There I was, plastic shopping basket resting in the crook of my arm, with nothing on my mind other than which chocolate bar I could purchase and then immediately consume. I was at the end of the aisle directly across from the customer service counter at my local Whole Foods. I was in introvert mode, get in and get out with as little human contact as possible.
Head down, intently studying my many sugary options, I began to hear a loud voice. At first the words were indistinguishable. The emotion was clear. I am fucking mad and I’m not going to take it anymore! Directly after each wave of garbled vitriol was a clear and calm apology. I’m so sorry ma’am. My apologies. Perhaps I didn’t hear you. Likely an employee that couldn’t fire back even though I’m sure he wanted to.
I couldn’t be bothered. I didn’t want to hear. I certainly was not going to look up. Get in and get out with as little human contact as possible, remember? Then the voice, so large and furious, spat out a comment that I could not ignore. I said I was paying with a debit card! What are you, stupid?! I looked up and watched as everyone around her did exactly nothing to keep her from berating a perfectly congenial and probably completely innocent man.
I can’t tell you what compelled me to move towards the verbal melee but my feet were carrying me in that direction before my head could figure out why I was or if I should be doing it. The woman was about my height and weight, her hair pulled back in a taut ponytail. Had her hair been a bed you could have bounced a quarter off it. She was so engrossed in dressing down the cashier she didn’t seem to notice me sidling up to her.
I quietly said, “Excuse me, is this really necessary?” And with that, the kraken was released. From both of us.
Yes it is necessary and this is none of your fucking business!
You could barely slide a sheet of paper between our noses. She leaned her body into mine in what I could only imagine was an effort at intimidation. Unlike the cashier, who had a job to protect, I had a little more leeway with my retort.
Now, I’ve got a mouth on me but don’t have the fists to back it up. I have the fighting style of two safety patrols vying for the affection of the elementary aged boy who thinks pi jokes are hilarious. It’s lots of arm flailing and wincing. Before I could even consider my own physical ability and safety, I leaned further in and shouted, “Yes, it is my business because everyone in the fucking store can hear you!”
I had a brief moment of regret as a vision of her socking me in the mouth with her balled up fist flashed before my eyes. Not only did she not hit me, she took a half step back when I stepped in. As is usually the case with loudmouths, her bark was worse than her bite. I don’t remember much of what was said during our exchange that carried on for less than 30 seconds, but the fucks flew far and wide. Realizing that I had tangled myself into a live version of the comments section of a political internet post, I walked away letting a curt fuck off trail behind me.
I returned to the chocolate bars, my heart racing so fast I could hear every beat in my ears, grabbed what looked good and headed out to finish my shopping. I can’t say I “won” our little argument, but I at least managed to suffocate her argument with the cashier. He was now on the phone to management asking for assistance. With only our backs to look at, she now had no one to yell at, no one to diminish, no one to take her shit. She stood quietly waiting to have her items rung up.
You should know, that isn’t me. Well, that wasn’t me. I was always a nice girl, never one to want to make waves, always trying to smooth over any rough edges. Forever saying please and thank you and apologizing for my very existence. Always more interested in your comfort, never my own. I didn’t want to be a bother. Then came the tumor.
Now, the tumor didn’t automatically take my nice away. It took time. Years, in fact. I was pleasant and agreeable when my first oncologist said I needed surgery. I didn’t talk back when he suggested I could be like his other patients that endured years of Tamoxifen without complaining like I was. When he flippantly asked why I hadn’t been able to walk on my own yet just a month after my surgery I gave him a polite chuckle with my shoulder shrug.
I had not fully shed my need for nice then, but there were hints at the fire growing in my belly. There was the time I told the hotshot med student, a surgical intern who could have easily played the antagonist with a popped collar in any John Hughes flick, to fuck off when he returned my refusal to walk the day of my surgery with a smug, what else are you going to do today, lay around? And I did turn down the offer of a second surgery the first time it was suggested, but I shudder to think of how close I came to relenting the second time.
To this day I’m still convinced he would have eventually taken my leg had I consented to that second surgery and kept him as my doc, all because I was too nice to challenge his medical acumen.
It may have been a guilty conscience that made him send me in the direction of the specialist that successfully treated my tumor, it may have been divine providence. There is no question, though, what the reason is for why I have not yet settled and will never settle for just any old oncologist. The hardest lessons are the greatest lessons, the ones that take you where you’re supposed to be even when you think you’re not ready to go.
Please and thank you have not left me. Kindness is a different animal. Kind asserts, nice surrenders. Kind is an offer, nice is capitulation. While I may still be kind, I am no longer nice. I am more harsh. I speak my mind. I appreciate the beauty of rough edges. I will go toe to toe with you. When I am done, we are through. I won’t look back. I can’t. Nice doesn’t live here anymore.
I was nice, then came the tumor. Then came the lessons, tough ones that I thought might break me. I was nice, but life had other plans for me. I was nice, but that was taken from me before I knew I was ready to see it go. Nice was ripped from my left hip a few years ago. The hardest lessons are indeed the greatest lessons and they have given me a priceless education. I was nice. I’m not anymore and I have the scars to prove it.
*Featured image courtesy of Pixabay.