Slow Off the Mark

Man o' War in 1920

Man o’ War in 1920

When I was in elementary school, my dad told me I ran like the great racehorse, Man o’ War, but with a fatal flaw: I didn’t know what go meant.

What was he talking about? I learned the word go in first grade: “See Dick go. Go, Dick, go.” Fortunately, Mom saw my confusion and explained; Man o’ War and I both had long strides, but he started quickly.

And I understood. As a racer, I toed the line and listened intently to “on your mark” and “get set” but “go” flummoxed me. Then, while I gathered my scattered wits, my competitors raced away until even a Man o’ War stride couldn’t make up for the time I’d spent in a stupor.

I’m no longer a racer, but my tendency to be slow on the uptake continues to plague me.

Is there anything worse than realizing you have five markers in a row ten seconds after your infirm aunt and daft little sister have shrieked “Bingo” in tandem and won the prize?

Is there anything more humiliating than hearing the same announcement as the other travelers waiting at a gate, then watching, stupefied as they sprint to the customer-service counter to rebook their cancelled flight?

It’s especially embarrassing when Joel leads the mad dash through the airport, cleverly calling reservations on his cell phone while he runs, and I’m left chugging along in the stampede’s wake, hoping he’ll remember I’m with him.

Joel and I also dance a two-step stutter when we walk busy city streets. I drift along, mesmerized by the staccato sound of heels striding purposefully, brake lights blinking like fireflies, and the optimism of street entertainers. So when we approach an intersection, Joel sizes up the situation, sees a window of opportunity, grabs my hand, and strides into the street.

I take a step, hesitate, pull back, stop, and look both ways like a well-taught toddler as the window closes and Joel joins me on the curb with the head-tossing, feet-stomping impatience of a reined-in Man o’ War.

Unlike my husband, I find my failed jumpstarts amusing. With one exception. Several years ago, my tendency to hesitate cast a bleak shadow on my long-anticipated visit to a fabled foreign city.

I walked Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro just as a moisture-laden twilight made it difficult to distinguish the widespread arms on the statue of Christ that guards the city. Weary from the workshop we’d taught all day, five fellow teachers and I strolled barefoot in water-lapped sand through air smelling of salt, fish and wood smoke.

Suddenly, shadows surrounded us, took form, shoved in among us, grabbed at wrists and backpacks, threatened.

I looked at the hand on my arm and the impassive face of the teenage boy who gripped me. While my friends broke free and dashed away, I watched, helpless and terrified, as other shapes turned toward me.

Then a man in our group turned and shouted, “Janet, RUN!” He grabbed my wrist and wrenched it free, then dragged me along until my feet came to life and the attackers faded back into shadows.

I lost my sense of safety in a city I had begun to love.

And I’m still unable to laugh about it.

 

Advertisements

65 thoughts on “Slow Off the Mark

  1. That had to be a scary experience, Janet. I’m not sure what I would have done, but I am one to cross an intersection while the Walk sign counts down from 6. I tend to get in line early at the airport and avoid the crowded ends of lined for anything. Still, one can only hope to flee in times of danger, or have a friend to help.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. oh goodness-how scary! That will never be funny. I do appreciate your sense of humor in other situations, though! We all have flaws and they do show up-Impulsivity has always been my battle-I go like a rocket and ask questions later-not always good-Haha-I am a lot slower than I was now-thank you for a lovely visit! love Michele

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, Michele, our flaws insist on hanging in and showing up, despite our best intentions. And we all have them; though when I was young I concentrated on the weaknesses of others way more than my own. I hope you are having a marvelous Easter at the Rabbit Patch.

      Like

      • I think that’s a big upside. I have some things where I’m quick and some things where I’m slow. Getting off the starting block was hard because you don’t want to go ahead of the gun. It’s worse to be disqualified than to have to sprint to overtake the other runners. 🙂

        Like

      • I’d never thought of that aspect of racing, because, of course, we didn’t have blocks at Lake Shore Elementary. Nor at my junior high. Nor at my high school, where I ended my running career in PE. Sounds like you ran some. True?

