When Richard and I were dating, he lived for a time in Baltimore while I was still in Georgia. We traveled every other weekend to see each other. One weekend, I flew to Baltimore to spend four days with him. On Monday morning, he had a class to teach so the plan was for me to drive him to campus, drop him off, then spend some time exploring the city. I was off-kilter and unfamiliar with everything that morning–his car, getting out of the garage, the neighborhood, the one-way streets around campus. I was dependent on him and having to listen for instructions. Following blindly.
Even more so, I was unfamiliar with the greater situation–being a divorcee who finds herself in love with a man who then moves to another state but wants to stay together. That weekend felt like me trying out his life in Baltimore. Friday night faculty party, Saturday exploring the Inner Harbor, Sunday lunch with his family. The day before, Richard had driven into a lush old neighborhood of wide green streets and tall homes to show me a house he was thinking of buying. A house that was way too big for just him. I can’t remember much about it, other than it was more beautiful than any house I had ever imagined living in. It was across the street from a house with a sunroom filled with yellow, green and blue parakeets and gray cockatiels. I imagined walking my dachshunds past that aviary every day. I remember that. And I remember how he said, “I wanted to know what you thought about it. If you liked it.”
So I was shaky and it was Monday and I had a lot on my mind. We were about a block from his building when he told me to turn left. I waited for the light to change and for a flock of students to cross, then I began to turn.
He blurted, “OldladyOldladyOLDLADY!” and stomped his foot to the floor to pound the imaginary brake. I thought he was having a stroke so I turned full on to face him and ask what the hell he was going on about. As I kept turning. He shouted, “STOP!” and that’s when I saw the old woman making her way across the crosswalk. I slammed on the brakes. She was about halfway across and the light had already changed on her. I was still a good ten yards away, but she gave me the stink eye anyway and finished her trek. Cars were honking at me from all directions.
I was so rattled that I had to pull over. Richard wasn’t saying anything, just blowing a big breath out very slowly. I burst into tears and sank into the steering wheel.
“It’s OK. It’s OK,” he said as I had a snot-slinging fit right there on the side of the road. “I tried to tell you to stop.”
“No! You kept saying ‘old lady old lady old lady!'” If you want me to stop, you say “STOP!” I wailed.
“OK. It’s OK.”
“I can’t believe I made a stupid mistake like that!”
And that’s when he LAUGHED. “You didn’t make a mistake! HITTING HER would have been a mistake. You may not have seen her but you stopped in time. You AVOIDED a mistake. Don’t be so hard on yourself.”
Still. I couldn’t shake it. That was 11 years ago and I can still see that woman in her tweed coat and it makes my chest tighten up to think how close I came to hurting her. Eleven years, and I’m still stuck in that intersection because I almost made a mistake.
Do you ever do that–carry guilt from things you ALMOST did wrong? That was one of the biggest differences between Richard and me. I was so worried about doing anything wrong or hurting anyone or making a nuisance of myself that I spent most of my energy worrying over what to do and then worrying over what I did. Being grown up is scary. Being in charge of things like a car or a life or my own heart–that was all so overwhelming on that Monday morning. He was more of a “well, let’s make the best choice then see how it works out–no harm, no foul” kind of guy.
Sometimes when I find myself wallowing in “oh, I can’t believe you almost did that,” I say, “Old lady old lady old lady” and move on!