That’s Right – I Yelled At A Stranger…
I know this month everyone is writing their ‘thankful’ posts, and this maybe doesn’t seem to fit in. It doesn’t seem like the kind of thing I should be writing about when this month is about being thankful, but it is. I think you’ll understand why if you read it all the way through. I hope you will.
I don’t remember the date, and that bothers me. I should remember, it should be as prominent in my mind as the day my kids were born, the day I met H, the day I was told that I had cancer, and the day I was informed that there was nothing anyone could do about my epilepsy and that I would continue to have 70+ seizures a day for the rest of my life. It should matter, like all of these other days that matter, but somehow, it didn’t matter enough for me to retain the date.
So, it was a few days before Thanksgiving and H, the kids, and I stopped at a grocery store on the way home from my mom’s house. It’s a grocery store we don’t normally go to, because the aisles are too narrow and crowded, the layout is terrible, and the lines are so long – all the time. I hate it, even though it’s one of the most popular grocery stores in the area. We were there because we only needed a few more things and the stores around our house, the ones we liked, had pretty much been picked clean.
I was in a good mood. A great mood actually. It was 2012 and I was almost 4 months out from having my right kidney removed to save my life from Stage 2 Renal Cell Carcinoma. I was still having seizures, but I was getting better – and I was alive. You probably don’t think about it every morning when you wake up. You probably don’t wake up and immediately breathe a sigh of relief and smile because you’re still breathing, you’re still here. I did though, and I was only 32.
So there we were, wandering through this grocery store to find eggs and cranberries. I remembered that I needed sour cream. We made our (long, winding, confusing) way to the refrigerated section. We found the sour cream and as H got what we needed, S said my name behind me. “Mom, can we get these?” and he held up a cookie mix from a display (a very full, very in the way display). It was some kind of holiday cookie mix, I don’t remember what, and I asked what other kinds there were. As he read them off to me, as quickly as he could because he felt like he was in the way (since the display was in the way, he was too). I told him to get a few of them, as a woman walked up behind him with her cart and was (I thought) waiting for him to finish. He told me he read it wrong, they didn’t have the one kind I had told him to get, but they had some other ones he hadn’t seen and he started to read those to me.
That’s When It Happened
That’s when I heard from behind him, “MOVE! What are you, an idiot?”
His eyes. I can’t tell you what his eyes did, because I don’t have the words. He has ADHD and Aspergers and for years kids in school and horrible family members we no longer allow in our lives had called him stupid, idiot, dumb, etc (outside of H and I’s hearing of course). He is one of the most intelligent and loving human beings I know. He processes things differently, his brain waves may fire a little differently, but he is not any of those things. His eyes just… they died.
And I lost my damned mind in the middle of a crowded grocery store.
“Excuse me? Are you an idiot? What the hell is wrong with you?” I yelled. Heads turned, silence reigned in a place I didn’t think it was possible for it to exist. She looked startled, but she came right back with. “Um, no, I’m a teacher so clearly I’m not an idiot, but you must be since you can’t even teach your kid to get out of the damned way!”
“You’re a teacher? You would think the words ‘Excuse me’ would be in your vocabulary then. Maybe a little patience would be part of your personality, but no, because he’s a kid, you think it’s okay to just yell at him and, apparently, you think it’s okay to call a kid names. Clearly, you are an ignorant bitch!“
“Who the fuck are you to talk to me like that?” she screamed back.
“I’m a mom, and I don’t know who the hell you think you are to talk to a kid like that, but you won’t talk to my kid like that!”
The crowd was studying their eggs, containers of cottage cheese and soda displays, but no one was moving an inch. I felt H’s hand on my arm, a signal that I should shut it down or that he was with me, I didn’t know or care.
“I. Just. Did.” she said as she smiled.
I can’t even describe the color red my world turned. This woman was a teacher? She was an adult and she just called my kid an idiot.
I stepped forward, tugging my arm out of H’s grasp, and put myself in front of her cart. “Apologize.”
“I am not apologizing to a stupid kid. Do your job and teach him to stay out of the fucking way!”
I was grateful for the cart. If the cart hadn’t been there I would’ve throttled her. It’s the worst possible example I could set for my kids, I know, but I would have throttled her. I would have spent the night in jail, I would’ve accepted whatever charges, just to feel my fist connect with her smirking face. She called a little boy, an 11 year old boy, stupid. It was repeating, over and over, in my head – Shecalledhimstupid, shecalledhimstupid, shecalledhimstupid.
My voice lowered, barely above a whisper. My hands shook as I white-knuckled the cart, trying so hard to keep myself my running her over with it.
“You will apologize. You will apologize right now. You will say you’re sorry for yelling at a little kid, for being a disrespectful, rude, and an immature bitch, right now. If you don’t, I promise you will be eating your Thanksgiving dinner through a straw this year.”
“Did you really just say that to me? Everyone heard that right? She threatened me.”
The shocked looks around us turned themselves back to figuring out how many calories are in canned cranberry sauce.
“It’s not a threat. It’s a description of what your Thanksgiving will be like. If that’s not the way you imagine your Thanksgiving to be, the next words out of your mouth better be an apology.”
She stared me down for another 15 seconds before looking at S and apologizing. She apologized for calling him stupid, for yelling at him, and then she called me a psycho bitch under a breath. I corrected her – “Psycho Mom. Don’t mess with a woman’s kids, life lesson there for you. Have a wonderful holiday!” I said with a smile, and we walked away. The people around us smiled at me, patted S’ and my shoulders as we walked by, and gave me thumbs ups.
I was sorry for that. I had acted poorly, it was not the way I really wanted to represent myself, especially in front of my kids. I really didn’t deserve thumbs ups.
Why I Am Thankful For Her
She brought my fight back. Without realizing it, I had embraced acceptance. I wasn’t living, I wasn’t fighting, I was waiting to die. With every scan, every vial of blood they took, I was waiting to be told the cancer had returned and how many months I had left. I wasn’t living anymore. I was grateful to be alive, but I wasn’t living. I was surviving, and I was okay with that until she made me fight.
She made me remember that I had to participate in my life, in the lives of my children. That I couldn’t just be happy to still be breathing, that it was all okay, because I was still here. That’s not how it works, it’s not okay to just be happy to be alive and then let everyone shit all over you because, hey, I’m still alive, right? Some of that is healthy, a little bit of ‘you don’t matter’ is healthy, but not to the level I had taken it.
I was letting doctors tell me I didn’t need tests that I knew I needed. I let my doctor pawn me off on an incompetent nurse practitioner, I let them cancel and push off appointments because ‘whatever will be, will be’. I let my family members dictate where I would spend the holidays, what I would eat, who I would be. I had lost the very things that make me who I am. I am not a survivor, I’m a fighter – and somewhere along the line I had lost that.
One doctor had me on a medication that I was sure was killing me, but she kept telling me I needed it, so I kept taking it. Shortly after this incident with a stranger I put my foot down and demanded to be taken off of it. I took responsibility for my own life. I fought for what I believed. It turned out I didn’t need that medication and that my seizures had been caused by the cancer. Weird, right? The meds controlled them (very slightly) while I had cancer, but once the cancer was gone they started causing the seizures. They really were killing me.
I am grateful to the stranger in the grocery store for making me fight for my son, when I had lost the will to fight for anyone. I mean, I still think she was an ignorant bitch, I still think there’s no way in hell she should be a teacher, and I still think (know) that I could’ve handled it better, but I’m not sorry.
I’m grateful for that day I yelled at a stranger in public. Thankful for the day I remembered how to fight.
What are you thankful for today? Have you ever yelled at a stranger in public (or wished you did)?