This is the street in front of my house. That’s my wood fence. My gravel driveway. One time I was out jogging and a pickup truck drove by and the old man behind the wheel yelled “Get your fat ass off the road!”
It was the middle of the day and I was almost back to my house after running three miles. And I wasn’t fat–at all. The loud yell startled me. Cars always drive around. Some wave. Some give you a thumbs up for exercising.
The truck turned and drove up the street across from mine, a cul-de-sac. That meant the old man was one of my neighbors.
I was really surprised that one of my neighbors would yell that at me. I had run on the streets miles and miles every day, for years.
Worse, this guy had probably driven by me a few times. What have I done to make him yell at me? Look at the picture. There are no sidewalks. I can’t really run the grass because there really isn’t any of that either. But more importantly, in Florida, pedestrians have the right of way 100% of the time. But that’s my logical brain talking. It didn’t stick around long.
But like I said I was almost back to my house. I was all sweaty and everything else, my running shorts my running shoes my T-shirt drenched with sweat. But I was so pissed that he did that. The more I thought about it, the angrier I got. That he thought I was a stranger and that he was such an asshole he would tell a stranger to get off the road.
To what? To not inconvenience his big black truck?
I got to my house walked straight to the drawer where I keep my car keys, pulled them out and walk right back out to my car. I got in and fired up the engine, probably squealed the wheels pulling out of the garage, and drove right over to his house.
The whole time, I’m thinking asshole, asshole, asshole.
That’s the thing. This was my neighbor. This was somebody who lives basically across the street from me calling me names. No. No way.
I think I slammed on the brakes pulling into his driveway to make a screech but it didn’t make any noise. I threw open the car door and stormed up the walk. I walked up to the door and rang the bell. His truck was in the driveway so I knew I had the right place.
And I hesitated for a microsecond before I rang the bell, but I thought, you know what? I’m already here. I’m gonna confront this asshole.
I pushed the button and heard the doorbell chime.
In those few seconds, I remember my heart was pounding. Really thumping in my chest and throat. Not from running anymore, it was pounding way harder from pure adrenaline. And my thoughts were like, I shouldn’t be doing this. What am I doing? What if he–an old man, basically, gray haired and maybe 50 or 60 years old, but not anything close to frail—comes out kicks my ass? Because I can’t really punch an old man, can I?
I was flinging my hands like I was trying to get water off them. Sweat was dripping off my forehead. I was kind of stepping from one foot to the other, still in my soaked running gear. And I was breathing hard, but I decided since I’d been running that was okay.
And my chest was pounding. Pounding. I could feel it in my ears, and my brain was buzzing a little.
He opened the door and for a half an instant, he was surprised. Like he didn’t know why a sweaty runner was at his door. But his face went from confused to certain, quickly. I put my thumb in my chest and then pointed at him and I said “You wanna tell me to get my fat ass off the road now? Now that you’re not in you big black truck? I’m your neighbor, I’m not afraid of you. I’m not afraid of you!”
He was hot and he was aggressive. He said something about do you know how dangerous it is to run on these streets. I said don’t you try to fucking lecture me about road hazard when you’re the only hazard I ran into out there. I run every day. You don’t do that to your neighbors!
I remember his wife, standing behind him in the living room, hand to her mouth. She was scared. Afraid of what I would do? Or afraid of what he would do?
I also remember this. After me yelling at him in front of his wife, and basically letting him know it wasn’t just a never-to-be-seen-again-stranger he’d been a jerk to but somebody who now knew where he lived and wasn’t afraid to come to his house and confront him… well… that was the extent of my plan. Confront him. He was supposed to apologize or something. I was supposed to win.
But he had enough and turned the tables on me. “What are you gonna do about it?”
I wish I’d had a great answer. I didn’t. I was kind of surprised he said that. But at that point the tables were turned. The asshole was the asshole again. And I realized there were two assholes. One who said something stupid and one who showed up at the other’s house. If he wasn’t way, way, way older than me, maybe something bad would have happened.
What are you gonna do about it?
I gave him an answer. The only thing I could think of. “I don’t know. Maybe call the sheriff.”
I’m sure he sneered at that. I apologized to his wife. “I’m sorry ma’am. I’m sorry you have to live with an asshole like this guy.”
In my heart, I was certain he secretly beat her.
Ten minutes later, I had a great answer. A tough guy answer. Let’s find out. Do it again. I drove to your house this time. What the fuck do you think I’ll do next time?
Either way, I knew I would be leaving without throwing a punch or receiving a punch. I was pretty sure about that. I didn’t really win but I didn’t lose–and I made him uncomfortable in his own house. I think. I hope.
But in those moments, it was not all adrenaline. On the road after he drove past me, I wasn’t out of control. In the house, in the car, at the door, there was no uncontrollable rage.
It was a completely controllable decision that I decided to go ahead and just go a little beyond myself that day. It was an intense, heart-poundingly clear focus happening in slow motion. When you do that, you’re scared. Definitely scared. But you’ve decided not today. Not fucking today.
Doesn’t matter that I think this is a mistake. I’m doing it because not doing it is worse.
I shake my head at it now. I’m not afraid of you! Like I was broadcasting just how afraid I was.
But when I think of a moment when I felt I had to act, that if I didn’t, he owned me. I’d never be safe on my own street again… No, I’d be safe. Crime wouldn’t go up. But I wouldn’t be comfortable. And on your own street you should be comfortable. I had a wife I wanted to respect me. And even if she didn’t know, I’d know. She was married to a guy who would be bullied on his own street.
I didn’t like how that made me feel, that I could, as an adult, be made to feel that way.
I had to act.