If my yellow-leather Nine West strappy sandals had brakes, the screech as I hit them at the grocery store would have sent shoppers rushing outside to look for a crash. But the accident happened at the checkout stand. When the young, hip adorable checker said in response to my explaining I was taking a year off to write, “I wish my boyfriend would let me do that.” Wait. What? Let? As if to imply that my boyfriend, Michael (wonderful, amazing guy…really) is 1). Let-ting me do this and 2). The reason why this year is able to happen–because of an opportunity he created?
I’m a little bit embarrassed with the response I hissed back because I really like this girl. My boyfriend and I actually make an effort to get in her line. But every defense mechanism from Psych 101 flared up and I said, “It’s really none of my boyfriend’s business what I decide to do. I do what I want.” All like that. Hiss.
“Oh. Sure. Yeah,” she said stuffing my organic kiwis and black ground pepper in my reusable canvas bag. “Totally.” What a freak, she’s really thinking, and it’s true. I had a clear window of opportunity to ask in a sincerely curious way, why she thought I wasn’t teaching because Michael was letting me stay home. Or, why (in a more super sensitive questioning way) she felt her boyfriend would be the one to let her search out a similar dream?
But no. I got all crazy. Because it wasn’t just what I said. It was my look and body language (I may have gotten a little red) that let her know I was clearly shaming her. And it’s unfortunate that I was so easily shaken because she likes Michael and I and maybe (dare I say it), looks up to us? She’s the perkiest cashier who, when we come in for a loaf of bread is all like, “So are you guys getting married?” And we’re like, “No we’re buying bread.” Etc…
We keep going through her line because she’s that nice.
So. I guess I should examine why this bothers me. What do I care? One of the mottos I live by that I keep forgetting is What you think of me is none of my business. This has gotten me out of some major shame spirals. But I forgot it in that moment. All I cared about was what she thought about me. And I worried that all the work I’d put in to get here–coupled with a freaking giant leap of faith in myself, was somehow being credited to someone else.
And does it bother me in a man/woman sense that I’m a woman and the man was getting the credit? Sure. Yes. Ok, totally. And it was disappointing that a young woman, a seemingly rad, forward-thinking girl didn’t see the possibilities of her future choices in her own hands. As a high school teacher I’ve spent countless hours talking with young girls about the power they have in deciding their own futures. I might never know if it made any difference. But all that un-powerfulness they’ve felt (that I’ve felt) and that the checker was implying, lit that one little flicker of flame that’s waiting to go when the perfectly wrong thing is said.
She didn’t mean to be harmful. And my god, has Michael’s unconditional support of my choices helped me get where I am today? Of course. A thousand times, yes! But I’m sitting here writing right now because of the choices I made for myself and didn’t (would not) get permission from anyone.
And here’s the catch: Michael won’t get the credit when I make something of my life but this also exonerates him from the times I make a total mess of it. Isn’t that great? I wish I could have said it so succinctly to the checker. I’m still going to search her out and go through her line. I want to tell you so badly some of the fabulous things she does with her hair, and about her smile. But it’s a really small town.