Andrea dusted off her walking shoes and tugged them on, then bolted for the door with enthusiasm. Her watch showed 6:15 p.m. Behind schedule already! She planned for a perfect day today, no matter what tried to get in her way. Well, technically a perfect half-day since it was already the evening. Better late than never though.
Andrea cautiously placed her phone on the counter, locked the front door behind her, then rushed back inside, rethinking the idea to leave the phone behind.
I can do this, she told herself, taking a deep breath, just as she had been practicing. I don’t need my phone right now. Today is about getting outside, staying calm, and taking a break from all responsibilities.
With her chin held high, Andrea sauntered out of her building with her tote bag stuffed with a healthy snack, a water bottle, and yoga clothes to get her through this relaxing evening ahead of her. The phone remained on the kitchen counter.
A dazzling sunset of vibrant magenta and violet clouds streaked the sky ahead of her, but she focused on how busy the park was. She searched for an empty bench but they all appeared to be taken. Why are so many people out right now? she thought with a grumble when she realized her vision of how this evening would start (relaxing on a bench in the quiet, gazing at the small lake in the middle of the park) was not going to be the reality.
She thought of her therapist reminding her of how things rarely go as we expect them to, and how much it would help Andrea to meet those challenges with curiosity rather than frustration.
Okay, I’ll do my best to be curious about sharing a bench and listening to all these kids running around yelling at each other, she thought, while assessing the bench situation. She decided the one with a woman on the end and a girl (likely her daughter) in the middle might be the best option. They seemed quiet and there was enough space for Andrea to take the other end.
She glided down into the seat and widened her mouth at the two next to her in a strained version of a smile. She took a deep breath and stared at the lake, willing it to relax her. Stress free, no matter what, she reminded herself.
Andrea grabbed a baby carrot and popped it into her mouth, relishing the satisfying crunch. Her nutritionist would be so proud! This week would be the official start of her new diet and she thought she’d get it off to a running start with healthy snacks on her day off. Then a yoga class in the studio on the other side of the park would give her the exercise she needed without the intensity of what she normally did in the gym.
Suddenly, the girl next to her grabbed one of the carrots from the bag and bit off half of it with her small child’s mouth. Andrea sat up straighter in surprise. Surrounding her, birds were chirping at each other in delight across the blossoming trees, but she couldn’t hear a thing as her heart began to pound in her chest. What is happening? Do kids just get free access to adults’ food now? Why was her mother not scolding her for stealing?
Andrea glared at the child, but the girl seemed oblivious. She then took two carrots out of the bag with some force, asserting herself as the powerful adult in this situation. She let the crunching sounds echo across the park as she chewed with her mouth open. Then, slightly embarrassed about being so improper, Andrea snapped her mouth shut and continued eating the carrots. The girl reached into the bag and grabbed another one. How dare she! Andrea responded by grabbing three carrots this time. Surely this disrespectful girl wasn’t going to get the majority of her healthy snack. She leaned forward slightly to see if the mother witnessed the rude behavior. Their eyes met briefly and the woman smiled with a slight blush, then turned back to face the lake. Meanwhile, the girl stole a third carrot! She looked down and giggled. Was that supposed to be a threat? Was she testing her? Andrea became too flustered to continue this game and snatched the whole bag up from the bench. The girl’s eyebrows jumped toward her hairline as her eyes widened in shock. Rather than cause a scene by yelling at the girl and her mother, Andrea sprang up from the bench and hustled away from them. Apparently she needed to be on the move to eat in peace.
Andrea headed to the sidewalk leading to the yoga studio on the other side of the park, devouring the rest of the bag of carrots. She thought there might be an earlier class she could join. Cutting this evening a little short made sense when she couldn’t avoid being harassed by children in the park.
As she approached the dark glass of the studio a feeling of dread washed over her. She forgot her yoga mat! She had the clothing in her bag, but in her rush to leave home she left her mat leaned against the wall behind her front door. Her jaw clenched and scolded herself for being so forgetful. At work she’s known for being the one who’s always prepared and brings backups for colleagues who are likely to forget their meeting materials.
She couldn’t deal with the embarrassment of walking into a yoga studio without a mat, so Andrea resigned herself to another failure for the day. She really thought things would work out today and had imagined the next conversation with her therapist, detailing the joys of her day off and how relaxing it was. Unfortunately today just didn’t work out. She’d have to try again another time. She turned around without noticing the shelf of extra yoga mats and sanitizing spray inside the studio.
She decided to take the shortcut back to her building, rather than the sidewalk skirting the edge of the park again. In her determination to get home and be done with this awful day as quickly as possible, she marched right past an “Off-leash area - watch your step!” sign without regard. About half way across the grassy stretch, her heel slipped and she fell flat on her back with a flourish. The smell greeting her nose made it clear what she stepped in and what now covered her left shoe. It took everything in her to hold back screams at the nearby dog owners about picking up after their dogs. She wanted to just get home and get into a bath. These shoes were pretty much ready to be thrown out anyway.
Andrea pulled herself up and brushed the grass off her pants with as much grace as she could muster and continued her stomp back home. This time she paid careful attention to the grass ahead of her before each step.
When she got to the side of her building she yanked off each shoe and threw them into the dumpster, with two satisfying bangs of old cloth and rubber against metal siding.
She entered the building through the back so the front desk lady wouldn’t see her coming in with just socks and a look of defeat.
Andrea pushed open her door and flopped onto the couch with a sigh of exhaustion. She reached for her bag to get her water bottle. Her slight touch made the bag topple over itself, falling over the edge of the couch onto the floor. When she picked it up she saw her unopened bag of organic baby carrots tumble out in front of her.
*This story was inspired by the poem “The Cookie Thief” by Valerie Cox.