Parking lot scuffle over nothing (or everything depending on your POV)

One of the first things I learned as a writer is that if you have three ways of telling the same story, you have three stories but if you have one way of telling three different stories, you have only one story. I’ve just gotten back from grocery shopping and what strikes me, right now, is how many different stories just happened at once in the parking lot. They all involve one guy trying to get something (or someone?) out of his SUV, one guy trying to get home, and a smashed side-view mirror.

It’s easy to make myself look like the good guy here:

I’m coming up to my car with my bag of groceries. The other guy has parked his SUV rather close to mine. (That space was empty when I went into the grocery store and I’d actually readjusted my parking to center myself in my own space. I remember because I had to watch out for a pedestrian.) He has a rear door partially open. It’s clearly not open far enough to do whatever he needs to do and it can’t open any further without hitting my car.

He closes the door a bit as I walk up. I interpret this as, “Hey, you get out of my way and things will be easier for me.” Unfortunately, I was wrong. By the time he’s ordered me to wait for him, I’ve already opened my door.

He says, “You just couldn’t wait, could you?” His tone is pointedly light and his face is a pale mask locked into a jovial smile. These things trigger my flight response. (Sorry, I was picked on a lot as a kid.)

I don’t answer him. In part, there is no good answer. If I’m being impatient by not waiting for him, he’s also impatient by not waiting for me to get out of his way so that he has room to do whatever he’s not able to do because my car is in his way. In part, I really don’t want to be yelled at by someone who’s about to go from passive-aggressive to aggressive. So, I get into my car then shut the door.

He knocks on my window. I start up my car. He pounds on my window. I take the car out of park. His face has dropped the smile settling for something more serious. I’m doing my best neutral expression and body language just working through the motions of getting ready to leave. For some reason, I feel like if I disengage and present myself as Not A Threat, nothing bad will happen. He pounds on my window a few more times then smashes my side-view mirror. I pull the car away.

(Note: Like many cars, mine has side-view mirrors that are designed to collapse under force. He didn’t break the glass so he didn’t actually damage my car. The side-view mirror housing popped back into place. After I readjusted the mirror, everything was as good as new.)

Now, it’s just as easy to make myself look like the bad guy:

After all, I couldn’t be bothered to wait for him. I didn’t even bother to find out why his passenger side door was open in the first place. Even though he told me to wait, I went into my car anyway. Once I was in the car, I paid absolutely no attention to him no matter how hard he knocked on my window. I made him so frustrated with me that I clearly had the smashed side-view mirror coming to me. If only I’d just done what he wanted in the first place, none of this would have happened.

Ok, that last paragraph would have been more effective if I’d fabricated motivations and emotional through line for a hypothetical him the way that the first version makes clear my own motivations and emotional through line. I’m sure the real him actually has them. I just don’t know what they are. Under the circumstances, I didn’t exactly want to interview him about what he was thinking and how he was feeling. E.g., one could tug at the heart strings by talking about a hypothetical handicapped child whom he was trying to get out of his SUV. Perhaps he was already frustrated because my car was so close to his SUV and my actual presence was just one thing too many.

The point is that it’s absolutely possible to tell the same sequence of events in a way that makes him the guy who is dumped on for no reason. In the right context, everything he does right down to smashing in my side-view mirror can appear completely justified. I should point out that if I had chosen to engage with him, he might have explained to me why it would have been better for him to do whatever he needed to do first rather than me getting out of his way.

Now, do I feel bad about what happened? Sure. I feel bad that he feels bad. Life is too short to go around making other people feel about, even if it’s unintentional.

On the other hand, what does he feel bad about? That he didn’t get a chance to tell me how frustrated he was? That I left before he could do what wanted to do? That I didn’t do what he wanted?

 
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