“Hi! Do you guys love coming to the pool?”
The woman was about two chaise lounges down from us, and I think she was talking to my kids. I had seen her walk in with her daughter. She had a black bathing suit on with an attached skirt to hide her thighs, although I figured her thighs were probably just fine under there.
Her daughter had a rainbow leopard print bathing suit on, the same bathing suit as my daughter. Upon arrival they waded into the shallow end of the pool together. The woman had a tiny change purse in one hand. I speculated what was in it. Smokes? Car keys? A phone? Money? I wondered if it was waterproof. All of this wondering happened somewhere a few layers back in my brain while I was busy thoroughly enjoying a book of Bukowski poetry.
It was a safety break, and my kids had gone to the snack stand and were now sitting around me quietly munching. I was still thoroughly enjoying my book of Bukowski poetry. You see, I had gotten up at 4:15 that morning, groaned my way through a 15 minute ab workout in which I did more resting than crunching, and then rode my bike to work for the morning shift. Upon returning home, I cleaned up the kitchen from dinner the night before, made a lunch of pancakes, and took a 15-minute-cat nap in which I was awoken by the UPS man ringing my doorbell. I felt full of energy to talk to him, but I knew the pillow lines on my face were betraying me. He left and I walked back in the house and announced I was giving in to my children’s wishes. “Let’s go to the pool!” All I could think about was collapsing in a chaise lounge, letting the sun unravel me and the Bukowski poetry reintroduce me to my edge.
And I was doing just that until the black-suited woman started talking.
“Is that your mom over there? Did she bring you here? Get your mom for me.”
Two of my kids were sitting on a chair closer to the woman than me. I was glad for the buffer, but she wasn’t letting up.
“Did you know you have the same bathing suit as my daughter?” She said to my daughter, Charis. “Hers has a blue skirt. Why aren’t you wearing your blue skirt Where is your blue skirt? Don’t you have one?”
My daughter kept trying to figure out how to answer the woman in between her run-on sentences. Then she started looking around for her skirt to show the woman.
“It’s okay Charis,” I said. “You don’t have to find the skirt for her.” Charis relaxed back into the chair, her back to the woman.
Earlier at the pool, before the woman had arrived, Charis and I had a conversation about a girl who was following her around at the pool demanding she be her friend and do silly things like wipe the water out of the girl's eyes every time she came out of the water. I had told Charis, "You are allowed to tell people no."
“But I don’t want to say to someone, ‘No, you can’t be my friend!’ I don’t want to be mean.”
“Was she annoying you?”
“Did you want her to stop?”
“Then you have to say no. You’ve got to learn how to say no. It’s a valuable word. You can say yes and you can say no. Feel free to practice.”
She smiled at me shyly, a bit untrusting of my thoughts on the matter..
Now, here we were having a real life, in the flesh example of me showing Charis how to say no. Could I practice what I had so eloquently preached?
“Oh hi over there!" The woman hollered at me. "I was talking to you this whole time, but you didn’t hear me. Our daughters have the same bathing suit.”
I turned to look at the woman, putting my book down, “HI,” I said curtly. In my head I thought, You want me? Now you have me!
“I was just trying to be friendly. Sheesh!” The woman said.
I looked at her. A part of me was willing my mouth to talk, to say something nice and kind to fill the silence, but I had nothing. I was the embodiment of a blank stare. Empty air. Nada.
She looked away.
I went back to my book, thinking about this poem I had just read, and also thinking about a conversation I had with my Love Interest just a few days ago when we were out for dinner and a movie on our 14th Anniversary.
He was mentioning the few choice words he wanted to give the kiosk managers in the mall should they decide to invade his personal space by trying to sell him something.
And I was saying, “See, this is why we will have to spend less and less time together as we get older.”
“Because I get grumpier?” He asked.
“No, because I want to talk to strangers and you don’t. I want to hear their stories and interact and you want to push them away. How can I spy if you are always degrading the suspects? I want people to trust me."
“I don’t like to deal with needy people who make demands on my time.”
“Actually, I do understand what you are saying. And I definitely have my moments when I feel this too, but I guess I want to just tell them 'no thank you.'"
Back to the present, all I could think was how ironic this moment in time was, knowing full well that I was eating each and every one of my words in that conversation on date night AND my earlier conversation with Charis. Choice and colorful words or saying a flat out "NO!" seemed like the only feasible options if I was to make a clean break, but even in my I-Want-To-Be-Left-Alone moments, I am the sort that ends interactions with other human beings with residual threads like sticky cobwebs hanging off my skin. I want my non-verbals to be clear, so I don't have to use my words. "Good gawd woman, can't you take a hint?" I wiggle out from under conflict, hoping I don't have to be clear. Being clear seems so final. I know what I want, and sometimes what I want is downright mean.*
“You know,” she said, starting back up, “I wasn’t trying to disturb you or anything, it’s just we just moved here, and I don’t know anyone. I don’t have any friends.”
She paused. I put my book down on my chest and turned to stare at her.
A voice inside me said, Smile. A voice inside me said, Tell her that’s hard. A voice inside me said, Ask her where she moved here from.
Another voice inside me said, Remember that woman last year at the pool? You had one good conversation with her and pretty soon she was giving you her cell number and asking you and your kids to Chuck E. Cheese, her treat. Don’t you dare give into this woman or she will suffocate you. That same voice inside me said, You aren’t in the market for a friend, and you can’t solve her loneliness. That same voice inside me said, You don’t have to be “on” every minute of every day. You are allowed to mind your own business. That same voice inside me said, You trust your intuition and your intuition is screaming, THIS CONVERSATION IS A NO-GO."
Despite all the conversations going on inside my head, my body remained resolute. I simply stared, my mint colored sunglasses feeling heavy on my nose, the sun making me feel disoriented and far removed from the woman. It unnerved me, like I was my own mother, watching my failed manners and shaking my head in shame.
She started talking again. “I’m trying to put myself out there and make friends. That’s why I talked to you. I keep talking to people here, but I keep finding no one is willing to open up to me.”
I nodded and smiled weakly - the kind of icky smile that says, “That’s too bad, but I don’t give a damn.” Then I did the unthinkable. I picked Bukowski up off my chest, faced forward and started reading again. Letting my tensed up neck relax. Letting all the shoulds and have to’s and mandatories drip like the sweat off my entitled forehead and drain away.
All I know, Woman, is I can’t be what you need me to be today, and I’m not sure what to think about that.
I heard her say to her daughter, “Let’s go make a friend. I’ll show you how to do it. We’ve just got to go talk to people.”
They walked off hand-in-hand and I felt like the big bad bully and they looked like the underdogs, giving it another brave go. I blessed the spaces they were about to enter into and the people they were about to interact with. May it go well with you, I said. Another voice in my head said, Good luck. She won’t take no for an answer.