Woman A: A bike rider who has recently begun. She smiles at neighbors as she passes.
Woman B: A nice mom.
Man: Nice mom’s son.
* * *
Bike Rider: There’s this woman that I pass every morning while I ride my bike. By every morning, I mean the past 2 mornings. I always look directly at her, lift my fingers from the handlebar as a sort of wave hello. I’m too scared to raise an arm; it’s too soon. Anyway, and then I smile at her. And for the past two mornings, she has stared me straight in the eye and not so much as twitched a phony smile. It’s the oddest thing. I’ll try one more time tomorrow.
The Nice Mom: And that was the start of it. Six months of not being nice. When I woke up that morning 20 years ago, the very first thing I said to myself was, Don’t be so fucking nice. I was always too damn nice. So, I see her on her bike and I think to myself, Here’s your chance, good as any. Ready, set, don’t smile back.
It felt liberating being the villain. I didn’t have to do anything because I was “supposed to.” I had to be the hero everywhere else. Exhausting. No pay. It made me feel good, of course, being the hero; but I was tired of my face jumping into an automatic smile, or rushing to the aid of everyone. The second day I saw her, it got harder. The first day had the thrill, the second came with it the awareness- I’m being intentionally mean. Yes, it was mean. But back home, I had grown the unfortunate title of The Nice Mom…
Son: Some kid would say, “Let’s ask your mom. She’s the nice one.” And mom would always say yes. And she would stay in the house and watch us, feed us. I wanted her to say, “That boy is bad news. He’s not playing in this house.” But she never did. She was too nice. Invariably, I’d discover, in the morning, that some of my toys had gone missing.
Nice Mom: I envied Sue down the road. She told the kids no. All the time. For all types of lavish reasons like, ‘She wanted quiet’ or the more vague ‘She was reading.’ “I’m reading,” she’d say incredulously and loud enough for the whole street to hear. Sometimes, when further prodded, she’d stare her boy down, hand on hip, and say, “Now who’s the adult in this house?”
They’d tuck their tails in defeat and come marching toward my house. As I washed the dishes, I’d watch from my kitchen window, the action take place. And I’d always give in, somehow couldn’t help it.
Sometimes, I almost felt like he didn’t want them other boys at the house. Like, something in his eyes… but then I’d be running off next second to get this or that out of the oven/microwave/pot/garage. Or get everything into the house. Into the car. Into the school. They made it look so exciting and full of love in the car commercials. The moms were always running ragged with an arm full of stuff. The children, and sometimes teenagers, were always running carefree around the house and around her. She always smiled into the rearview mirror in the closing scene.
This felt worse. This made my shoulders ache. Made your hips tighter. It’s why moms seem to like yoga, I think. All those years, I could feel the tension continually creeping up. And I was afraid to be alone because, then what? And yet, I craved so badly to be alone. I didn’t understand what it meant.
So, every morning when I walked out of that house, I would tell myself, “I am not nice. I don’t give a damn.” I’d see her smile at me, but I wouldn’t smile back. She lasted 3 days. It was a mean small victory for me. Then, 20 minutes later, I’d get home and the real world would start, and I was back to way too nice all over again.
Son: Sometimes, I’d be embarrassed. My mom was like a servant. Not that there’s a thing wrong with serving, but it’s all she did. I would go to my friend’s houses and I’d see their moms as these scary and lively things. The had some power over their world, some control. My mom always seemed frantic. There was always laundry she’d forgotten in the dryer. Food she’d forgotten on the stove. There hardly seemed any time to talk to her, so I kind of stopped trying. The older I got, the less I stayed home. I think that I was trying to give her a little free time and see what she’d do with it. She was always talking about the things she wanted to do/learn/try. I wanted to see her do things. Or, at least, hear about it.
Nice Mom: It took me years to realize that Sue up the street wasn’t a lazy or careless mother. She was a mother who also loved herself and her own life and her own passions. It took me years to realize that I was 45 and hadn’t accomplished most of my dreams. The world seemed alive around me and I was there in the midst of this rushing stream of activity fighting to stay afloat. All I had to do was find my current and follow it to where I wanted to be. I made plans. A weekend trip. Alone. New York City. I’ve never looked back. Just wish I’d done it sooner. I was so young then. Had so much energy. It’s as they say, youth is wasted on the young.
Footnote: As many of you know, I’ve been riding my bike regularly recently. I ride every evening and I’m building up my mornings. On my maiden voyage one morning, I road past this woman who was walking, and I did just what my character did. And she did exactly what I described in the story. Nothing. The next day, same result. I smiled; she didn’t flinch. I know that she saw me, but as far as it concerned her, I didn’t exist. It really stuck with me, and I had been throughout the week, trying to make some sense of it. I planned to try once more, but I haven’t seen her since. Anyhow, this story is my mind’s attempt to give her a story, to give myself a reason. Out of her, this story grew.
I hope that it is written clearly and that the character rings true. Feedback is more than welcomed.
Do you know anyone like this character in your own life? Does she remind you of yourself? If someone in your neighborhood, work or school had to label you, what would it be?