Tonight I went out to get pizza at a popular joint, where everyone is served exactly the same pizza, and everyone sits at communal tables. The place was packed, as usual, and I ended up sitting next to a couple, the male half of which joked about how the restaurant is socialistic, forcing everyone to eat uniformly. “What if I want extra parsley?” he quipped.
It was funny, so I excused myself for overhearing (he was, after all, just four inches from me) and said that was hilarious. He proceeded to laugh about what would happen if he insisted on more broccoli. “And if there was a mutiny,” I added, “with everyone demanding customized pizza!”
We continued chatting, and at one point, he got excited about what he was saying and talked so loudly that my ears physically hurt. I asked him to speak more softly, telling him that I have sensitive hearing. He paused. “You want me to speak louder?” he literally shouted – leaving me feeling as if someone had just stabbed me with an ice pick.
What the fuck?! That kind of behavior is tantamount to violence. Garden variety violence that passes off as humor – someone entirely disregarding and/or dismissing the needs of another human being, doing exactly what someone has asked to please not do.
I gave this guy the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps he thought I asked him to speak louder, despite the fact that the way he had responded seemed as if he were deliberately doing the opposite of what I had requested.
The guy started saying that his girlfriend, sitting across from him, had sensitive ears too, and that it was a constant issue in their house, that she liked it when he was downstairs and she was upstairs, because then she could hear him at just the right volume. She, meanwhile, informed me that they often argue over the remote control. As they went on about how hilarious it all was, and how much I had in common with her, I was recoiling from the pain and still wondering if he had shouted on purpose.
A little while later, when his girlfriend had gotten up to get something, there was an opening. “Did you think I said I needed you to talk louder?” I asked. After all, he had admitted to being somewhat hard of hearing. I thought he said “no,” in response, which felt so unbelievable, again, that I asked one more time. “I didn’t know,” he said this time. “I just never have random people asking me to speak more quietly.”
The way he said it, the energy of the interaction, left me sensing that he was irritated I asked him to speak more softly, as if it was some kind of assault against him, and so he decided to “counter-attack,” as if it was at all on par, instead of 1) clarifying what I had asked (if he truly was unclear) or 2) responding to my request with care.
By then, the place was closing, and other tables were available, so I got up and moved, without another word. I tried focusing on something, anything, positive, but I kept ruminating on the situation – largely because my ear still hurt. Should I go and tell him, I wondered – offer feedback that his behavior had caused harm to another human being?
On the one hand, I am a firm believer that we help each other learn, grow, and change, through our interactions with one another. For this reason, I often have engaged in conversation about uncomfortable matters, with random strangers, when an issue has come up. It’s all part of raising awareness, especially around invisible disability issues. The thing is, someone who would behave like this is most likely also not going to care, again when I approach him, and then the situation can exacerbate and leave me even more upset than before. The more I am dealing with some chronic health issue, the less energy I have for educating the masses. As a man on a moped said to me, as I yelled at a woman who had dangerously cut me off with her car, when I was on my bicycle, “Lo lehanech. Lo lehanech” – meaning, “Don’t educate. Don’t educate,” because, he continued, as we both pulled to the side to chat (this is one of the myriad of random ways you meet people in Israel), they don’t care, so it’s a waste of your energy.
Back to the pizza joint in California: I also wondered if I should have hit the guy when he shouted like that, and I felt somewhat weak for not having hit him and for not even giving much consideration to the possibility. The thing is, when someone does a violent act, no matter where it lands on the spectrum of violence, the damage is already done. There is no undoing it. So is the objective to remove myself from a situation, from a violent person, and just focus on healing? Or is it to dish out consequence? Which serves me better – energetically? spiritually? Is part of healing redirecting the assaultive energy back at the assailant, holding that person accountable for the behavior, getting creative and in-your-face about it?
Take the example from a few weeks ago, when I was walking through the parking lot of a health food store. (Why do people often seem more aggressive at health food stores than other stores?) I was walking on the left side of the lot, when a car turned into it, heading toward me. His right was my left, so I moved over to my right, to give him space to pass without any discomfort. Admittedly, I was more concerned with my discomfort than with his, because I have had enough experiences with people being unconscious in the way they move through space, that I did not wish to take a chance while passing something that weighed at least one ton.
