bike, and what exactly could come of it anyhow? I figured that verbally confronting a jerk like this was pointless. Really the only language he would understand would be the language of decking him or slashing his tires or somehow impacting him in a way that would get his attention.

Curious about the possibilities, I nonetheless decided to check it out and – since the guy was biking with a fishing rod – went to a fishing area in the direction where he was heading. Unfortunately (or fortunately) he wasn’t there. So instead, I opted for yelling and screaming and jumping up and down in the sand, releasing all the anger and frustration into the atmosphere. I felt happy after releasing all that gunk, especially considering how beautiful the river and trees were in front of me.

Still, it’s infuriating that these kinds of people exist and that they use their power in such domineering ways.

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