Sunday, June 20, 2010

RetroMama Bear

(Alternate Title: The Bar Fight)

It's funny how everything makes sense afterward. Events that seemed a little "off" in the moment make total sense in the aftermath. And serve to remind me that everything happens the way it's supposed to.

On Friday afternoon, the Ex called me to tell me that the kidlet's cousins were over and he might not want to go to dinner at our usual Friday hangout. I responded that the kidlet really didn't have a choice since it was my night with him and I wanted to go to the usual Friday hangout. Plus, we had a photo shoot in the morning and I wanted to make sure we got home early and got a good night's sleep. I didn't want the photos to show the bags that had taken up residence under my eyes in the previous days.

I arrived at The Hangout and was not thrilled to find that our usual booth was taken. By three guys. I was hoping they were just about finished and maybe we could move from the booth one family had already chosen since ours was unavailable. That had happened a few weeks earlier and I could totally deal with that. I finally settled into the "other" booth as another family arrived. A few minutes later, the Ex and the kidlet joined us.

Each of our three families have one kid, each. The kidlet played with Lani, who is a year older. In fact, the reason why we've been meeting up at The Hangout for the last five years is because Lani and the kidlet went to school together. The dads met at a parent work day and when we happened to run into them at The Hangout one Friday night, we ended up sitting together. Henry is a super-friendly guy. The Ex calls him my Friday Night Boyfriend. His wife, Darby, has been a tougher nut to crack. It took me a year before I could even accept that she liked me. Or some semblance of liking me, at least. This is a family that has introduced us to other friends and we've all gone camping. (Henry was one of the ones who looked out for me during the New Years' debacle.)

Pedro, Shelly, and their daughter were the ones who'd arrived first on Friday. They were celebrating that their daughter was asking to use the potty. I finally settled in next to Pedro, across from Shelly. I had my back to the usual booth. Shelly kept making faces and I finally asked what was wrong. She said that the men in our booth were really rude and crude. A fourth had joined them and they were using really foul language and talking about things like blow jobs and such... Darby joked that they were wearing wedding bands and so she knew that none of them had actually received a blow job anytime recently.

Another dad, Bob, joined us. His wife and two daughters were elsewhere. A neighbor of Henry's arrived with his daughter somewhere during the evening as well. I put up with some good-natured ribbing over the fact that I was drinking my cherry Cokes, my usual Friday night fare. Now that I drive myself to The Hangout, I rarely drink any alcohol. Every other grownup at our table was drinking beer, except for Shelly, who had a couple of martinis.

After Shelly brought those guys to my attention, I started listening. Even three booths away, it wasn't hard to hear. Their waitress, Taylor, is 19. Henry (while old enough to be her father) has a crush on her. I have always found her a bit annoying, but whatever. I noticed the 4th guy (we'll call him Striped Shirt) talking to her and Taylor stepping away from the table. Turns out, he'd been hitting on her. Asking for a hug. She gave him one, but he kept asking for more and she had refused.

Striped Shirt kept going outside to have conversations on his cell phone and once when he walked back in, our waitress was leaning over our table, and Striped Shirt put on a big show for his friends, pantomiming hitting our waitress on the ass. From where I was sitting, I couldn't tell if he'd actually done it, but since her expression didn't change, I assumed he was just showing off for his friends. I was pretty disgusted by his frat boy behavior, but whatever.

Our table was kind of on alert, though, after another waitress had brought over something to that table. She asked if they needed anything else and Striped Shirt said, loudly, "Yeah, I ordered a hot blonde in a pink shirt". I turned back to Shelly and made a face. Blonde waitress is probably about 16. Maybe 17.

Henry said that he was going to go over there the next time Taylor was there and say "What time will you be home tonight, Taylor?" Either the drunken frat boys would think that was her dad or her boyfriend, but maybe they'd lay off since we were all in the same room.

That was about the time I realized that the kidlet was still wide awake and that I would have to take him home soon. I gave him a 15-minute warning.

As Taylor walked past us, Henry told her what he was planning. She said she appreciated the offer and she would let us know if she needed help. She said that Striped Shirt kept asking for hugs and that she felt uncomfortable, but that his friends had told him to knock it off, so it should be fine. Plus, maybe Striped Shirt had left, since he hadn't been there the last time she'd visited their table. She asked if we needed anything else and with impeccable timing, the Ex said, "Can I have a hug?" The entire table erupted with tension-reducing laughter.

Eventually, Bob's wife and daughters joined us. We had added a table to our booth and were were just having fun. I realized the 15 minutes I'd given the kidlet had long since passed when he climbed up into the empty booth behind me. I was half-turned to look at him and had a clear view of our booth with the drunken frat boys (in their 30s and 40s, I might add) were hanging out.

I saw Taylor step over the bench on which Striped Shirt had been sitting and lean over their table to start clearing away the remains of their Irish Car Bombs and I saw Striped Shirt walk in. Taylor had her back to me and Striped Shirt, and for some reason, I watched him approach. I didn't realize my hackles were already up when I saw him climb over that bench, trapping Taylor between him and the table. He grabbed her and began to thrust his pelvis against her, repeatedly.

