When they swept around the corner following their leader with a selfie-stick like a parade, I groaned. I sooo did not want to end up on Youtube. They were young, so young. And loud and chatty and happy and laughing. "Youth is wasted on the young."
I had been trying to keep the aisle around me somewhat organized, but given how many pairs of shoes I have to try on before something fits, my stuff was still scattered everywhere. I quickly tucked my purse and shoes under the seat, then they were on top of me. A tidal-wave of giggly snark, they stopped right next to me. Because of course they needed the shoes just opposite me. And they plopped down on the floor around me.
I half grinned and half groaned. They were invading my personal space, but I was very amused at the unconscious way they unceremoniously planted themselves on the floor the way I had been doing all my life. I wondered if they were truly oblivious to the opinions of those around them or if, like me, they liked to act bold while secretly wondering who around them was shocked at their unladylike behavior. One of the girls almost smacked into me, trying to weave her way between her friends and all my crap on the floor, and that annoyed me further. But I still kind of liked them for just taking over the place like that, despite the social anxiety buttons it was pushing.
Were they all going to try on the same pair of shoes? Dear Lord. Best get out of here. Just one more pair to try then I could move on. Maybe I would grab the last pair and re-situate down the aisle a bit on another seat. I stood to do just that, reaching for my purse underneath me.
The girl who had almost knocked into me wanted to be the third one to try on the shoes, but something in her voice said she was not happy about something. I half looked at her as she bemoaned, "I don't want to sit on the floor." Her eyes happened to meet mine at just that moment. I made an internal sigh, and stopped reaching for my purse, instead standing up.
"Please," I said, gesturing at the seat. "Go ahead." As she began to reweave her way back through the chaos at her feet, I turned to head for that last pair of shoes.
And then my mouth just kept flapping.
"Just don't steal my purse and we're all good."
I was smiling at my own stupid joke. An odd smile was on her face as if... as if she couldn't wrap her mind around the absurdity.
Did I mention they were all black?
Why did I say that? WHY? Whywhywhywhywhy?
Because as I get older, I have less control over the things that go from my brain straight to my mouth, combined with a tendency toward the absurd and inappropriate and illogical. And because 95% of my conversation on any given day is with a 3 year old. My wits are being dulled, not sharpened. My speaking skills devolving into monosyllabic phrases. I miss my run on sentences and dry, sarcastic humor. It comes out in public like some odd invisible force I've kept locked up for too long.
Earlier this week I had made both bizarre and inappropriate comments with a shoe salesman. He was awesome and rolled with it. I felt mortified each time I found myself saying things like, "My long toenails are catching here, but is that better than the other size where my toe just falls out and flops around to gross everyone out?"
It's common for me to turn to my daughter, strapped in her seat, to tell her not to go anywhere.
I say stupid things to people all the time because I'm trying to make fun of myself, not them. The absurd part is that I'm wondering why anyone would care about my toes, why I was worrying about my daughter being snatched because I was walking 20 feet away instead of 10, and why was I uncomfortable turning my back on a bunch of young people while one of them sat over my purse?
I'm the dumb one, not you. See? See how weird my mind works? Isn't that funny?
Why do I have to share every time I think of a crazy thought? Why do I think everyone else will be as amused as I am?
Of all the things I've wanted to say about race in America since Trayvon Martin's and Michael Brown's killers were absolved of all wrongdoing, why this?
But this isn't about me.
This isn't about the way she trash-talked my teeth or how little money I probably had to steal. This isn't about them agreeing that they hoped I didn't have kids, cutting right to that constantly exposed nerve that is my conviction of what a terrible parent I am. This isn't about the way she publicly announced that I had seen a black person and instantly thought "steal", causing me to attempt to explain. It's not about the way they refused to see the comment as reasonable, so I became offended and was only too happy to walk away when told "get away from me." This isn't about the name she called me after we managed to all walk out of the store together - after I had held the door for them and they had each graciously (ironically? sneeringly?) said "thank you" - and how that made me feel like I was in the 7th grade again and afraid of the local girls who were going to beat the shit out of me if I looked at them wrong.
It's not about how crazy I am, how stupid I feel, how hurt I am to be misunderstood, or how I couldn't help but crying after realizing that my mouth had hurt other people.
It's about her. It's about them. And us. And America. And Ferguson. And racism and privilege and government bullshit and the police state and prejudgement and our racial filters and our parents and our upbringing.
Intent is not magic. Offense is defined by the person offended. Explanation of miscommunication be damned. Why do I feel the need to be forgiven by someone I've just wounded? Why do I feel the need to be declared unracist by someone whose lifetime of experience tells them that is exactly what I am? Why do I feel the need to demonstrate that I would have said the same thing to anyone else sitting there? Why do I feel the need to bemoan that white people shouldn't have to weigh their every word before spoken so that innocent speech does not cause offense? Why do I feel the need to self-flagellate myself for not knowing how to properly parent my child so she doesn't repeat my mistakes?
When you try to turn your car and accidentally jump the curb and mow over a pedestrian, is it appropriate to get out of your car and jump around flailing your arms so that no one can concentrate on the injured person while you insist it was an accident?
Why can't I just own up to the fact that I'm in this situation now. Who cares if it's inadvertent? I hurt someone, angered someone, pressed their buttons, and caused all this. I did damage. I should apologize.
I can't believe I didn't apologize.