Remember what harassment feels like?

I had forgotten what it felt like to be harassed. Honestly, it’s been awhile.

The sun was shining. I was walking home after dropping my children off at school. Ready for work, I was mentally adding items to my to-do list and wondering what I’d already forgotten.

I sensed a vehicle approaching from behind, but only paid attention as it began to slow, which was odd as it was nowhere near the intersection.

A dark blue Dodge with a lawnmower in the box pulled up alongside. Smiling, the driver leaned out and said something. I couldn’t hear him over the sound of the truck’s exhaust, so I stopped and turned; assuming he was lost, I smiled, ready to point the way.

He raised his voice: “You’re like an angel. You’re so beautiful,” he shouted, before laughing, reaching over and high-fiving the guy beside him on the passenger seat. He put the truck back into gear and drove off, not before giving me wink and a wave. I think he thought he had made my day. 

There I stood, dumbstruck, wondering what the hell had just happened. 

There was a time, back in my teens, twenties and early thirties, that I was always on the lookout for this type of situation, but always failed to see it coming. Now in my 40s, I’ve become complacent. I haven’t been harassed in, like, forever. One man leering out his truck window, however, and it flooded back. I know this feeling. Every single woman I know, and every woman I don’t, knows this feeling. 

It’s dread, combined with embarrassment, anxiety, fear, anger and helplessness. 

I remember the first time I felt this way. I was 13, it was halloween and I was dressed as a cheerleader. My mom, who taught elementary school during the week and Sunday school on the weekend, put the costume together for me to ensure it wasn’t too scandalous. The skirt was short, but with the tights I wore, she said it was OK. She stitched a letter on my sweater, and bought me pompoms, which I adored. My long brown hair was held up in a high ponytail by a thick red ribbon, and I’m sure that ponytail was swinging back and forth as I walked home from school.

The truck pulled up beside me and there were three young men inside seated together on the bench. I remember exactly where I was. There was no sidewalk on this part of my route. I was walking on an unpaved shoulder with the road on one side and a wooded ravine on the other. I remember thinking that I could turn around and run the other way and that they might not be able to catch up to me if they had to throw the truck in reverse.

My heart still pounds thinking about it, and about what might have happened but didn’t. They commented on my cute costume, laughed, and whistled as they drove away. It was my own fault, I thought. I should have worn pants. I should have waited and walked home with a friend. I wouldn’t make that mistake again. I’m an idiot. There was nothing to be afraid of. I should take it as a compliment. At least they weren’t insulting me. Or wait, maybe they were just making fun of me?

My best friend had a similar experience, but the man in the car was alone when he reached out his window with a quarter in his hand and said: “Give me a call when you turn 16.” She turned and fled. She was out of breath when she called me. She lived in a rural area and walked the same path home from the bus each day. There was no shortcut. We both wondered whether she should tell her mom. We both worried that maybe he’d come back. We both decided that she should just take it as a compliment. We were 13.

After a while, you get used to it. You get used to that feeling as you walk past a group of men and they stop talking, mumble to one another and then laugh. You get used to the feeling of people looking at you, leering. We cross streets, we walk in pairs, we look straight ahead and walk really, really fast.

I worked in a department store in my early 20s. If I had a dollar for every man who told me to smile, or who asked what I was up to after work, or who wondered what a pretty girl like me was doing working in a place like this, I wouldn’t have had to take out a student loan.

This is why we have ladies only gyms, and why we pretend to be on the phone when we use public transit. A male relative once observed that women drivers always stare straight ahead at stop lights: “Why is that,” he asked me, sincerely. 

I explained that we stare straight ahead because we can see you looking. If we make eye contact, or smile, you might think we’re interested. Sometimes you follow us. The scenery is not worth the risk.

Eventually, the catcalls stop, though. Eventually, we slow down, take out our earbuds, and remove the keys from between our knuckles. 

So we forget. And we think maybe times have changed. Maybe girls don’t have to put up with street harassment anymore. Maybe men have gotten better. 

