Saturday, December 1, 2012

How to Lose Friends and Alienate People

"Aw, this is pretty. I like pretty things," says an unsuspecting acquaintance,  seemingly oblivious to the awkwardness that awaits.

"You should see my house!" I respond, a little too eagerly.

"What’s in your house?"

"Well, my main room didn’t have the best lighting. So I had to install some bulbs, and so I put a big tree on the wall, with the lights in the tree, and the wires as vines running down the’s all very celtic and mystical, it’s really quite nice. And then there are clouds. And a dragon."

"...A dragon?"

"Yes, a dragon. And that’s the one wall. And then the other wall has an octopus, and jellyfish, and a sea urchin..."

"...I fear you."

"Oh, and on the other wall, there’s the explosion of the universe."

"...Dear god."

"It’s pretty! I made it out of shiny paper and bristol board."

"...Never speak to me again."

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Skytrain Single Mom

When I walk into the skytrain station, I see a small, dark person, and a tiny, blond child. The child is maybe three but still with the stature of a toddler no more than two, and the larger figure is hitting him or her across the face - slap, slap, slap. After the fourth slap, the little child cries out in a defensive wail.

I want to intervene, but I remembering living in Thailand, where babies and children are slapped, not spanked. I cringe, because cross-cultural interventions scare me, and because I don’t know how to tell someone that it’s not okay to beat a child. Walking away, I see that the person I thought to be an adult is an older child. A sibling. I try and relax. I hit my sister all the time. She turned out okay. Suddenly the mother appears, whacking the older girl upside the head and grabbing her arm in tow.

On the train, they take up three rows, each alone alongside their luggage.

Crossing over the Fraser River, the the mother turns to her older daughter, “I thought you said the train went under the water.”

The girl looks around, and then turns, thoughtfully, “no, the other water, on Granville, that’s where the train goes under the water.”

“Well, the train just went over the water.”

“No, mom,” the daughter explains, with pauses and gestures, about how she hadn’t been thinking about the Fraser River, which we’d just passed over, but about False Creek, a part of the ocean, under which the tracks would later pass. The mother bristles defensively, and explains that, well, she just thought, cause she saw we’d passed over the water, that maybe she was wrong...

I think of my coworker, who grew up abused, and smoked crack in the bathroom while her tiny children sat on the other side of the door and cried. Her children are teenagers now, and she tries with all of her being to be the parent she never had, but barks defensively whenever she feels threatened, which is often. I think of how lonely it must be, just wanting to love and be loved, but to alienate everyone by oozing anger and hurt from every pore.

I think of the older daughter, and how adult she seems, and I wonder if she’s even ten. She has the weight of adult responsibility all over her face.

The mother is checking the map, and checking the signs. The mother and daughter argue over which stop is which. A food bank is mentioned. The tiny child makes eyes at me - giant, saucery eyes. He says something which comes out “bla wa wa wa wa” in perfect monotone. I smile and make my mouth big. He repeats his cryptic sentence, then turns away.

After yet another trip to the map, and discussion of stops, then worried glances to see what station we’re at, I decide to intervene.

“Which stop are you getting off at?” I ask, and the mother and daughters turn, a bit taken aback.

“The man said, Broadway City Hall.” The mother says, regaining composure.

“Okay. That’s the next stop. This is King Edward, and then the one after that is Broadway City Hall. But you have a few minutes - the stops aren’t too close together.”

The daughter is grabbing bags, and then returning to her seat, and then grabbing bags again. They discuss where to catch the 99 bus.

“Don’t worry,” I say, again interrupting, “the bus stop is right outside of the station. Just right out front. You can’t miss it.”

“Thank you.” The mother looks at me, and then at her daughter, and back again. “I don’t like traveling at night.” I nod. “I rely a lot on her. I don’t like to rely on her, but...”

“Yeah, but it’s nice to have a buddy. I hate transit - especially when you don’t know the route too well. It took me months to get comfortable.”

At this, the small child is up again, looking at me, and meaningfully telling me something that I cannot understand.

“Oh, he says, we were on the ferry, up top.”

“Oh!” I reply, suddenly understanding, and feeling terribly guilty. “On the ferry! Did you like it?”

“We were on a truck and then a ferry up top something something Grandma.”

“Wow! And now you’re gonna go on a bus!”

At this he smiles, and then shakes his head dramatically, at which his mother laughs. The older girl is standing next to me in the aisle, lugging a suitcase with a blond-haired doll on top.

“We’re going to my grandma’s. This is her doll. It’s an old doll.”

“Oh, it’s beautiful. Is it porcelain?”


“It’s really nice.”

The troop departs. The tiny child is competently lugging a suitcase in the wrong direction, and is yelled at, then trots back to his mother and sister at the elevator. The mother smiles and waves at me, and I wave back. Ten seconds later, the girl turns and sees me and waves, and I wave back, and the skytrain pulls away.