A few weeks ago, I was shopping at a venerable supermarket on New York’s Upper West Side when a woman appeared out of nowhere, stood in front of my son’s car seat, next to the fruit and vegetable section, and looked at us. above his mask, stamped with Harry Potter motifs. Actually, I had already noticed her a few minutes before, a block away; She had pulled away on the empty sidewalk with a caution that seemed exaggerated to me, as she glared at us. Not that it was unusual behavior; after all, the nerves were on the surface and this particular supermarket, even when everything is going well, has been the scene of many confrontations, arguments and fights.
Certain residents of New York, and certainly the Upper West Side, have earned a certain reputation as neurotics or whatever you want to call those sensitive people, and somewhat exaggerated, portrayed with humor in series, movies and novels. This pandemic year has put us to the test. But when I saw how that woman from the supermarket looked at us, my soul fell to my feet.
I was sick of not having dealings with other people other than to convey dissatisfaction. I missed shouting greetings to people I know, exchanging compliments with strangers, congratulating someone elegant on their attire — what one friend called “the community of those other women you dress for”. Sometimes, in these past months, I made an effort: at one point I acquired the habit of shouting “How are you?” to passersby, but my forceful question, and the inevitable expressions of fear and alarm from the people to whom it was addressed, turned out to be too much for me.
I remember when I was pregnant, I worried about not knowing what to say when people felt hopelessly forced to say how rich my baby was. Even when I was the one congratulating other parents, those conversations had always seemed oddly awkward. Even though the boy was indeed cute, I was worried about appearing insincere. And any reaction from the parent seemed strange and inappropriate: a proud “thank you”? A strange evasion, such as “it’s a delight” or “I think we’re going to keep it” or “sometimes it’s not bad to have it”? These were the doubts and concerns that assailed me in February of last year. Before the pandemic. Then came March and at the beginning of April I gave birth in a Manhattan hospital in the middle of the first wave of covid-19.
Now, months later, in the supermarket, I instinctively pulled away and prepared myself for an unpleasant scene: a reprimand for taking the child out of the house, or because an 11-month-old baby was not wearing a mask, or for having messed with the chair in the supermarket , or because the jumpsuit my son was wearing wasn’t warm enough, or just an incoherent outburst of anger. I had been the target of all those things in this time and, like everyone else, I vacillated between hearing them as someone who hears rain or accepting them as something that I deserved.
Then the woman spoke.
“He looks like his name is Brian!” She exclaimed, pointing an accusing finger at the boy, who looked at her unfriendly from the depths of his cheerful blue polar jumpsuit.
“Excuse me?” I said blankly. In my catalog of possible misdeeds, this one did not even appear in the top ten.
“Brian !!!” he said again with impertinent clarity. “Is his name Brian?”
I was surprised. Of course it wasn’t called that! Coincidentally, Brian is the second name that I hate the most, because I relate it to a boy who went to my kindergarten and who spent his time spouting tacos and names of fancy cars.
“No, sorry,” I replied, raising my voice so that he could hear me through several layers of faux Liberty print cotton. “It’s not called that.” He is named after his great-grandfather. His name is Harold. We call him Hal.
I waited for him to smile, to praise the name, albeit lip service, to soften the encounter.
Instead, the woman was visibly disappointed.
“Wow,” he said. “Well, go well.” And he left.
The absurdity of the conversation encouraged me for the next hour, during the shopping and as I walked the 800 meters that separated me from home, with the child babbling most of the way. Upon arriving at our building, a man from the elevator yelled at me “Wait for the next one, please !!!”, even though I did not intend to enter with him. “I wasn’t going in !!!” I yelled at him, as the doors closed.
At home, I put the boy to sleep for a nap and looked for the Brian with whom I had gone to kindergarten. I hadn’t seen him since we were five years old, but for some reason we were friends on Instagram. It turned out that he was now an experienced corporate law attorney, “specializing in negotiations, risk management, business planning, imports and administration.” Apparently he was married and had two children. I liked several of his family photos. “How cute!” I wrote under one of them, and added a emoji with hearts in their eyes.
Sadie Stein She is a critic and essayist.
Translation of María Luisa Rodríguez Tapia.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.