And then this happens. I’m a grown ass woman walking in my middle-class suburban neighbourhood on a sunny Monday morning, but to a man in a truck, I was object on display — I was something he felt entitled to comment on.

To be honest, I debated posting this, worried that readers would tell me to be flattered, and to take it as a compliment. Perhaps the trolls would suggest that the driver must have been blind, or that I’m just too sensitive, and that our society is too politically correct, and why can’t women just lighten up and take a joke?

But I’ve been deflecting, walking quickly, making jokes, and saying “thank you,” to unsolicited comments about my body and my appearance my whole life, and it’s made me feel small, and stupid. It guts me to think of girls who are still made to feel this way as they walk home from school, work out, or try to do their jobs, and who are told to “just say thank you.” 

This has never been flattery; it has always been harassment, designed to make us feel small, and remind us that we are here for your pleasure.  

We are not. 

 

 

Lifelong learner

It has been 20 years since I graduated from university, ready to take a swing at journalism.

I thought about going back to school the moment my newspaper closed its doors, but then I got a job offer and shelved the idea. I was busy. I had two kids, a career, a partner. School was expensive, and unnecessary. And it would take time that I simply didn’t have.

And then it happened — life became complicated — and within that mad mess, there was a crushing moment that compelled me to look into the mirror and look really hard at the woman staring back.

What I saw was a woman who had been rushing around supporting and uplifting others for over a decade, gradually being crushed by the weight of it.

What I saw was a woman carrying around an empty bucket, having used everything she had to fill up the buckets of those around her. There was nothing left, and a sizeable crack in the bottom.

I’m alone more now than I have been in a decade. My children are outside, or they’re at their friend’s houses. They’re reading in their rooms, or playing independently.

Having a moment to catch my breath should be exciting, but it’s terrifying.

I’d been using the labels of “mother,” and “wife,” as an excuse. Those labels precluded “professional,” and made “student” seem impossible.

Days later, I voiced my idea outloud for the first time.

“I think I’d like to go back to school and get my masters degree,” I told my husband.

He nodded, said it was a great idea.

So I tried it out with my best friend.

“I think I’d like to go back to school.”

She sighed deeply through the phone: “Thank God! I’m so glad. Where are you going to go? What are you going to do it in? When do you need to apply? How many reference letters will you need? When does it start? Are you going to do course-based or thesis?”

I almost hung up. I hadn’t even started and already it sounded hard.

But I did the research, explored program options, timelines and costs. I made a trip to the bank; I ordered transcripts.

And then I told my boss: “I think I’d like to go back to school to get my masters degree.”

And he responded with a smile: “Figure out what you need, and we’ll do what we can to support you.”

I needed letters, and when I asked, people wrote them. And they were perfect. I’ve printed them off and tucked them away in my nightstand. I read them sometimes. They’re about a woman who is smart, and accomplished, and professional, and thorough, and funny, and insightful. She sounds amazing, and I can’t wait to meet her.

I needed time, and they agreed. I needed a little bit of money, and they provided what they could.

I started my first three courses last week, and I feel like I’m drowning — like I’ve just arrived in a new country that seems sort of familiar, but everyone speaks a different language, and I’m just faking it, hoping that at some point it’ll all begin to make sense.

I’m excited to start and terrified to fail. I’ve already learned so many new things, and am quickly realizing how much I don’t understand.

I’m meeting new people, and they’re so much smarter than me.

I’m being brave and it’s uncomfortable. When I lay awake at night I think about how much easier it might have been if I’d just kept my mouth shut. If I’d never said the words out loud. If I’d kept my dream a secret.

But then the sun comes up. And I’m one day closer to finishing. I’m one day closer to convocation, and I’m one day closer to meeting that woman that my references describe in their letters.

Please buy my “vintage” junk

There are people out there who “live simply,” which I assume means that they don’t have children.

I aspire to live simply, but currently, “live ordinarily,” meaning that my house contains a lot of useless junk. And because we’re busy, and because I consider it winning if I manage to wipe the toothpaste off the bathroom mirrors and occasionally run the vacuum around, organizing, arranging and disposing of this useless junk is always going to happen next weekend.

