I was locking my bike at the back of the mall and I observed a big man, a woman and a little boy standing near the door maybe five meters away.
The man was smoking a cigarette, the aroma wafting towards me, I am a lover of second hand smoke. I should hate it having quit a long time ago but I don’t. Also, I like riding my bike. I can get a lot done on my bike. On this particular morning I had left G.D. with her coffee and breakfast happily settled in bed to do her crossword, doze and listen to the radio. It was sunny and cool, the perfect weather for riding a bike. I was going to the library to get her some audio books, buy some groceries and then head to Canadian Tire to get a bag of potting soil and garden utensils. I was in a pretty good mood.
And then I heard the man say, “If you do that again you’ll see how fast I can stab you with my cigarette.” and he was holding his hand in a fist. Without thinking I yelled,
I felt the space between us shrink in my perception. I could see his face and I was afraid.
He held me in his sights for probably no longer than a few seconds but it was long enough to feel that here was a man who loved confrontation. I would like to think that it was because I realized that to engage this man would not help the boy and that it was enough that I had registered my YELP of disapproval, but in truth I am ashamed to say I was afraid.
I got my bags and continued into the mall, went to the library and dropped off my books and then unloaded tearfully the scene to the librarian. I felt safe because I don’t meet a lot of confrontational librarians. She said the sorts of comforting things I that I was trying to say to myself as I cowered, “That was a terrible thing to witness, of course you are afraid that he would come after you…” neither of us able to say anything about the boy. The poor boy.
I found out years ago that it really upset my son when I would say “I’m going to sell you to the gypsies”. I am not trying to justify saying something mean (and I thought funny) to a kid when one is totally at ones wits end, but it seems to me that this threat of violence, so graphic, and so readily available, was verbal abuse beyond the pale. And even though they all looked fairly jovial walking into the mall and past the library, (no worries the man was coming to borrow a BOOK), even though, “normal” is different for every family, that normal will only lead to so much more suffering, all for the sake of one grown-up who has never put down his own selfish needs long enough to consider ANYONE, never mind his child.
And here I am still feeling so sad. It is never a good idea to ride a bike when you are crying. At the grocery store I told the cashier about it, still shaking. I have “known” the woman for a long time, and I have been a cashier myself. You learn the difference between being friendly to a customer and being a friend. It is an unusual friendship, you rarely know each other’s name, but I feel we are friends. I wanted her perspective. I value her perspective.
This is what she said to me: “The kid will remember it. He’ll see that others see his dad is the problem, not him.”
And that made me feel a little better.
It put things in perspective a little too when, the woman at the garden center, who was helping me attach the bag of soil to my bike carrier with bungee cords, told me, “My dad used a bike to carry everything, even us kids sometimes, my brother on the handle bars, and me on the back” and her smile was so big you could tell it was a happy memory. Not the sort of thing a “helicopter parent” would approve of, but in the broad spectrum of childhoods, a good memory.