Picture the scene, dear readers: after several months of my husband being overseas and four weeks of my oldest son visiting his father up north, we were finally preparing for a two week vacation, the first of those weeks to be spent at the beach with family. Although packing for vacations is not something I particularly enjoy or excel at, we made a token effort to pick up a few necessities at our favorite neighborhood money-sucking establishment: Target.
“You guys should really get some sunglasses for the beach,” I suggested to my sons, aged 10 and five. In late July, the youth sunglass department had dwindled down to a few clearance items, so the pickings were slim. After several rounds of negotiating (‘how about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle ones?’) each boy secured a pair and we shuffled off to the register to pay.
My younger son, who is at the age at which he must tear through packaging or tags of whatever new item he has acquired before even leaving the store, was eager to put on his glasses, which had a picture of a tiny American flag over each lens. After the cashier scanned them through, my husband began to peel off the small sticker that proclaimed them to be ‘100% UV Protective’. But, as the sticker came off, so did a bit of the striping on the flag image, leaving a mottled gap in the paint. (or whatever toxic chemical had been used to color on top of each lens)
“Uh oh,” my husband said, and showed me the glasses.
I turned to my son. “Do you still want these?” I wasn’t shocked when he made a sour face and shook his head.
The cashier, a young, pretty girl said helpfully, “If you want, I’ll just charge you for these and you can go pick out a different pair.”
“Thanks!” I smiled as I looked around at the long lines and felt grateful for the few extra minutes of saved time, as it was already approaching 6:00 p.m.
I waited with the purchased items at the front of the store as my husband led the boys back toward the sunglass rack. But a few minutes later, his face reappeared with a look of irritation which let me understand that no other sunglasses were deemed by my son as fashion forward as the original pair of patriotic shades he had selected.
I rolled my eyes and checked my watch. It was 6:15, stomachs were beginning to growl and now we would have to retrieve the glasses to return them, which could mean another 15 minutes of lines and waiting. Annoyed, mostly at my son, I marched back to the register where we had checked out.
I saw the pretty cashier, already in the process of assisting another customer, who was casually conversing with her. I waited a moment for a break in the conversation (I swear on my future grave, I waited) and then said quickly, “Hey, I’m sorry, I just need to get those sunglasses back, because my son decided-“
“OH MY GOD, I WAS TALKING AND YOU JUST INTERRUPTED ME.” The female customer turned to me with a look of actual disgust on her face.
Immediately, my face burned with unexpected embarrassment – I felt electrically shocked by her reaction. I went into apology mode: “Oh, I am really sorry to have interrupted, sorry about that, I just….”
That was all I had time to say because as I was saying it, the woman turned her face away from me as if to mutter under her breath, but instead said loudly, “SO FUCKING RUDE.”
I stood with my mouth open, agape and horrified, transfixed by this situation for what seemed like an eternity, but was probably about three seconds. The woman turned back to the cashier, said “ANYWAY, AS I WAS SAYING…” and continued her conversation, as if I was a ghost who had just disappeared. For a split-second, I examined her: she looked normal; a fairly young woman with a top knot on top of her head and trendy clothes, with an appearance that did not scream ‘I might be unstable, proceed with caution.’ Her male companion looked straight through me – if he had any thoughts about what had just transpired, he had no intention of letting me know. Desperately, I glanced at the cashier, who looked troubled, but averted her eyes. It was difficult to know if she was a friend of this psychopath or was just caught in a triangle of awkwardness.
At this point, my shock evolving into rage at the outrageously ill-mannered behavior of this woman, I realized I had three options:
1. Turn to the woman and say, “How dare you speak to me like that! This is a store, not a dinner party, and I need to get a pair of sunglasses that we left here at the register. You have incredible nerve calling ME rude, when you are acting impolite!”
2. Turn to the woman and say, “What the fuck did you just say to me, you bitch? I cannot believe your fucking attitude! Go fuck yourself.”
3. Turn to the cashier and say, “I’m not sure you heard me the first time, but I need those sunglasses back. I’m going to excuse the behavior of this woman here, because she obviously left the house this morning without taking her meds.”
In reality, I didn’t do any of those things, although I obsessed about all of them for hours after we left the store. Instead, I sputtered,
“Was that really necessary?”
I stood impotently shaking with anger and embarrassment for another second as she continued to ignore my existence, and then I stormed off. Yes, dear reader, I RAN AWAY from this bullying woman, and found my husband. “You need to get those sunglasses, because I just can’t, I can’t even…” I stammered.
He retrieved the sunglasses from the cashier, (later, he told me he had just walked over and said, “I need those sunglasses,” and she handed them over without a word) returned them at customer service and guided us all out, even as I ranted and raved.
“What a fucking bitch,” I said, not caring at all about my language in front of my sons. “I can’t believe that just happened! What the FUCK was her problem?”
“Well, here she is,” my husband pointed her out walking back to her car, “Should I run her over?”
“Yes,” I muttered, but instead I glared at her from the safety of my passenger seat. I couldn’t calm down and kept reliving the confrontation over and over and over. I was angry at the woman for acting like a jerk, but mostly I was angry at myself for feeling so helpless in that moment, for feeling like a child instead of a 40-year-old woman, for not being able to think of a witty or angry retort, for letting her make me feel so furious, for cursing so flagrantly in front of my children, for considering the possibility that she might actually think I was the one that was rude, for not being able to blow off what essentially boiled down to discourteous behavior.
By the time we got back to the house, I was still seething with rage and disappointment in myself. That was when my oldest son casually remarked, “I actually think what you said was the best thing you could have said. Because it was calm and showed you weren’t aggravated.”
As I played through the scenarios of what COULD have been said and how each of those situations could have escalated, I felt slightly better about the reality of the situation. I may be terrible at confrontations, but I guess I’d rather be a wimp than a bully.