I was going to write about my first two, never-saw-that-coming(!) weeks back in the workforce after fifteen and a half years of being a stay-at-home mom. But something else has wiggled its way in and needs to be blogged about first. It happened three days ago, on Thursday.
I was on my way home from work and made a quick pit-stop at the liquor store for a bottle of wine. Back outside, the neck of my paper-bagged bottle in one hand (which, the thought crossed my mind, made me look like a wino, but with better shoes), and my keys in the other, I was about to open my car door when a voice called out.
I looked up to where the woman was standing, about twenty feet away, under the awning of the convenience-mart adjacent to the liquor store. From the distance, she looked about my age and was sensibly dressed, in pants and a winter jacket. But I felt myself get instantly wary… and then berated myself for going to the inner-suspicious place. Maybe she’s just going to ask for the time, I reasoned. Nope.
“Are you going this way?” she asked, pointing left, up the block.
This was, of course, the way I would have normally headed to go home, a mere mile and a half away. It was just after five, dusky-ish, and any warmth from the sunny, January day was quickly diminishing. I wouldn’t want to be outside in the cold if I didn’t have to be. Empathy for the woman began to push against my caution. I could hear the echo of my kids’ voices chanting “Stranger danger!” But the echo wrestled with my mother’s voice, saying things about “acts of charity” and helping others in need. My spider senses were tingling. Or were they? Maybe, I worried, I just being uncharitable and didn’t want to be bothered with the hassle of taking an extra five minutes out of my day to help a fellow human being. Historically, I’d always tried to make people happy and help them. I was a people-pleaser. And a conflict-avoider. (The easiest way to avoid conflict with someone is to just say, “yes” and give them what they want.)
Then again, I was still wary.
I felt my head shake and a “no” croaked out of my throat. The woman kept talking, as though she hadn’t heard me (which she probably hadn’t — I hadn’t spoken very loudly).
“I just need to get up there — it’s just by the middle school — and I don’t want to have to walk that far with my prosthetic leg.”
Oh, great. Now, not only am I being uncharitable, but if she’s telling the truth, then I’m stranding a cripple! The middle school was a half-mile away. Not that far, but maybe it would seem like it if you had a prosthetic leg. The guilt of that thought, however, was accompanied by a Big Red Flag. What I mean by this is that I had the sensation — instinct? — that something was fishy about this whole scenario. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I could feel it. Something was off. I’ve learned to identify when I’m getting the Red Flag signal and to pay attention to it. Unfortunately, I’ve had too many times in my life where I’ve ignored these types of sensations. Always to my detriment. (People-pleaser!)
Suddenly, the words of my two self-defense instructors came into my head: “The best way to get out of a bad situation is not to be there.” Pay attention to the Flags and get out of the scenario before you get into a position where you can’t.
“I’m not going that way,” I said, clearing my throat.
“You’re going that way?” she exclaimed, her face lighting up. A brisk wind picked up, sending a shuddering preview of the rapidly dropping temp. My heart wavered at her hopefulness. Was I doing the right thing? Or just being cruel. Or even lazy. But I wouldn’t ignore the Flag, for whatever reason it had popped up. Yeah, something was off, here.
“No,” I said firmly, shaking my head again and opening the door of my nice, warm car. “Sorry. I’m not going that way.”
I got in and started the engine. Then, worried that the woman might be vindictive or mentally unstable, I actually went right instead of left. Because what if she saw me go left, and took down my license number and tracked down where I lived? Overkill on the paranoia? Probably. What should have been a three minute drive home took more like ten. I was resentful, too, that she’d put me in that position. And that I was too much of a coward to have made the left-hand turn. Then again, I’m around to tell the tale.
So: what would you have done?