I was 19 years old and sitting on a bench in Richmond, Virginia when an old man came over to talk at me. I say "at" rather than "to" because he was one of those babbling old guys that hangs out on streets all over America... you know, the kind that use their verbal diarrhea to inspire guilt and annoy people into handing over their pocket change.
I was enjoying some time alone (which is how I enjoy most of my time), book in one hand, a cup of coffee in the other, and the sun shinin' down. It was lovely. I have no idea what exactly the man said to me but it was something along the the lines of ,"Whatya doin', baby?" and decidedly not lovely.
Without looking up, I lifted my nose ever-so-slightly from the pages and said "Reading." Somehow, he took this snubbing as an invitation to pitch me his (probably fabricated) story, which didn't call for the usual cash donation but rather the other thing that these street-yackers always want: a chat with "a young pretty thang."
I remember finding the accusation of being "pretty" "young" and a "thang" incredibly amusing because behind the eyes he was attempting to gaze into was nothing but a pit of boiling acid encased in a bitter old soul, and was, by no means, a thang. I felt momentary pity him having gotten that far into his life yet still being unable to identify a terrible witch like me. I tried to take this pity out for a stroll, but he was right... I was young and I had not honed that skill yet. So I put down the book, looked over at him for the first time and said, "I'd like you to get up and walk away. I want to be alone." He stood up silently and looked me from my big toe to my cow lick as if he had never seen such a foul woman in his life and said as walked away,
"Girl, you'll always be alone."
Today is my birthday. I'm 28. I've spent the last 10 years as an adult and for the last week I've been reflecting on those years. Overall it's been a pretty stellar decade, but it seems that I have not refined myself much in certain situations (like when I'm annoyed, which is frequently.) I've been wondering if I should work on that. But despite my acidity, I'm completely optimistic, generally happy, and usually caring. And I'm older now, my pity and empathy for other human beings take strolls all the time.
However there are still times much like my day on the bench where I bubble and boil and seethe. Take yesterday at work for example.
A man asked me where the McDonald's was located. I told him that it was just on the other side of the (not very big) building. He asked me how far that was. I told him I didn't know (because I don't.) Then he got angry because he thought, apparently, that I was withholding the precise distance from where he was standing to the McDonald's. So he asked me again, this time rewording it as, "You don't know?!" And that's where my caring, happy and optimistic nature moved to the back burner.
"What kind of question is that?!" I asked.
He stared at me, slack jawed and agitated.
"You want me to guess?! Ok. It's 180 paces down that hallway." I pointed down the hallway next to me.
He threw his arms up in furious exasperation and stormed down the hall.
A few minutes later, a man walked back by me stuffing a hamburger into his mouth. As he passed me with his trap stuffed with mystery meat, he mumbled something. At first I thought it was a greeting so I smiled and said hello. He gave me a look that made me think I had just acted wrongly, and then I realized that he was the McDonald's guy from moments before.
He repeated himself, bits of food flying out of his mouth.
"Too many faces."
Too many faces? What could that mean? Then I thought he must have meant me. I'm two faced. I'm a dickhead giving shitty directions with a sarcastic smirk one second, and a smiling sales-girl the next. And he was right. I shouldn't be so cruel, I shouldn't shut people down, I shouldn't...
He repeated himself one last time as he neared the end of my counter, hamburger an inch from his face, bits of bun stuck all over his lips,
"Too many paces."
And then I thought something else. Whether that meant I had overestimated the paces to McDonald's or that he had felt there were too many to make it worth his pacing over there, that man was a fucking shithead. And I was two faced, but that because there are two kinds of people in this world. Motherfuckers who harass you while you're reading on benches or while you're at work, and those kind, understanding people who don't expect you to measure distances in case they someday might want to traverse them and who know that sometimes, you just want to be left the fuck alone.
So here's to another 10 years of multi-faced solitude.