So as an experiment, when the notice went around the neighbourhood to participate in an upcoming community garage sale, I put my name down figuring that committing to this nonsense would force me to empty out the closets and root through toy bins. Short of moving, this was the only thing I could think of to reduce our mountain of useless excess.

I made this commitment a month ago, and I’ve been stressed the hell out ever since.

I’ve never hosted a garage sale. The garage sale will take place in two days. I am not prepared.

What if I don’t have enough stuff?

Are there a suitable number of things one must offer up to qualify as an appropriately-sized garage sale? What if I’ve been overestimating the volume of crap I have in my house, and when the day arrives, I set up my table in the driveway and it contains only four things?

I have literally lost sleep over this in the past month. What if I don’t have enough garbage?

Then I began combing through closets and it became clear that I was not at risk of running short of crap. It was at this point that I became nervous about displaying my crap with the right amount of flare.

Showing off the goods

When fun, carefree wanderers set up stalls at the market to sell jewelry made of forks, or driftwood wind chimes, their booths look charmingly whimsical, but I bet money they Pinterest the heck out of their retail displays before trundling into the market square at the break of dawn.

But what they’re selling is artistic and fanciful, what I’m selling are four pairs of gently used soccer cleats, every single season of Entourage on DVD (it was a phase), and a bucket full of action figures. My wares are not whimsical, and as such, will be dumped onto old sheets of plywood balanced across Rubbermaid bins with a sign above that reads, “Everything for a dollar.”

I envision brisk sales.

At the heart of it

I’m putting on a Bandaid without treating the infection. I’m purging the worst of the garbage, knowing full well that I’m just making way for more. I’m stemming the flow, but I can’t hold back the tide. I’m not dealing with the root of the problem, but she’s my mother in law and I love her.

So please, if you’re not busy Saturday, come buy my “vintage” DVDs.

Hands free

Imagine for a moment that it’s a spring day, and you’re walking down the street with all the time you need to pause, look in a window, fix your hair in the reflection, and keep on going.

You are sauntering; your long arms are swinging by your sides, and there’s a light breeze that’s keeping you cool but not messing with your mind. No jacket is required. Winter is over, and your arms can move without being imprisoned in their nylon jail; without that irritating “swipe, swipe, swipe” of a winter coat.

And you’ve got nothing in your hands.

Imagine that. Nothing in your hands.

Recently, I was listening to a podcast and the host was interviewing actress Amy Sedaris. During the interview she described a man they both knew as “the kind of guy who walks down the street with nothing in his hands.”

Listen: WTF with Marc Maron podcast with Amy Sedaris

I stopped listening at that point, and began imagining what that kind of freedom might feel like.

I can’t remember when I started carrying everything, but it’s been awhile. To walk down the street with nothing in my hands, or looped across my shoulder, would feel as foreign as writing with my left hand, standing up to pee, or being wrong.

I got my first purse when I was about five. It was shaped like a bunch of bananas and had a sharp metal zipper across the top. It held quarters and my Avon lip-gloss that came in the shape of a chocolate chip cookie.

Remember when your mom would take you to baby showers and they’d play the game “What’s in your purse?” Look it up, people still play it.

The winner of the game is the woman with the most ridiculous things in her purse. The ladies would all sit in a circle and someone would read out a random item — usually it started simply, with “keys,” before moving onto more obscure items, like bear spray, a spoon, a bottle of mouthwash, and a roll of duct tap (all of which, used together, could probably be turned into a bomb.)

Whenever you raised your hand and hoisted up your spoon or pepper spray to be admired by the crowd, you’d be awarded a clothes peg. By the end of the game, the woman with the most clothes pegs lining the hem of her skirt would take a prize home in her enormous handbag.

