It's hard, now, as an adult, to put my money where my mouth is. I am so averse to social unpleasantness. I'm hyper self-conscious; a people-pleaser; an overly apologetic person in some contexts. Chuck teased me the other morning when he tipped his tea over and I said, "Sorry!". I have a very long fuse, too. I don't get crazy-angry very often, because when I do, it's a big explosion. I don't like confrontation: it makes my hands shake.
So, I was in a tough spot the other day.
Meet Ronnie, the neighborhood busy-body. Lots of neighborhoods have a Ronnie, especially oddball little private neighborhoods like ours. He is short and stocky. A Bantam rooster of a man. He has lived here for a long time and considers himself a head master of sorts. Ronnie likes to tell everyone what to do and how to do it. He likes to give advice in words that he seems to have lifted straight from the curriculum of an anger management class. If a car pulls into our road and he doesn't recognize the person in the car, he will stop the car and ask, "Who are you? Where are you going?" My guests sometimes complain about him He has been in fist fights and shoving matches with people who don't appreciate his self-appointed neighborhood watch status. He makes up rules and enforces them as he sees fit. I received a lecture from him last summer, because I did not refuse road access to a group of boy scouts on a camping trip. I told them it was OK to use the road (what do I care?). Ronnie very
Last Monday was icy and cold. Our little road is snow-packed and slick. I slowed down to cross the icy bridge, then turned onto our road, slowly. I was going between 7-10 MPH when I drove past Ronnie's house. Several vehicles were parked across the road from his house. Skiers were getting out of the vehicles, slipping and insecure in their ski-boots. I noted this cautiously. Suddenly, from behind a car, a little granddaughter spied Ronnie standing on his porch and darted toward him, pigtails flying, arms outstretched. This kid was concealed by the parked car until she was about 6 feet from my car, running pell-mell into its path. He father was near and snatched her back out of the way. Ronnie screamed after my car, "YOU SLOW YOUR ASS DOWN!" I thought, "Do you not know slow when you see it?" In my opinion an accident was averted because I was driving slowly. Sara was with me. She looked alarmed and turned to me. "Mom! That was not your fault!" I felt offended at the way he screamed after my car like that, but Sara reminded me that he was probably just venting his relief. I have a hard time relating, because I don't scream abuse at people when I am relieved, but I can see how a person like Ronnie might. So, OK. I decided that it was a fortunate thing that I was going slowly and that the child had a parent nearby; and decided to let it go.
The New Problem
Nothing more happened. I half-expected Ronnie to show up at our house to tell me off for almost hitting his grandkid, but he didn't. After a few days, I guessed that he saw it for what it was: an accident that didn't happen. But yesterday when I was walking home from the mailbox, he was outside and very sweetly told me that he would like to speak with me about the incident and about the speeds that I was driving. About how we were so lucky that nothing happened, and how he wanted me to promise that I would be more careful and drive slower.
I let him have it.
I put my mail down on the ground, balled up my fists and told him that I would promise no such thing. That I was traveling extremely slowly, that his granddaughter came barreling out from behind a car, startled the heck out of me, and that I was offended at his screaming at me. That is was very fortunate that I was going as slowly as I was.
He was very surprised. He thought this was going to be an easy conversation, he said. (Why, Ronnie? Because I'm small, female, sweet-tempered? Easily pushed around?) I am not the person he thought I was. He tried telling me that I may have been going slowly this time, but that I drive past his house too fast all the time. I raise dust! (It's a dirt road. Why didn't you bring that up before today, Ronnie?) He has refrained from complaining in the past because he didn't want to seem too critical. (Because he is well known for his restraint.) My daughter drives too fast, too. (She doesn't know how to drive, yet, Ronnie.) Well, Chuck's daughter drives too fast. (She lives in LA. Hasn't been here in a year. What speed do you consider the right speed for this road, Ronnie?) He isn't sure. Just slow. (Uh-huh. Name your speed, Ronnie. Tell me the speed that you think is appropriate. Not sure? Take it to the Homeowners Association, Ronnie. Tell them that they need to post your preferred speed limit.) He didn't think that would be necessary. He just wanted to tell me to slow down. (Slower than what, Ronnie?) Just slow down! I told him that it is not OK to scream abuse at me; not OK to lecture me on preventing an accident that didn't happen because I was already doing the exact thing he was currently telling me I must do! I told him that I was not going to roll over and play dead.
He finally informed me that he had thought we were friends, but we were clearly not. From now on, he didn't see us having a civil relationship. He walked stiffly away.
I went home and balled my brains out. The confrontation was exhausting for me. And now, I feel stuck! I have not been in this type of situation before in my life. I no longer feel comfortable passing his house or meeting him face to face. I can't handle that kind of awkwardness. When I drive by and he is outside, what do I do? How can I possibly WALK past his house? He is often outside. I can't get to my mailbox and get the morning paper anymore. I told Chuck that, this and Marianne's upcoming sojourn as our neighbor has my at about the end of my rope. I don't want to run a gauntlet every time I go on a walk or visit the mailbox. He told me that he backed me up regarding standing up to Ronnie; but that he thought I was now allowing Ronnie too much control over me. Doesn't the bully win if he succeeds in making me that uncomfortable? Yes, of course; but I have no idea how to deal with that discomfort. I do think that it was better in the long run that I didn't accept his lecture and that I responded assertively. I have made my bed, though; and now I have to lie in it. Not sure how.