        Liked by 1 person

      • We didn’t have blocks, either. I was very fast at the middle distances and middle distance + hurdles. I ran a 440 under 60 seconds when I was 13. My coach wanted me to go to Olympic training camp, but my mom wouldn’t give permission because 1) I would lose my ability to become pregnant, 2) the boys wouldn’t be able to catch me. The first point was serious, the second was supposed to be a joke. I loved to run and until I wore out my joints, I ran trails with my dogs. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • I was fast at long distances, but not so fast that people timed me and talked about the Olympics. You must have been something. I’ve thought about it, and I don’t know what my mother would have done if your opportunity had come my way. I, too, loved to run and didn’t quit until I turned 72, and my knees and hips began to complain vociferously. I miss it, and I’ll be you do too.

        Liked by 3 people

      • I miss it a lot. Everything else is a compromise. It was like flying. But there I was in my early 50s getting a new hip… And here I am at 65 knowing I could go get two knew knees if I wanted to go through that again. But, since I would not be able to do more on new knees than I can on these old ones, and since they don’t hurt, I just go slowly down the hills and sideways down stairs. The whole logistics of surgery is beyond me right now. No driving for 6 weeks. 3 big dogs. And the pre-op prep which involves anti-bacterial showers and fresh sheets for 3 nights before hand… I’d rather be lopsided.

        Liked by 1 person

      • So far, I’m voting for lopsided, slow on the downhills and sideways on the stairs as well. My husband just had surgery on his hand; neither of us knew about the sheets, showers and many weeks of recovery it would entail. Though it was necessary and has helped him, I’ll hold out against surgery until pain overcomes my current objections. “It was like flying.” A wonderful description of running.

        Liked by 3 people

  3. Oh, Janet, we suffer from the same hesitancy. I have a hard time getting started. Once begun, things move forward quickly. By the way, my husband grabs my hand and pulls me across the street, too. Sometimes I pull back, but often I just go ahead, hoping he has calculated the traffic patterns well. It has been a problem in my writing, too. Thanks for sharing. I feel less alone.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is nice to know that others share our quirks, Laurel; and I feel I’m in good company with you. Strangely enough, I’m not slow about writing. Ideas come to me quickl,y and I go to work on them easily. I’m grateful for that small blessing.

      Like

  4. Don’t ever, ever EVER visit Hanoi. You’ll die crossing the street. you need to keep walking at the same pace regardless of what happens around you.
    My strategy was to stand next to the oldest person I could find, then cross the street when THEY did. I figured if they had lived that long, they knew a thing or tow about mastering Hanoi traffic. It worked!

    Liked by 3 people

  5. What a frightening experience Janet. You wrote about it so clearly I felt I was there also. Sometimes our brains are so traumatized we are unable to act appropriately. Lucky for you the man got your attention so well that your body could respond. We tend to think we are safer in a beautiful foreign place than in our own surroundings. It isn’t true of course. People all over the world have a sense of licentiousness. ‘ Get it while you can.” It’s all too much.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was grateful for the gentleman who made me mov, Kayti. He was elderly, but he didn’t hesitate to retrieve me. And you are right unlike other situations where I am daydreamy and slow, I think the experience iin Brazil did traumatize me..

      Like

  6. Reading along at first, I was thinking how fortunate you are to have a Joel who sprints through the airport for you, grabs your hand to cross the street, and makes up for your slow starts. That changes suddenly. It’s startling to know teenagers with bad intentions would confront a group of six adults. I would have been standing in disbelief right there with you. As you continue to travel, have you regained any sense of safety?

    Liked by 2 people

    • You’re right, Mary, I’m fortunate to have Joel in many ways. And though he can get a bit impatient, I understand why. It was hard to believe teenagers had accosted us, but we learned later they come from the large slums above the city at night to rob people on the beach. I understand the government destroyed large portions of the slums, which they call favelas I think, in an effort to clean the city up before the Olympics. Strangely, I did regain my sense of safety and even returned to Rio twice without incident..

