The truth in gridlock

“You’re WELCOME!” she sneered. It wasn’t so much a shout but a sing-songy sarcastic drive-by lobbed from one open window to the other. By the time I realized it was directed at me, she was gone.

Rewind ten seconds. I’m wiggling out of a space in a parkade designed by people who never considered cars and how much space they need. And so I’m wiggling, almost clear, when another driver rounds the corner to try and inch past me. It’s one of those Another Car And A Concrete Pole sandwiches, and I am the meat. The other guy gets clear by the breadth of dental floss. Good stuff. Then she shows up, looking to turn right where I’m about to turn left. She stops, pausing—presumably?—seeing that there’s no wiggling space because my car is in it.

I see her pause and act quickly, scooting left so that she can make a clear turn, so that she won’t have to wiggle. I mutter out loud: Hang on, I’ll get out of your way. In my brain, I was thinking about this headache; three bags of Pete’s Frootique groceries for $117.52; the rice paper and whether or not I’d gotten the good ones, because you never know until you get them wet; Nick’s flight from Frankfurt to here; his cats; my birds; the fruitlessness of cats and birds.

“You’re WELCOME!” she sneered.

I was completely confused. This was yesterday and I’m still completely confused, except now it’s a mental rallying point for why we just can’t seem to get along. ‘We’ meaning me and you as well as us and them. How it's assumptions, not people, that ruin everything. How we lob bitchy bitchiness at one another and then tell that story, over and over, until we feel justified.

By my interpretation, I was her shitty-day punching bag. Or, by hers: I made her day a shitty one. I cut her off. How dare she. I didn’t look at her and smile, wave, thank her for pausing. I was thinking about $117.52. How dare she. I took my opportunity at her expense. How dare she.

But I was clearing the space for her. Obviously. I was dealing in the most sensible way within the confines of bad design. Obviously. I was being what I wish more drivers would be—consciously decisive, not holding things up. Obviously.

We make assumptions to suit our truth. That the world is against us (again). That we are martyrs, and have done nothing wrong (again). That the other person is an instigator, and has done it all wrong (again). That the other person is out to ruin everything (again). That the other person always gets what they want, that we never do (again). That the other person has it easy, and we do not (again). That the other person is trying to control us; stress us; instigate further and deeper emasculations (again).

It’s got nothing to do with testicles.

The dictionary defines emasculation as the act of depriving another person of strength or vigor and the capacity for effective action; to deprive of characteristic force by removing something essential; to demoralize, unnerve, paralyze, undo, unstring.

But I was just trying to clear the space. I was doing my best to get out of your way, so that you could get where you needed to be. If I hadn’t moved, we’d be still stuck there, wiggling pointlessly, locked in an After You, No, After You two-person gridlock.

I drove away wondering how she felt post-outburst. Bigger in the chest or smaller? Had she exorcised the energy she needed to, like a slammed door? Did she feel like she had made a stand against people who would try to bring her down?

How dare you go before me. How dare you ruin my day.

The middle-finger effect: did she feel flushed with satisfaction for four seconds but ashamed and foolish after that? Did her own voice echo in her own head? How did it sound to her, ten minutes later? Did she wonder how it had landed on me? Did she feel like she’d taught me something that I needed to know? Did it make her feel good?

I was trying to be helpful.

Our perceptions of what happened are hopelessly at odds. We would never be able to reconcile it. I’m not even sure that following her—talking to her, explaining, apologizing—would have helped. She believes what she believes about my motives. By believing it she protects her rightness, and you can’t change a mind that needs to be right. She is gone.

The moment replays curiously in my mind, still, the next day, because it’s a microcosm of human relating and non-relating. Except we can’t always drive away.

Until we let go of the need to grip tight onto our stories, those my-truths and being right about it all, we will remain in an endless loop of a You Did A Bad Thing—No, I Did A Good Thing gridlock. It’s an expensive one. It costs energy and turns everyone sour with its touch. It’s a parasite that entrenches deeper, widening the gap.

In the absence of following, explaining, there is opting-out. There’s $117.52 worth of ingredients for fancy fish cakes, among other things. Wild garlic German egg noodles; a good, hard wedge of Asiago; tomatoes on the vine; that new tub of red miso that’s been missing from my fridge for a year. Other than endeavouring to communicate better—remembering a mitigating nod and smile, just in case—opting out is the only thing. Not needing to follow, not needing to explain.

Not needing to be right is, perhaps, either the most elemental or the highest form of compassion. So sayeth the fancy fish cake.