I’ve always fancied myself an easygoing person. Most everyone who knows me agrees that I am one of those people who just sort of rolls with the punches and doesn’t let trivial matters get under my skin. I learned a long time ago that life is too short to spend your time feeling angry or frustrated by things you cannot change. Life is a series of circumstances, and our success is determined, not my always being triumphant in the face of adversity, but by learning the lessons that life teaches and becoming more compassionate and humble human beings in the process.
But if there is one thing that truly sticks like a thorn in my side, it is the way people can treat each other so badly. As humans, we have an endless capacity for both incredible kindness and unimaginable cruelty. Sometimes it’s as if we suffer from temporary amnesia, forgetting that we are all made of the same stuff beneath our myriad exteriors.
It’s no surprise to me that our world is in a state of crisis these days. More than any other time in history, we are living a self-centered, egocentric existence. We are all so worried about ourselves, our lives, our possessions, our own goals and desires that we are willing to annihilate anyone who gets in the way of our own personal happiness. We have stopped caring about each other, stopped recognizing each other as human beings. What many of us don’t realize is that, in the end, all of us will suffer.
Two weeks ago, my friend Erin invited me to go to the movies to celebrate her daughters’ birthdays. Milan had turned three, Brooklyn six, and instead of trying to plan the traditional cake-and-ice-cream-at-home party on Easter weekend, Erin gave in to the girls’ request to invite friends to the new Hannah Montana movie.
When Erin stopped by my house to pick me up after work, she confided that Brooklyn and thrown up earlier that afternoon when Erin picked her up from school. Like many children on their birthdays, Brooklyn had fallen victim to too much excitement and too many sweets. In the back of the car, she was dozing, her head resting back against the seat. She still looked a little pale, but she had assured Erin that she felt better and was looking forward to watching the movie with her friends.
Erin, her husband Ervin, a friend and fellow co-worker Coleen, and I ushered the children through the doors, stopping briefly at the snack bar before making our way into the theater. We walked up the stairs and settled into our seats, about halfway to the top. There were about two dozen other families scattered throughout the theater.
Brooklyn took a seat between her mom and Coleen. I settled in between Coleen and the seat Milan vacated to sit in her daddy’s lap. Erin realized that the girl from the snack bar had forgotten a few of the items on the order, so she excused herself and made her way back to collect them.
We still had about ten minutes to wait before the previews would begin. Coleen and I were chatting about work, and our realistic expectations for the upcoming movie. At first, I hardly noticed Brooklyn getting up from her seat and shuffling slowly in front of Coleen and me, her hands clamped tightly over her mouth.
“Daddy,” she whimpered.
“What’s the matter, baby?” Ervin asked, leaning forward to get a better look at her. “You gonna be sick?”
“Here Milan,” Ervin said, gathering her up from his lap. “You stay with Lori, okay?”
Before I could reach for Milan, Coleen stood and took Brooklyn by the shoulders.
“It’s okay,” she said. “I’ll take her. C’mon Brooklyn.”
Coleen gently turned Brooklyn and tried to guide her around us and out of the aisle. Suddenly, Brooklyn’s stomach heaved. I heard the splatter of liquid on the floor, and felt a sudden warmth on my leg. Brooklyn stared at me, her eyes wide and full of tears.
I smiled at her. “It’s okay, Brooklyn,” I said. “Go on with Coleen.”
“Here,” Ervin said. “I’ve got a bag.”
Brooklyn continued slowly through the row as Coleen turned to grab the bag from Ervin. I stood to follow, taking a moment to gather my jacket and Coleen’s purse together on my seat and away from the mess on the floor. By the time I made my way to the stairs, Coleen and Brooklyn were already gone.
I exited the theater just as Erin was leaving the snack bar. I waved to get her attention.
“Hey, what’s up?” she said.
“Brooklyn got sick,” I replied. “She and Coleen are in the bathroom.”
Erin glanced down at the wet spot above my knee. “She got you?”
“Yeah, just a little though. Most of it went on the floor.”