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Well, I am struck in the gut feeling for you in that scenario in Rio, Janet. Wow. Here is a whole article on those prone to ‘freeze’, you are most definitely not alone. And I bet that “go!” part of the race induced this response from you as well.
    What a remarkably well written piece, I love your comparison between your husband and the race horse when you miss the window of opportunity on the busy street corner, so good! I am thankful you were not physically harmed in Rio and thank you for “going there” within this piece, it must have been difficult to write but what gift to us. Thank you. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/evolution-the-self/201507/trauma-and-the-freeze-response-good-bad-or-both

    Like

    • I read the article, Carrie, thank you for including its url. It was both informative and reassuring, helping me to understand myself and others. I think it took me a while to get over the incident in Rio — but get over it I did — because it was such a contrast with the lovely setting and the wonderful day I’d experienced teaching literacy techniques to fifty teachers of English as a second language. They were warm, welcoming, appreciative and laughed at all my jokes. I was floating on happiness when the gang of young thugs accosted us. I returned to teach in Brazil two more times with no incidents; working in Brazil was one of the best experiences of my life. And thank you for noticing my writing, Carrie. I always appreciate that.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Godfrey reckoned, that people like us hesitate because we are part made of Butterflies, plenty of us about. My the streets of Cairo must have been harsh. Happy Easter Janet.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Good evening Janet- It has been a happy Easter, 5 days off to catch up my reading. It is too bad your dad missed out “Zenyatta”, arguably the best racing mare ever- she lost all but one race, her last, and always came from back of the pack- a big, kindly girl who enjoyed a daily beer. Part butterfly, Zenyatta.

        Like

      • I think Zenyatta and I might be soul sisters: big, kindly girls who show up from the back of the pack. Maybe I should start drinking beer to seal the deal. Five glorious days to read; sounds like the best Easter ever.

        Liked by 2 people

  9. Janet, I’m happy to hear that you were able to overcome that scary experience in Rio, and to visit twice more. I wish I was as confident about international travel as I am about travel within the United States.
    I, too, am “slow out of the gate”. And also slow to react. Want to hear a scientific explanation? I once took a class in exercise physiology and learned that there are two different types of muscle fibers—slow-twitch and fast-twitch. Those of us with predominantly slow-twitch fibers will never be able to change our DNA destiny!

    Like

    • Believe me,Rita,I didn’t walk on Rio’s beaches after dark during the other two visits, though I did in Fortaleza, the other huge city where I taught — but only after my students reassured me it was safe! I like having a scientific explanation for what Dad called my fatal flaw. I’m definitely a slow-twitcher, and it’s nice to know it’s beyond my control.

      Like

  10. Once again you tell a story about yourself (vividly) which is more than entertaining. I read about you, think about you, and I gain insights into the way I am. I think that in some ways I’m like you: e.g. I’m slow to understand certain things, but I get there. (Don’t play cards with me: I need the rules explained every single time.) In some ways I’m the opposite — or am I? — impulsive and quick. None of it’s bad, none of it’s good, it just is. We just are, and we are always learning to make the most of what we’ve got. But I wish I had seen you running in your prime … and at 72.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Your comment on my reading is among the most significant I’ve ever received. What could make a writer feel better than “I read about you, think about you, and I gain insights into the way I am.” Wow, Rachel, thank you. I also like your philosophy that none of it is bad and none of it is good; it just is. When I was young I fretted about what I perceived as flaws, but left that behind about the same time I did acne. I think I would have been a pleasing sight running at 16. Had you seen me at 72, you would have thought, “That’s a mighty plucky fast-shuffle.”

      Liked by 3 people

  11. I get a little upset when my husband insists on jay-walking across a 6-lane street in Las Vegas. lol. Call me crazy, but I learned a lesson the hard way about cutting across neighbor’s yards instead of taking the sidewalk. (I tripped over a tent stake and went tumbling down. It was embarrassing, to say the least. And I ended up with a twisted ankle.) 😜

    Like

  12. What a sobering story! And particularly poignant as I find myself slow to react as well; I just do not cope well with change & situations which require quick reactions.

    I think the only exceptions to this would be when it concerns my children, even now when they are older teens. When there is a perceived to threat, then my reactions are probably a lot quicker than they should be.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I was going to wax eloquent about how the world needs people like you to make sure we don’t burn up in our hurried frenzy. But then the Rio thing. Must have been terrifying. Thank God for that friend!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Scary ! I’m glad you are ok. I am slow to respond too – had to run long distance to have any hope of making up for all my the lost time at the starting line. I often wonder how others know so quickly what to do and are doing something before i even know what’s happening

    Like

  15. I wonder that same thing often. But I took some comfort in the comments of others that seemed to indicate there might be a physical reason for my slowness on the uptake. I’d like to think so, anyway.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s