Yesterday my kids and my step-mother-in-law strolled through Boston Common in the sun. A vendor roasted peanuts. A young brunette woman stood in flip-flops and played her violin for change. We rode the Swan Boat around the pond as a young Bostonian frantically pedalled us. We found the bronze sculptures of the ducks from "Make Way for Ducklings." We sniffed the freshly cut grass and blooming trees. I felt that, if it weren't for the traffic, we could've been in another time altogether. We were one of a million families who have strolled along the curving paths of that grand park in the last century.
Lost in my thoughts, I followed Gail as she led us toward Boyslton Street and our car. Jonah trailed behind. As we passed a low wall spread with a street artist's half-finished canvasses, I was only vaguely aware that Jonah had hopped upon the wall. He always hops upon walls in parks. I had glanced quickly at the guy's work - crude, amateurish, but he obviously worked hard to produce the dozens of boards that lay spread all over the wall and stacked against a wide, shade-giving tree. I wondered how he made out. I was about to joke to Gail that my artist brother-in-law probably had a low opinion of these artists who sell their work in parks, when I heard a man shout, "HEY!" and turned around to see a tall, greasy man stalking toward Jonah. "Get off of my stuff!" he shouted at Jonah. "You better watch out that you don't touch other people's stuff, or you'll go to hell early!"
Was this guy kidding? I moved toward Jonah, who had already jumped off the wall and stood frozen. I folded Jonah in toward my body with my hand on his knobby spine and led him away from the crazy man. I did not even stop to look at the man's face. These things happen from time to time when you live in the city, and the golden rule is just to walk away. I would console Jonah as soon as we were out of this man's orbit.
You never, ever provoke the crazy people.
I looked at Gail. "He didn't step on the guy's paintings, did he?" I would've been shocked if he had, but if he had, I did want to at least apologize to the guy and be on our way.
"No," said Gail. "He didn't even come close."
I drew the children like ducklings under my mama wings and began walking away. "Jonah, please don't worry about this guy. You did not do anything wrong."
"I know," Jonah said, shivering.
"You should raise your children better!" the man called after us, still amped and indignant. "You need to teach them not to mess with other people's stuff, you know!"
Without a thought, I reached behind me and held up my favorite hand signal to show the fellow my opinion of his parenting advice. It was dumb. It was crass. It was far from yogic.
I got the response I expected.
"Hey fuck you, Lady! You're going to hell early, too!"
Everyone was silent as we walked away. The atmosphere still buzzed around us with baby strollers and little kids eating giant pretzels. We, however, were all sunk in our bad feeling about the man. I needed to say something to break the tension, to let the kids know that they were okay, that nobody had done anything wrong (except, secretly, me), that the man wasn't really mad at us, he was sick and probably couldn't help the things he said. Gail came to the rescue.
"Sometimes when someone yells at us it's really hard not to let some of it get into your heart," she said.
"Yeah, said Audrey quietly.
I thought for the whole drive back to shady Belmont about why I had done what I had done. I have had other such incidents where my anger management was very weak or nonexistent, all of which I came to regret. In fact, what my husband and I joked morbidly about as my "rage" was one of the main things that led me to quit teaching school. I could not be trusted to handle things well when the rage took over. I didn't know how to change myself or fix the problem. Even with the children, I have these moments that are sheer tantrums. They typically come when I feel I've been insulted, kicked, or taken advantage of one too many times.
I have some notions, thinking about it now, where this comes from. But I don't have the notion how to change.
Someone gave me a little jokey notepad that says across the top, "I meditate, I drink green tea, and I still want to smack someone." There is a reason that person gave it to me.
I am a flawed woman.
But I do raise my children right.