I was always annoyed that my own mother didn’t think ahead and salt her purse with random oddities, but as an adult, I recognize one clear truth: The winner of that game was the loser. The actual “winner,” is the one with the rotator cuff problems; she’s the one who can’t find her lip-gloss when it counts; she’s the one who can’t get through customs without a serious misunderstanding.

The real winner is woman without a single clothes peg, or the guy walking down the street with nothing in his hands.

This guy isn’t carrying anything for himself, or anyone else. Nobody’s asking this guy for snacks, or to please carry his BeyBlades. Nobody is begging him for gum, or a quarter so he can get a bouncy ball out of a machine. Nope. He’s so free he can’t even remember where he put his cellphone, and he’s so chill that he doesn’t even freak out about it.

The freedom of not carrying something — the freedom of not carrying everything — blows my mind.

I know I’ll never be described as “the kind of woman that walks down the street with nothing in her hands,” but as far as goals go, it’s not a bad one to strive for.

 

 

 

For the men in the office

March 8 (today) is International Women’s Day.

I could mark the occasion by writing about the mental load of motherhood; a subject that both fascinates and infuriates me. I could write about glass ceilings, about recognizing unconscious bias, about equity, diversity and inclusion, about how women need to be more intentional as they champion and empower other women, or I could write about some of the women who inspire me daily (there are so many).

But today I overheard a male colleague mention International Women’s Day, and he suggested showing his appreciation by bringing in flowers, or maybe pastry.

He wants to be an ally, but he’s missing the point. Shove your flowers and cake and whatnot. Creating balance in the boardroom isn’t easy, but there are simple things men can do, as colleagues, as allies, every single day. I’m not writing about institutional change. I’m talking about the small things that you do every day to remind us that we’re not like you. Bare with me if this sounds like womansplaining:

You take the notes
Next time you’re in a meeting, offer to take the minutes. I can’t count how many times I’ve been the only woman in a meeting, and when it comes time to decide who takes the minutes, all eyes turn to me. Today, and every day after, you’re going to offer to take the minutes. Minute-taking is gender neutral, and you’re going to be great at it! Let’s hear no more of this, “but you type so much faster than me,” garbage, either. I took Keyboarding 9 just like the rest of the 40-ish-year-old Canadians out there, so it’s not my fault if you haven’t applied yourself and you’ve let your skills lapse. Now’s the time to brush up.

Don’t ask me to bake (even though I’m amazing at it)
When that meeting concludes, don’t ask whether I’m going to bring goodies to the next one. Even if I had a refrigerator full of homemade cinnamon buns, I would NOT bring them to the boardroom so as not to set a precedent. How about you bring treats! (And don’t ask your wife to make them, either).

Share in the shit jobs
Does your office have a communal kitchen with a dishwasher? Mine does. It also has a refrigerator. The refrigerator gets cleaned when the women in the office finally get fed up, and I’ve yet to see a male colleague empty the dishwasher. That’s not to say it hasn’t happened, I just haven’t seen it. (While we’re at it, I won’t completely discount the Sasquatch. Canada’s a big country. It’s possible.) Our office kitchen also has laminated signs instructing people what to do should they notice the dishwasher full of clean or dirty dishes, or if they are confused about the difference between compost and garbage. Allied men — how about you read the signs?

Keep inviting me out for drinks, even when I say no
A big barrier to the advancement of women in the workplace is that we often miss the informal networking that takes place outside the office due to domestic demands. We’re less likely to go for drinks after work, or cut out early on a Friday to fit in nine holes — not because we don’t WANT to go out for drinks and create rich networks of powerful people — but because domestic responsibilities fall disproportionately on our shoulders. We’re often the ones picking children up from daycare, and making sure they eat and get to hockey practice on time. Often, we also end up missing out on the informal networking that takes place in the cafeteria, as we use our lunch breaks to run errands. And we’re barred from these informal boardrooms if they happen spontaneously. If I’m going out after work, I need to arrange things, so tell me the day before, please.

If I actually show up, don’t ask who’s looking after my kids
Hands up if you’ve been at a conference, or gone out with colleagues after work, only to have a male colleague ask who’s looking after your kids. Wait, my husband’s hand is not up! That’s weird!

