I facilitated my first in person meeting recently. After all these months of zoom it was exciting and a little challenging to get dressed, especially the lower half. It was a beautiful warm day and I knew I would be home mid-afternoon so I picked a blouse and jacket, slacks and low heeled shoes. The meeting went well, and I headed home in a good mood. It was not to last.
I found my regular route home blocked by a police barricade. My plea to let me go home was met with a shake of the head and a wave of the hand to go back. I tried a different approach via the interstate. Blocked as well. My plea on deaf ears. I called my husband and asked him to get on his phone and see if there was any news. I was too busy making u-turns and running into more road blocks.
“Someone kidnapped a woman and drove the wrong way on the Interstate and caused a big accident. The guy escaped and they’re looking for him.” The spot on the Interstate was a mile from our house.
“OK,” I said. “I’ll figure it out. See you soon.” I was sure I could find a way home, having lived decades in this semi-rural neighborhood outside Santa Fe. I took a dirt road that would lead me to the frontage road, and from there I could cross over the blocked Interstate and make it home. As I neared the first turn, I saw another road block. I slowed to tell the policemen that I was just trying to get home. Not possible at this time, he said, and when I pressed for details, he said “It’s an ongoing situation — changing by the minute. That’s all I can say.” I thanked him, my anxiety rising.
I continued on the dirt road to the next opportunity to cross the interstate and was met with a line of stopped vehicles as far as the eye could see. I could only travel in the direction that took me farther from home, but at least I was moving. I looked at the gas gauge and panicked. Would I make it to the next station? What if I had to spend the night in the car? I made it to the station, joined the line of equally panicked drivers and filled up. My next obsession was not freezing to death. The sun was going down and it would soon be really cold. I was dressed for work, not for car camping. I had to have a sweater. I remembered a boutique store nearby. I screeched into the parking lot, dismounted and ran to the store. The door was open but the clerk was closing up.
“You’re not closing.” It wasn’t a question. It was a command, a loud one. She explained that they closed at 4:00, and it was 4:05 and she couldn’t make any more sales.
“I have to have a sweater and I have to have it now!” I was shouting. She froze and I could see she was trying to assess the threat.
“We don’t have sweaters,” she tried.
I whirled around and saw a fuzzy turtle neck on a sale rack within arm’s length. I grabbed it. “This is a sweater. I’m buying it now!” and I slapped my credit card on the counter.
Trying to hang onto her self-respect and do her job, she warned that I couldn’t return it and maybe I should try it on. I would have none of that small talk. “I will not return it! I want it now!” and shoved the card toward her. She completed the sale and I stormed out sweater in hand. To tell the truth I felt pretty good. I got what I wanted and I got it forcefully. But by the time I got to the car I was beginning to wonder.
Why was I so aggressive and angry? Why had I picked on a completely helpless and innocent person. I sat in the driver’s seat, clutching the sweater and thought about it. I was desperate to get home, increasingly desperate the more I was thwarted. At each blockade I needed to be polite, ingratiate myself to the authority, in hopes they would let me go home. I could not under any circumstances make a scene, break their rules, become a problem. But try as I might, it didn’t work. They were understanding but unbending. They had the power, and in case I didn’t notice, they had guns.
So, when I crossed paths with the store clerk, it was my turn to wield some power, albeit in a crazy way. It was as if the ledger had to be balanced. I had suffered under the power of the police; she was going suffer in return.
What does this say about humans in conflict or in times of stress? If someone with the power is denying you what you desperately need, and there is no way to fight back or negotiate, do you need to take it out on some unlucky person below you in the pecking order? I thought about cases I have mediated where there has been someone as “possessed” as I was at the table. Always aware of people’s strategies to get what they need and/or want, I have been confounded by some behavior that makes no sense. What’s behind those seemingly pointless attacks, I ask myself. I look down at the sweater and I think I have a clue.