Note: Yesterday was the first part of this article. And how I developed the sense of humor I have, or don’t have.
Scene: Trader Joe’s close to my house. I am in the checkout line with three items. Most of the lines are filled with people with full shopping carts. In front of me is a couple with their son, age 3 or 4, who is pushing a kid-size cart.
He pushes up to the counter and starts to unload the tiny cart. He drops the bag of washed, organic spinach just short of the counter. He drops an avocado. He drops a box of FruitFloes. I glance at his parents, expecting them to help, but they are both holding up their cameras, chuckling, videoing this incident with two cameras.
Dad: “Good job, Noah!”
Mom: “You’re going to be a celebrity on Facebook!”
Noah hoists another bag of greens, this time making it onto the counter. He sees the end of the bell rope that checkers ring to call a supervisor. He grabs the rope. Both parents are still videotaping.
Noah glances at Dad, who says, “Good job, Noah!” Noah glances at me, but I’m wearing sunglasses and not reacting, so he glances at the checker, who looks doubtful. Noah pulls the bell, ringing it loudly. He then laughs, points at me and says, “She did it.” Mom swings around to film me. I stand absolutely still, not wanting to be part of this early-stage drama. Not wanting to be on a Facebook video.
The checker chimes in. “Yes, that woman rang the bell! We’ll blame it on her!” Mom continues to video me. Dad laughs, points and says, “Her fault, her fault!” The checker looks serious and says, “Boy are YOU in trouble!” to me. She winks at Noah’s Dad. Noah is completely into this now, clanging the bell and pointing at me. “You did it!”
I should be laughing, but I’m not. I am feeling. . . shamed. Blamed for something I did not do, no matter how trivial.
Noah rings the bell again, and a manager appears. A thousand unhappy thoughts cross my mind. Would they be blaming me if I were better dressed? A man? Younger, prettier, and not in the “grandma” age range? Why is no one doing a “good job” of explaining to Noah that
- He should not be ringing the bell
- If he rings the bell, the consequences are his responsibility?
Turning to leave the aisle, I go to stand in another, longer line, not willing to explain anything to anyone. I’m humiliated. This should be rolling off my back, but it’s not. I feel angry, too. Tears are starting up in my eyes behind my sunglasses. I hear echoes of “you don’t have a sense of humor.”
But this time, I decide to do something. During the 20-minute wait in line, I think about what happened. I didn’t protect myself because the woman with the camera would have caught every reaction and I didn’t want to become a meme on Facebook. Because I don’t know how to react in a situation in which I don’t know the rules of engagement. Because although I have lived in the U.S. my entire life, was born here, I still feel like an outsider. Someone who doesn’t belong. Who can’t blend.
After I buy my three items. I approach the woman checker who cheerfully let Noah blame me. I touched her shoulder gently and tell her I felt humiliated and shamed, and it would be lovely if she never blamed an innocent person for someone else’s behavior again. I say it softly and gently because I have had time to prepare.
She looks at me and says, “Everyone was joking. You had no business feeling bad. That’s on you.” I stopped. Breathed. “I am not going to rehearse the event again. All I want you to know is that your words hurt and embarrassed me.”
“That’s not my fault,” she said sharply, “if you don’t have a sense of humor.” Blaming the underdog for not having a sense of humor is the refuge of a bully, and now I understood my own emotions better. “All you need to know,” I said, still softly, “was that what you said hurt me. Whether or not I have a sense of humor, what you did was painful to me. I hurt enough to leave your line so you would not continue to humiliate me. Please don’t do that to someone else.”
And then I left. Shaking. Because I did what no one did when I was three or four years old. Stand up for me.