Creating equity in the workplace isn’t a joke, and it isn’t simple. But there are some simple things that our colleagues can do as allies, as friends, to create a more inclusive workplace. And we’d all be better for it.

The great sleepover debate

I said no.

I say no often to my children without giving it much thought, but this seemed like a big no; there was a harshness to it. Saying it hurt a little because I could feel he wanted it so badly, and he’s such a great kid, and he’s almost 10, and I was probably being over protective.

“No. You can’t go to the sleepover birthday at the local ski hill. I don’t know this boy. I’ve never met him or his parents. It’s an hour away on a snowy road. No.”

Sleepovers are a rite of passage, and I remember my first attempt vividly.

I was about six, and I was to sleep over at my best friend Tami’s house. I’d visited countless times before, and our parents were friends.

There was a build up of excitement; I could barely eat as butterflies parked in my belly.

Finally, Friday night arrived and it was amazing until the lights went out, at which time I sobbed and begged Tami’s mom to take me home. She did.

A few weeks later, I tried it out again and made it through the night. I graduated to other sleepovers — sleepovers that found me giggling on my grandma’s balcony with my cousin Becky, or up watching Labyrinth over and over, pausing only to make prank calls to the boys from school.

(Keep in mind, this was before call display.)

Sleepovers were great. Sleepovers are great. I want my kids to have sleepovers and to host sleepovers, but I’ve been fielding invitations from parents since my oldest was about five, and I say no far more often than I say yes, because I’m torn between wanting my kids to have amazing experiences with their buddies, and wanting to make safe choices for them.

I’ve had to develop rules, which include:

  • If I don’t know the child, or the parent, the answer is no. You’d be surprised how many sleepover requests come to my house from children, and parents of children, who are complete strangers. I couldn’t pick them out of a police lineup, I have no idea who the parent is, what they look like, how many children or dogs live in the house, what they do for a living, or whether they have gang ties.
  • If a parent decides at the last moment that the pizza/movie birthday party is now a sleepover, the answer is also no. No. No. No. First of all, WHO LIVES LIKE THIS? Making the decision to extend a nine-year-old’s birthday party into the next day — on a whim — seems insane to me. I can’t work like that. I like plans, and I like having them in advance so I can give my extremely anxious brain enough time to freak out.
  • If there have been multiple playdates, and I’ve gotten to know the kid and the parents and have successfully creeped them on social media, then yes, yes, a thousand times, YES!

When my kid visits your house I want to know that he feels comfortable enough to tell you if he’s scared. If he feels sick. If he’s hungry or thirsty. And I want your kid to feel that way with me before he spends the night.

We’re told to provide our children with the tools they need to engage with the world. We talk to them about stranger danger, and about bullying, and about participating cautiously in cyberspace.

But we’re also told that most child predators are not strangers, and that they’re the next-door neighbour, the basement tenant, the babysitter, the uncle.

As a kid I didn’t notice when I graduated from midnight My Little Pony marathons to sobbing over Heathers and making prank calls in the basement. When my parents said no, which was often, I thought it was just because they were jerks.

Turns out they weren’t jerks. And I’m not a jerk, either. My kids will do sleepovers. But let’s not rush it. Let’s get to know each other a bit, see how they play together for a few hours before they spend the night. How about you invite me in for a coffee while they play so that I don’t have to resort to the social media creep?

That’s a lie. I’ll creep you anyway. I’ve already creeped you. But it’s only because I care.