There were diagonal parking spaces on my right hand side, and no open space beyond that, so the farthest right I could walk was alongside the trunks of cars already parked diagonally. As I approached an empty diagonal parking space, the man in the car began driving directly at me, coming about a foot from me and still going. I stopped, put up my hand in a stop position, and yelled, “Stop!” He stopped. After a pause, I continued walking, and as soon as I started walking, he came at me again – ie, drove forward into the parking space that I was still in the process of walking past. Unbelievable!
So many people are so focused on getting one car ahead in traffic or retrieving an item from the grocery store shelf or getting a parking space in some parking lot, or whatever the fuck they are going after, that they lose their humanity and common decency. Considering that my body is a delicate ecosystem, this kind of behavior is downright dangerous for me and encourages me to self-isolate, instead of risk going out in a world full of insensitive and inconsiderate people. Even if someone doesn’t actually touch me, I can feel their directed and/or forceful energy, and often my body responds as if I have been banged into.
Adding to this background the fact that my life was turned upside down by a hit and run car collision, a car driving at me just does not leave me feeling warm and fuzzy. Which all goes to say, I was left feeling really upset. What the fuck?! People can be such assholes.
When I saw this guy in the store, I went up to him and said, “You know, it’s not cool to continue driving at someone when they are passing in front of your car.” “Fuck off!” he said in the most growly way possible. “Excuse me?!” I responded. “What kind of a person are you? You shop at an organic market but you talk to someone like this?” “Get away from me,” he said, as he continued moving forward with his cart. I would not oblige. I formed a beak with my right hand and drove it toward his eyes, saying, “You were coming at me like this, and you wouldn’t stop.” “Get away from me,” he said again. “Oh you don’t like it?” I asked, repeating the gesture, as I added, “This is what you were doing to me, but with one ton of steel!”
When I turned away, I realized that my adrenaline was going full blast. I was shaking. I felt very pleased with what I had done, especially considering that I had not given mind to “making a scene.”
Later, I was going down an aisle and about to pass the man and his cart. I made a grand, melodramatic gesture for him to go first. “Oh please,” I said, “go in front of me. I wouldn’t want to pass in front of your cart.” As he passed, I took whatever item I was holding – some raw crackers, methinks — and dive-bombed his eyes with it, saying something like, “Excuse me, I need to park.”
That was fun. I giggled as I continued shopping.
My response 1) turned the energy around, giving this guy a taste of his own medicine and, in doing so, 2) transferred the negative energy he had created – ousting it from inside me and redirecting it back into him; 3) did not let him get away from me, thereby forcing him to face his actions and face consequences for his behavior – the kind of behavior that people routinely get away with.
I was on my way out of town after leaving the store, so I sat in my car for a while, eating one of the items I had purchased, to fuel up for my trip. While eating, I called a friend and shared my delight over my latest mischief. As we spoke, I saw the same man round the parking lot corner in his SUV, just as a woman started walking across the parking lot in front of me. “Oh oh, let’s see if he learned his lesson,” I cooed to my friend.
The man stopped about, oh, an ocean away from the woman, letting her cross with more space than anyone could possibly desire. “Oh yeah!” I shouted, deliriously happy. Impact.
Throughout my life, I have said and done things that we are taught not to say or do, in the interest of authentically expressing myself and calling people on their behaviors, instead of just bucking down and trudging on. Especially in the case of invisible disabilities, people need to be more aware. In addition, people need to just have more courtesy, as a general principle. When someone is crossing the street, do not inch up to that person with your car, assuming you have stopped in the first place. When about to pass someone in a cramped space, stand back and let that person go. When someone says they have a sensitivity, honor it. Don’t deliberately do what you know will hurt them.
Well. I feel much better now, having written about the experience. And that’s the power of the pen. Not only can it change the way other people think, but it can change the way you yourself feel.