Monday, March 9, 2009

Crazy Lady

Every American neighborhood has one: the resident crazy lady. Like Miss Gulch to Dorothy, these frequently "mean" and often misunderstood ladies are cast as the neighborhood villains. Lose a ball in the crazy lady's yard? Best to let it lie and beg Mom or Dad for a new one--the crazy lady might get you. Go up to the crazy lady's house on Halloween? Only on a dare, and it's best to throw away any candy she might give you.

This weekend, I realized I just might hold the crazy lady title on our street.

A couple of years ago, I was driving down our street on a drizzly spring day when one of the resident kids, horsing around, pushed another girl out into the street and almost in front of my car. My inner voice of reason said, "Let it go. You honked your horn; let that be enough." But my inner crazy person stopped the car right in the middle of the street, put it in park, and confronted the kids.

The monologue that followed was a blur even at the time and has now mostly faded from my memory. In my anger and fright that I could have hit a kid by no fault of my own, I had a sort of foaming-at-the-mouth out-of-body experience. Ainsley was 3 or 4 at the time, so I had a lot of the standard Mom stuff in my arsenal: You kids ought to be ashamed of yourselves, Do you think that's funny?, and the classic, How would you feel if someone did that to you? But because adrenaline was in charge at that point and all self-censoring was thrown out the window, something or other about blood and guts on my car and how guilty the pusher would have felt seeing that and knowing she sent her friend to heaven and how death is permanent made their way into the conversation. Probably not territory I should have covered with children not my own, but to this day I justify my actions: trying to get your playmate hit by a car is just not socially acceptable behavior.

I waited for the doorbell to ring with some angry parent cussing me out for chewing out her kid, but that never happened. Instead, the kids in question, who live too far up the street and are too old to want to play with Ainsley and her little crew, give me a wide berth. If they're going door-to-door selling things, I notice they skip our house. On Halloween, they only come up the drive when one of their parents says, "There's someone at that house. You can go up there." When I drive down the street, they make a big show of getting way out of the path of the car. The little girl who was pushed sometimes waves at me when her "friend" the pusher isn't outside; I like to pretend it's gratitude.

Saturday was a gorgeous day here in the Cincy metro so I went for a run. It's the first time I've run outside in a while, so by the time I ran my route and turned back onto my street I was pretty tired; my legs were wobbly and threatening to give out on me. I came across a yard where the car-pushing kids were playing with a boy I didn't recognize. This not-from-the-neighborhood boy was standing at the edge of the sidewalk as I approached, me trying to sprint the last leg. Just as I got close to him, he made eye contact with me, stuck his leg out into the sidewalk as though he were trying to trip me, and withdrew it with a smirk at the last minute. As tired as I was, I stutter-stepped a little anyway and almost lost my balance.

Again, the rational side of me whispered, "Let it go. You don't even know who that kid is. He was probably just kidding around."

The lactic-acid-filled less-rational side of me punched the rational one in the face and said, "Oh, no, you didn't."

In plain sight of the same kids who saw my wrath two years ago, I unleashed again.

"I think you should apologize for that. That was very rude. Do you want me to tell your mom?"

"No."

"Do you know you could have made me fall? Do you think it would have been funny if I had fallen and broken a bone?"

"No."

"Clearly I am not going to get an apology. Well, do you have anything to say for yourself?"

"I didn't do anything."

Oh, hell no.

I ran home, my runner's euphoria completely gone. I stood out in the yard for several minutes, cooling down physically and mentally, eyeing the little group I could just see at the top of the hill up the street.

A few minutes later, after I related the story to Jason and Ainsley, I saw the group standing on the sidewalk across the street from out house. We had all the windows open and I stood in front of our storm door, watching them whisper and point. I thought for sure we were going to get egged.

The drama that unfolded next was pretty fun to watch. The little girl who got pushed crossed the street, started up the driveway, stopped, and went back across. Then her older brother nudged her and she started up the driveway again, this time making it all the way to our walkway before seeing me and heading back. Third time, she made it to the door.

"Um, ma'am, that boy says he's sorry he tried to trip you."

Before I could even say, "Thank you, but I think he should have told me himself," she took off back to her friends, not to be seen again the rest of the afternoon.

It hit me...the nudging by her brother...the three attempts to actually come up to my door...the running home afterward...

I am the crazy lady.

Oh, no.

The crazy lady in my own neighborhood when I was a kid lived in a house whose yard was adjacent to my elementary school's playground and used to come outside with her bra over top of her house dress. I remember a group of us going up to her at her fence once, on a dare of course, to ask her about this fashion choice and hearing instead about the milkweeds that grew on the fence and how they could poison children. This wasn't said so much to warn us as to threaten us; she was rather gleeful as she said it. I remember one Halloween she and her husband sat on their front porch with candy, but no one went up to the house. Now that I am older I wonder if her craziness wasn't just an act to keep the elementary school kids off her property...nah, she was just plain-out nuts.

I, however, am not. I am reasonably sure of this. After all, I tend to wear my undergarments in the correct order.

Perhaps it's not such a bad card to carry; those kids will probably leave me alone at least until they're teenagers, and by then hopefully either they or I will have moved out. But I hate to be misunderstood this way; if I didn't give a crap about kids, it wouldn't bother me so badly when they act like disrespectful numbskulls whose actions could hurt themselves or others.

Tell me about your childhood neighborhood crazy ladies below, and break it to me...do I bear any resemblance to your crazy lady?

4 comments:

Robert K. said...

I'm thinking about Scout Finch and Boo Radley right now. Do you think one day that little girl is going to look up at you and say, "Hey Cranky" and it will all be worth it?

Library Lady said...

Congratulations, Robert. That's the second time one of your comments has made me choke on my Coke.

Robert K. said...

I aim to please. :)

Karen said...

Just as long as you don't start running out of your house, babbling wildly and throwing cats at everyone, you'll be okay. ;)