I was half-out of the booth and yelled, "Hey! Get your fucking hands off of her!"

The kidlet started cracking up that I'd used "the f-word", and Darby said, "RetroMama, watch your language in front of the kids!"

I was shaking and said, "I'm sorry I used that word, but you didn't see what he did to Taylor!"

Striped Shirt's buddy got up, grabbed Striped Shirt, and told him to apologize. Striped Shirt asked Taylor if he'd made her uncomfortable. When she told him he had, he apologized to her and then turned back to me and yelled, "You don't have to yell at me like that!"

Still pissed off, I said, "Obviously I did if that's what it took to get you to stop and apologize!"

The rest of the incident is something of a blur. Henry was up, so was the Ex. All booths cleared, and there was a whole lot of testosterone in the room. I was still trapped in the booth, which is probably a good thing. I kept one hand on the kidlet, keeping him in the booth behind me. One of the frat boys said something about the parking lot being right outside, but luckily, it didn't come to that. At a lull, the Ex had gone to get the owner and said, "Either Striped Shirt leaves or we don't come back."

Striped Shirt was told to leave.

Taylor came by to thank us, and Darby was still harping on the fact that I'd dropped the f-bomb. I said, "Like I said, I'm sorry the kids heard me use that word, but I am NOT sorry that I stood up for the 19-year-old girl who was being assaulted 10 feet from us."

Darby got her stuff and took her daughter into the other room, and shaking, I asked the Ex to please walk me and the kidlet to my car. It was now a half-hour after I'd thought we would have left.

The Ex told me I'd done nothing wrong and bits of the blur started floating back into my consciousness. He'd claimed me as his wife to the frat boys. And he'd nearly gotten into a fight because of something I'd done.

I was actually pretty touched by that.

I used the incident as a powerful teaching tool for the kidlet. Told him about how it's never okay to touch someone who doesn't want to be touched. And how the right thing to do when you see someone doing something wrong is to speak up. At one point, he said that he wished his dad had actually hit Striped Shirt. I told him that while Striped Shirt had done something very bad, that it's a good thing Daddy hadn't hit anybody. I said, "When grownups start hitting, somebody goes to jail and we don't want Daddy going to jail."

My son came out of that evening proud of his parents. Knowing that his parents are brave enough to stand up for what's right. And that, yes. Every now and then, the f-word has its place.

Not like Lani. Who, apparently, told her mom, "I would have expected a teacher to have more self-control."

Wow. What a legacy Darby is leaving for her daughter. My response to Darby when she relayed that message was that I was just glad that her daughter hadn't witnessed what I had seen. Darby also said that I could have said something but that dropping that word at "first fire" was a bit much. I questioned, "Is it really first fire when Taylor had already told him she was uncomfortable?" Darby never responded to that.

It's been 48 hours since I went all Mama Bear on some drunken asshole who was feeling up a kid I don't even like. But I've reflected upon the situation and talked it out with a few different people.

I've learned a lot since what the Ex and I have now dubbed "the Bar Fight" (even though no punches were ever thrown. Because we are just that dorky)...

The Ex made the point that being a teacher is nearly irrelevant. In fact, as a teacher, I am responsible for keeping kids safe. And in those moments, Taylor was just a kid who was being harassed and she needed help to solve the problem.

Yes, there are a thousand other ways I might have handled it. And maybe it's because I've been sexually assaulted in the past that I went from zero to 100 in less than a second. At the end of the day, Striped Shirt stopped his behavior and he apologized to his victim.

I realized that Darby really doesn't think much of me as a person. For her to continue to harp on one word instead of what brought it on makes me realize that she must not like me very much.

And I realized that I honestly don't care. I think a couple of years ago that might have bothered me. But it really doesn't. Her opinion means very little to me.

I realized that The Ex has still got my back. He stood up for me when safety was at stake, putting himself in harm's way ("There were six of us and three of them. We could have taken them. I would have done it, but I really didn't want to get in a fight. I'm not in my 20s anymore. I didn't really want to take a punch!".) And even after I left, he never threw me under the bus. Never said that I had overreacted. Told me that Taylor told the owner the whole story and didn't downplay at all what Striped Shirt had done.

He even went back to The Hangout on Saturday with his dad and Pedro. Taylor was all smiley and happy to see them. And the owner didn't say a word about the previous night. The Ex thinks that the owner watched the tapes and the film corroborated the stories he'd gotten. When I realized it had been on film, I said, "Ooh, maybe Darby should watch! She can show Lani what a sexual predator looks like!"

The Ex made the point that nothing will change Darby's stance on that night.

I totally don't want to go to The Hangout on Friday. But I will. And I'll hold my head high. I will say nothing about what happened. Unless Darby brings it up. And I will say, "We're just going to have to agree to disagree on this. I've apologized that the kids heard me use that word. I regret nothing else about how I handled that situation."

::whispers:: I don't even regret using that word, though. Because I don't think anything else would have gotten his attention in that moment.

I'm a fucking hero to a 19-year-old girl who learned a valuable lesson that night. She was told by the owner that she needs to tell him right away when someone's harassing her. It's his job to stop that, not hers to deal with it.

And she knows that no harm will come to her when RetroMama's in town.


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