The morning routine for all four of us was slightly off kilter. My daughter, who usually doesn’t have the energy to complain about starting her day, suggested that she really needed a day off. Sorry, but that wasn’t going to happen. Besides, she doesn’t generally want a day at home because she feels as if she would fall behind in her classes and would rather keep pace.
I dropped her off at school as she groaned something to the effect of, “Bye, have a good day, I hate this.”
I returned to pick up my wife and take her to the train. She was also slightly behind schedule. My son came “elephanting” down the stairs. It’s an expression we use that is exactly as it sounds. He throws his feet so heavily and loudly on the steps that the house shakes until he reaches the first floor, turns hard to his right twice and collapses into his chair.
My wife and I raced out of the house two minutes behind our usual departure time. Two minutes? How was I supposed to make it to a train that is only early when we’re late? It’s Murphy’s law of trains. Whatever can go wrong with the commute does go wrong and, often, in conjunction with other problems.
We came to the final light seconds before the train was scheduled to pull in.
We reached the traffic light just as it turned red, in that small window when all the lights are red at the same time. Despite the line to my left waiting for a green light, I made a right on red and pulled into the intersection behind another car waiting to make the immediate left into the train station.
Unfortunately, the cars on the other side of the street hadn’t left an opening for the frantic commuters to reach the station. When their light changed, the traffic immediately started moving, blocking us from making the turn.
My wife considered getting out, racing across the street and trot-running through the parking lot. The cars speeding by near her door made that impossible.
A car behind me honked, moved to our right and slowly passed. A woman in her 60s flipped us the bird.
Do we still do that? Do we still raise our middle finger to strangers? I do it to my computer when it’s frozen and to my phone when it’s not allowing me to respond to an email or text, or when it adds an error to one of my emails because it retyped a name into something potentially problematic.
But this woman, with her tight lips, curled and dyed hair, and menacing eyes, slowly rolled past me, extending the curse finger just in front of her left shoulder. That raised digit was so stiff, long and rigid that it looked it could have just as easily have been a weapon as a gesture.
I was stunned to react immediately. Then a few responses ricocheted around my head as my wife raced out of the car: “Sorry? Right back at you, sweetheart.” … “You know what you can do with that finger.”
It’s possible her day had, or was expected to have, much bigger problems than mine. I am sorry I upset her so much that she needed to express her outrage.
Or maybe I gave her a chance to be angry at something other than herself, her family, her boss or the people who work for her. Could I have done her a favor, providing a target for her anger?
I don’t know her story, but I do know that my day suddenly seemed less problematic.