Thoughts that keep me up at night

What problem are the removable liners in sports bras trying to fix? Is their primary purpose to solve the ages old horror of vague nipple shapes under tank tops? Or were they merely created to provide a nice, rounded shape to the otherwise lycra-flattened boob? I go to the gym often, and I run, and because of this, I own a lot of sports bras. If you’re like me, you’ve spent time fishing these fleshy-coloured flaps out of the wash, or poking your fingers inside the little slits on the side of the bra coaxing out the bunched-up liner, only to later attempt to reinsert it in the original position. There’s swearing, and origami involved in this process. And if you’re also like me, you’ve got a drawer full of odd-shaped fleshy flaps — like socks — that you hang onto because someday you might find the match, and then once again be able to hide your nipple shapes while you run. Let’s face it — some dude designed this terrible contraption, and then other dudes around other boardroom tables all over the world nodded their heads and agreed that it was a fabulous idea. And so here we are, ladies, drowning in mismatched fleshy flaps, hiding our nipples when really all we want is to go for a run and have everyone just leave us alone with our deep thoughts.

•••

At Costco, my 9-year-old is not allowed to try a piece of buttered toast until I say it’s OK. Which is fine. There might be peanuts, gluten, dairy and other dangerous things in that toast, and Costco doesn’t want to be responsible for my child’s anaphylaxis. I get it. But at what age do they start handing kids food? I’ve never seen anyone asked for ID at a Costco sampling booth, so do they have a standard “age at which you look responsible enough to know and understand your own food sensitivities?” Is that legal drinking/pot-smoking age? (19 where I live), or is it younger? Is it understood that by age 14 or so you’ve lived long enough to know not to eat dairy if you’re allergic? If there’s anyone out there who provides samples at Costco, I’m dying to know.

•••

My friend is preparing to sell her house, and as a result has been frantically renovating her bathroom and retiling the fireplace. She bought the tile for the fireplace two years ago, but it wasn’t until she decided to sell that she actually opened up those boxes. Meanwhile, I have a beautiful, two-person jetted bathtub in my garage. Someday, most likely in the weeks before we list our house for sale, it will move upstairs into our master bathroom. Until then, this gorgeous tub will collect dust (and empty pop bottles) in the garage, while also preventing us from parking inside. I’m often motivated to buy the things I need to renovate, but am very rarely motivated to actually renovate. It makes me sad looking at that gorgeous vessel knowing that I’ll probably never bathe in it, but even that sadness, and the bitterness of knowing that some stranger will delight in the beautiful bath, doesn’t prompt me to roll up my sleeves. It makes me sad — but not sad enough to actually renovate.

40 is the new 30, and other lies we tell ourselves

I’m so close to 40 I can smell the wine on her breath; near enough to reach out and stroke her stray chin hair.

I’m at the age when we begin to placate one another with lines like, “you’re only as old as you feel.” I’m at the age when Susan Sarandon quotes begin to resonate; when I’m told I should stop obsessing over my appearance, and be confident in my own skin, and in the woman I’ve become.

I’m “aging gracefully.” I’m over the hill, but I’m “picking up speed.”

When I crest the hill I’ll look around and realize that I’m at the top of my game, I’m who I was meant to be. I’m self-assured. I’m poised. I’m intelligent.

I’m still waiting.

Am I aging gracefully? Two days ago I tripped over my dog and wrenched my back. I’ve been hobbling and gasping around the house, ever since. Advil and Robaxacet rattle around in my pocket like spare change, and I’ve spent more time with my acupuncturist, chiropractor and massage therapist than I have my own husband.

Aging is hard, it’s painful and it’s expensive. There was a time when I would go to the salon for fun. Now I go to the salon to camouflage my grey. I’m earning more than I ever have, but spending more on serums and hair removal — for my face.

I’m digging in to my thirties, (whitened) tooth and (manicured) nail. At some point, I’m told I’ll be confident enough to let go of the eroding bank of my youth and just slide right into the babbling brook beneath, but I figure I can hold on a little longer. I’ve got this.

As long as I don’t look ahead. Or in the rearview.

I recall a telephone conversation that took place about a month after I became a mom. I was talking to my sister, and was near tears. My life had been cataclysmically altered by this bawling, needy, swaddled thing. Everyone was shouting at me, “BE GRATEFUL! ENJOY! YOU’RE SO LUCKY,” when all I really wanted to do was sleep.