I pulled the bathroom door open and held it so Erin could go in and assess the damage.
Just around the corner, Coleen and Brooklyn were standing in front of the sink, Coleen busy wiping Brooklyn’s shirt with damp paper towels while Brooklyn stood in a daze. Erin knelt by her daughter and asked her what happened, if she still felt sick, if she wanted to stay for the movie.
I turned on the faucet a few feet away and cleaned myself the best I could, while Erin and Coleen finished with Brooklyn. Coleen explained to Erin what happened after she left for the snack bar.
I didn’t even notice anyone else enter the bathroom, but as the four of us finally turned to go, a voice echoed angrily behind us.
“The least you could do is say you’re sorry!”
Brooklyn and I had already rounded the corner by the door, so we weren’t able to see the woman. I watched Coleen and Erin both turn around to face her.
“What?” Coleen said, her face twisting in disbelief. “Is she talking to us?”
“Excuse me?” Erin asked, looking genuinely perplexed by the sudden outburst. “Are you talking to us?”
“Yes, I’m talking to you!” the woman spat, her voice harsh and unforgiving, amplified by the hollow echo of the bathroom. “The least you could do is say you’re sorry after that girl puked all over us!”
Like a knife, her words pierced my heart, and I felt the knife twist as I watched Brooklyn’s cheeks flush with shame. She bowed her head and stared at the floor.
I leaned down and took her tiny hand in mine.
“Come on, sweetie,” I said softly. “Why don’t you come help me get some napkins?”
Brooklyn didn’t speak. We walked out the door and into the lobby. As the door swung shut behind us, I heard Erin’s voice growing loud with anger.
“We’re sorry, but it’s not like this is something you can plan! You’re a mother! You should know!”
Brooklyn and I busied ourselves gathering napkins at the counter. I pulled a stack and handed them to her, then grabbed some more.
“How’s your stomach, Brooklyn?” I asked, kneeling down in front of her. “Are you feeling better?”
“You wanna go sit back down?”
“Yeah,” she said. “Is the movie starting soon?”
The bathroom door swung open, and Erin and Coleen emerged. Coleen’s brow was still furrowed in disbelief, as if she couldn’t quite comprehend what had just occurred. Erin’s face was flushed, and for a moment I swear I could see the steam rise off her just like in the cartoons, her rage a visible cloud around her.
“Yeah, it’s gonna start in a couple minutes,” I replied. “There’s Coleen and your mommy. Should we go catch them?”
Brooklyn nodded and grabbed my hand. We hurried after them, catching up just outside the theater door. Brooklyn took her place at her mother’s side, and I hung back with Coleen to find out what happened after I left the bathroom.
“I don’t know. It’s crazy!” whispered Coleen. “The lady kept saying that we should apologize because Brooklyn puked all over them, but how could she? I didn’t see her puke anywhere but on the floor and on you. Did you see anything?”
I shook my head. “Where was that lady sitting anyway?” I asked. “I didn’t even notice her.”
“In front of us somewhere, I guess. I don’t know,” Coleen replied. “She’s just crazy though. Erin said she was sorry, but the lady just kept being all nasty and rude, and Erin finally snapped and told her that we couldn’t help it and the lady should understand because she has kids. I mean, her little daughter was standing right there with her! How messed up is that?”
By the time we returned and cleaned up the floor beneath our seats, the lights dimmed and the previews began. Though the movie was a welcome distraction, I couldn’t help but play the scene over and over in my mind—the woman’s piercing voice, the way Brooklyn hung her head in embarrassment before I could usher her out of the bathroom.
I glanced over at her from time to time during the movie. She seemed fully engaged in the film, even bobbing her head along with the music. I wondered if there was any chance that she would simply forget the ugly scene in the bathroom, if it would get lost in that dark void where so many of our childhood memories go, never to return to the surface as we get older and leave them behind. Yet, with a heavy heart, I knew that it was a memory that had been burned into her young brain.
That day, Brooklyn turned six, and had to learn that sometimes people just really suck.