Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Add That To The List Marked "Life Experiences"

I was shopping for food last night, when I was punched by a crazy lady.

It was so astoundingly unexpected that I just stood there in complete shock. I was grabbing something down from the shelf in my local IGA (small supermarket) when I heard a noise behind me. At first I thought something had fallen off a shelf, so I just glaced around to see what it was. There was a woman about 4 paces away, and once I realised that's probably where the noise came from, I turned back around to finish what I was doing. It really was just a glance, not me shooting her The Look (the one that can stop small children and full steam locomotives in their tracks).

A second later she bumps into me, and then follows it with the hardest punch she can land right between my shoulder blades. She then followed that up by saying, as sarcastically as she can deliver, "Oh, sorry mate. Sorry I bumped into ya." I asked her "What the fuck was that for?", and her response was "Mind your own business. Now piss off!"

So many thoughts tap danced in steel capped boots through my head in the next second. That she's crazy. That I could probably hurt her real bad if I wanted to. That I wonder if this supermarket (normally staffed by 2 indifferent cashiers) has such thing as 'Security'? Why me? etc etc.

But then in the next second I thought about what it must be like inside her head. What must it be like to be walking such a tightrope, to have such an incredible hairtrigger temper? Was she high? Was she actually nuts, or just pissed at me for somethig maybe I didn't realise I had done? What must it be like to live a life where your own reactions are so outside the norm, as to make people look at you and label you "crazy"? Unhinged. From a Buddhist point of view, I was really interested in what story had she told herself to make her label me "enemy" in that split second? Someone punch-worthy.

Short answer, I walked away and went and bought my stuff. Yes I was furious, and a small part of me still considered the option of smacking her back from one side of the aisle to the other, but I decided to swallow my own ego reaction and not escalate the situation. I was tense, and trepidatious that she wasn't going too make some further scene for the minute or two I stayed in the store.

I thought about it a lot on the way home, still kind of reeling from being on the recieving end of someone's unexpected anger. I thought a lot about how I reacted, how I labelled her as "crazy" straight away. If I had actually shot her a judgemental look, then I would have still been shocked at her reaction but it would have felt a bit more understandable, I guess. I don't know. Ultimately we can only guess at what goes on in each other's internal landscapes, and reactions are not always what you expect.

16 comments:

freakgirl said...

That's so bizarre. Good for you for keeping your cool. I don't know what I would have done.

M-H said...

Ohhh... something in the stars? Just a few kilometres away in Leichhardt, I had a crazy lady in the hallway of my house last night. I'd seen her walking to the door of the house opposite earlier - I was puttering round the front and I'd left the screen door unlocked while I was in the house for a few minutes. When I came back to the hallway there she was. I chased her out and she claimed to be looking for some people [insert madeup names here]. I said (with The Look attached) that I knew everyone in the street, that we all knew each other, and that we keep an eye on each other's houses (it's a little blind street). She took off up the street at a run. Let's hope she doesn't return.

Sunshine said...

I think you did the right thing. Why perpetuate the negative energy? But it must have been befuddling to have that happened to you. :S

Mikey (The Lovely Ex) said...

Sounds very unsettling. Only last week (or the week before?) one of the junior lawyers at work was pushed over by a man (clearly struggling under NSW's rubbish mental outpatient program...) on a busy CBD street Happily for her, a passing motorist stopped his car and checked if she was OK. She was but she, too, was pretty shaken. I guess none of us like reminders of the random and irrational violence which is part of our society. Tell me when you want to go and see "Holding the Man" (check your work email) and we can remind ourselves that there is love, too, in the world.

The Other Andrew said...

M-H, friends of mine had that happen in their place in Redfern. A couple wandering around who when challenged said they called out "anyone home?" but hadn't had an answer, and came in to use thr phone. When challenged they fled too. I always lock my screen door for that reason!

Freakgirl, Sunshine, thanks. It was unsettling but I'm glad it didn't escalate.

Mikey, that's bizarre too. It makes me wonder what sets these people off... (I replied to your email)

morgan said...

Sounds like a horrible experience. I've seen something similar happen on Liverpool Street in the CBD. And my cousin's wife had something similar happen to her in a London train station a couple of years ago - the guy knocked several teeth out.

I think it says a lot for the poor quality of mental health services in both places.

You're going to see Holding the Man, btw? Have been wanting to see that myself...

The Other Andrew said...

It's kind of scary, not least because it's such an unpredictable situation. You think you understand how people behave and then suddenly all bets are off.

(I'll email Mikey if you're interested in seeing it, he's organising tickets.)

M-H said...

She said she'd knocked... but I have both an electric doorbell and an old ship's bell at the front door so that didn't hold water. I think the unpredictability is the worst bit - I kept out of her reach - but it's the suddenness and feeling of lack of control that's scarey too. Right on about the quality of mental health and drug facilities in NSW. And definitely locking the screen door from now on.

Michael Guy said...

If these are the folks out wandering loose it makes one ponder the criteria for getting locked up in the snake pit.

:: looks smashing in an institutional wrap dress cut on the bias ::

I do think it was wise to ignore the situation. Why jeopardize one's safety in challenging lunatic antics?

Tyson said...

I have found myself in a couple of weird positions where some guys have tried to start fights with me or mug me. I am so puzzled by how people can accept violence so easily when so much as a shove is so disgusting and vulgar in my mind.

I don't retaliate and I can't imagine ever being that angry or confused that I might think violence of any degree is the answer.

Ur-spo said...

i too like to think a person is 'crazy' when something like this happens; as it beats the notion they are intentionally being evil.

Q - 60's girl said...

Wow i didn't know this had happened to you. Sure she is crazy. Sometimes we get hit by the brain injured people at work. Sometimes it is difficult to differentiate whether they even mean it intentionally. Many have rather volatile social backgrounds. Sometimes even when you are able to offer a rationale for the situation it still leaves you shook up, of course. I am at the point where although we can often manage to avoid or diffuse, if it happens again i am leaving.

James said...

This happened to me once on the corner of Devonshire & Elizabeth Streets: a bloke just punched me for no reason. I presume there was a mental health issue that may have influenced his actions.

worldpeace and a speedboat said...

oooh I'm glad you're well, TOA.

also glad you didn't retaliate, but I know it takes so much effort to do the right thing, instead of going for the gut reaction.

totally agree with everyone on the "Let's Make The Streets Our National Mental Institute" front. it's desperately sad that there is no place for these people to live their lives with even a shred of dignity. they're a danger to themselves and others. it doesn't have to be this way. but it would just cost the Government way too much to do the right thing, wouldn't it? it's just far too much effort.

I feel so sorry for people who slip through the cracks. it makes you appreciate your friends and family even more.


btw, how was Holding the Man? I read the book about 92483529 years ago and only just found out it was made into a movie. lovely book.

The Other Andrew said...

Speedy, Holding The Man is a play based on the book, not a movie - and the earliest booking we could get is late December. Popular! I'll let you know what I think when I see it.

worldpeace and a speedboat said...

ah, yes, I meant play... sigh. actually I did, I read a review of it in the herald a couple of weeks ago. the guy playing Conigrave especially got a good wrap. it sounds like an adaptation well done.