“I just miss it,” I said to her. “I miss being able to drink a whole cup of coffee before it gets cold, or to sit down and read more than one page at a time. I love my baby, but I miss my life!”

She laughed at me. She laughed, and she laughed, and then she laughed some more. Then she said: “Danna, just forget about your old life. Just forget it. It never happened. If you don’t forget it, you’ll go insane.”

It was tough, but I managed. I managed to forget what time to myself felt like. Then, when those brief golden moments occurred, they were unexpected, and glorious.

Vegans have to forget bacon. They can’t spend a lifetime picking through their chickpeas and tempeh and thinking back to the last charcuterie tray they ate.

So, they forget. And then, one day, they’ll sit down, chase a slice of vegan cheesecake with a glass of vegan wine, and realize that it is possible to find new, delicious things to eat. They’ll find that life is still worth living, even without bacon and dairy cheese.

Such as it must be with aging.

I have to forget the woman I was. I have to stop standing in front of the mirror and remembering how I used to look. I need to stop thinking about the calories that I used to be able to consume without consequence, and how late I used to be able to stay up at night without nodding off into my cup of herbal tea.

That girl with the flat tummy and the great ass? She was a character in a TV show that I used to watch. I think of her with fondness, but her show was cancelled a long time ago, and there’s never going to be a reboot.

And soon, I hope, if I forget for long enough, I’ll find that grace that comes with age — that confidence and poise they say is headed my way.

Random acts of compassion

The wind has a bite to it, and sharp teeth, too. I slam my car door before another gust hits, crank up the heat, and nose out of the parking lot with a million things on my mind, and too few hours in the day.

The light turns red and I curse. I’m already late, and this light is so damn long — it’s the longest light in the city. The light’s not triggered by traffic, but I roll my car forward anyway, seething with impatience.

Out the passenger window I watch as a woman wearing a long blue scarf leaves the bank, stops, turns, and walks back the way she came, pausing in front of a bundle of blankets on the sidewalk.

The bundle moves, and a woman’s face peeks out, nearly camouflaged against the mud-coloured siding of the bank.

The woman in the blue scarf crouches down, leans in and begins talking. I can’t hear her. I so badly wish I could hear her. She’s smiling and nodding her head. The woman she speaks with looks up.

The woman in the blue scarf reaches up and unwinds it, grabbing hold of it tightly in the wind. She leans forward and wraps the blue scarf carefully over the shoulders of the woman on the sidewalk. The scarf, still warm, probably smells of perfume.

The woman in the blankets puts her head down, wraps her hands around her knees, and starts to cry. I can tell she’s crying by the rise and fall of her back, by the way her shoulders shake. That’s the way my children look when they cry. That’s the way I look.

The woman who gave the scarf, leans forward, takes her hands, and holds on tight. The light turns green, and I drive away, staring at the pair on the sidewalk in my rearview mirror until I turn a corner.

**

Cool, with a taste of spring, it’s light jacket weather. I’m jogging my usual route, and I’ll be home in half an hour – just in time for dinner.

I see them at a fork in the path and they make an odd trio. The older man stands several feet away, hands in his pockets, running shoes scuffing the ground as though anxious to get moving. Off to his left stands an elderly grandmother-type with a leashed Chihuahua perched on her shoulder like a bug-eyed, panting parrot.

She stands and smiles down at a boy — a teenager, by the size of him. His back rests against a light post; his face is hidden inside his jacket, which is zipped so high only his mop of black hair pokes through. He’s slumped forward, arms crossed over his knees. She stands at his side, chatting, and looks up to smile at me, waving me on as I slow down. The boy needs help. He needs someone to notice him, to speak to him, to care about him. The woman with the Chihuahua smiles at me as if to say, “it’s OK. I’ve got this. You go.”

Weakness is walking away from people who need help. It’s hard to stop, and harder still to know what to say, or do, being more afraid of saying and doing the wrong thing, than of doing nothing at all. I’m ashamed to admit having walked away.

Perhaps someday I’ll have a blue scarf to give, and be brave enough to be so compassionate.