It was a typical weekday morning; I woke up at 6:35, put clothes on, tended to the dog, poured some orange juice into a stainless steel mug, snatched my backpack up from off of the floor and then off I went, into the world. I followed the ten minute, mildly scenic route to work; passing blurry rows of suburban homes that ended abruptly at a red light, an alterations shop falling apart further ahead on the left, and then a medium-sized shopping plaza further down on the right (it houses a sad collection of uninteresting stores and unremarkable restaurants that I never frequent). I proceeded to drive underneath the interstate, flipped my left turn signal on immediately afterwards, and then hauled my good ole’ blue car up the steep, winding road to the corporate office.
Navigating on auto-pilot, I made a right once I’d reached the top of the hill and then spun the steering wheel sharply to the left as I prepared to park in my usual spot. Have I spoken of my spot before? It’s a lovely spot. I’d call it enviable, but other than existing underneath the shade of a stately tree, it really isn’t. It’s actually located at the far-end of the parking lot and sits along a row of mostly uninhabited spots. It’s the second to last spot in the row.
So, just as I was absentmindedly steering my vehicle into my spot, I had to slam on the brakes. Why? Because some beat-up, maroon-colored sedan* (*truly fictitious description) was already parked there. In my spot.
For a split second, I didn’t really know what to do; for two years, this had been my spot, and no one else had ever dared to park there. Ever. I mean.. like, ever. Okay, ONE time, someone did, but they very quickly made amends with me by parking their car elsewhere the next day. Anyways.
But it’s okay, I told myself, bravely. Today, I’ll just park.. behind or beside it. No big deal. I shook off a feeling that resembled words like robbed, violated, and cheated.
I’m sure this person is just visiting corporate today, I continued reasoning with myself, or is new, or has been around here for a while but was having an off morning. Happens to the best of us. So I brushed it off, walked into work, and it was just another cheerful day at the office.
I clocked out of work 9 hours later, shuffled over to my spot somewhat blindly (I had my head lowered, texting somebody) and, just as I started reaching for the car handle, that nauseating color reappeared in my field of vision: maroon.
I paused to look up. Oh.. right. That happened. Quickly (and hoping no one had witnessed the awkward almost-happening), I trudged an extra twelve steps forward to where my pouty blue car was waiting. I know, buddy; I’m feeling it, too.
But by the time the next morning rolled around, the incident had been entirely forgotten. I moved through my morning routine efficiently and expertly, just like I’d done the day before, except today, as my parking spot came into view, I saw that the maroon car had parked itself there. Again.
I felt different about it this time.
The hell, bro? I murmured aloud. What in the HELL are you doing in my spot?
So I parked in the same stupid spot I’d settled for the previous morning and couldn’t help but cast a furtive glance over towards the maroon car as I passed by it.
I walked inside, sat down at my desk, and then slowly drew in a very deep breath.
Okay.. look. You need to get a grip. You have projects to work on and preparations to make. Helloooooooo; this is just a parking spot. It’s not like some MEAN person just walked up and stole a burrito right out of your hand.. right? Now THAT would be lamentable. But this? You can’t let a parking spot ruin your whole day.
But what if maroon isn’t JUST a visitor? I argued. What if they’re new and now, because they’ve parked there TWO DAYS IN A ROW, THEY think it’s THEIR spot?
We both stopped talking. It was a dark possibility — a viable one that couldn’t be denied. My heart clenched. It hurt.
We need to act quickly, I resolved.
I casually strolled into my manager’s office a few moments later, after composing myself. I paused in her doorway, leaned against it, and put on an expression that I thought would look pensive. Thoughtful.
“You know how I have a spot, right?” I began the conversation.
She looked up from her computer; her expression: confused. “I’m sorry?”
“You know, a parking spot,” I explained. “You know how I have a parking spot that only I park in?”
She rolled her eyes. “Yesssssss.”
“Okay,” I moved all the way into her office now, settling down onto one of her chairs that I hate. And she knows that I don’t like her chairs; I announce it every time I see the awful chair pair. They’re heavy, rigid, and cumbersome to get into and out of. I’ve even offered to spend some of my down time shopping around thrift stores in search of a superior substitute — some sleek and space-efficient stools, perhaps — but she’s yet to take me up on the offer.
“Well,” I continued, trying to position myself comfortably, “I’m having this issue where someone else is parking there.” I paused, giving her a second to take in the full weight of this news.
She looked across her desk at me, blankly. “And?”
“And,” I continued soberly, “I am wondering how to best handle the situation.”
She cracked an involuntary smile. “Handle the situation?”
“Oh, yes!” I leaned forward, looking intent. “I have to, Felicia.. and I’ve already considered a few possibilities. Like, you know; I’ve imagined walking out into the parking lot this evening — promptly, at 5:00 — and kind of lingering around outside of my car until maroon’s owner appears so I can be like ‘Oh my god! So YOU’RE the person who’s been taking my spot!’, but you know, I’ll say it really funny-like, so that it sounds like ‘oh wow, how funny is this!'” I paused to check for a reaction.
“Maroon?” she questioned.
“Yes; that’s what I’m calling the person because their car is maroon. Anyways, ANOTHER idea,” I continued, “is this: we have two new employees who began working at corporate a few weeks ago, right? I’m thinking it could be one of them. SO, I’ve imagined this scenario where I’m in the break room, and one of them is also in the break room, and I’m filling up my canteen with water when, suddenly, I turn around, see them there, look visibly surprised and ask — raising my eye brow and looking serious in a playful way — ‘Now.. DO YOU by any chance drive a MAROON-COLORED CAR?’ and then we can see where the conversation goes from there.” I shrugged, waiting for her to say something. “Sooooooo,” I prodded gently, “what do you think?”
“I think you’re crazy,” she responded. “Like a dalek with a parking spot.”
While I appreciated being likened to a dalek, this wasn’t the answer I was hoping for. I left her office, deciding to temporarily place my “friendly-and-spontaneous-in-person-confrontation” plans on hold.
I left work feeling sour over the predicament and, hours later, lying in bed, I couldn’t believe that I was still thinking about it.
“Charlie?” I whispered into the dark.
“I can’t sleep.”
“Because I’m worried about it.”
“MY SPOT!” I exclaimed, irritated. Duh.
He turned on the light. I told him the whole story, and about how my manager didn’t think staging a confrontation was a good idea, and that I didn’t know what else to do to fix it.
Just as he was about to speak, I spoke up again.
“WAIT! ..oh my goodness, Charlie; I know what I’ll do. I’ll just get there early.. EARLIER THAN maroon car!” This new plan was brilliant in its simplicity. “We’re ALL supposed to be there by 8, right? Well, I’ll get there at 7:40.” I paused, anxiety seizing my heart again. “But what if they’re there at 7:40?” I gazed at the wall, feeling Charlie’s worried eyes on me. “What if they KNOW that I’m trying to reclaim my spot, or they absurdly think that someone else will want their spot, and they plan on getting there at 7:30? or 7:15?” He patted me on the shoulder and turned the light out. It was a rough night.
When my alarm went off in the morning, I knew what I had to do: get down to business pronto. “NO LINGERING IN BED TODAY!” I told the dog. “It’s GO TIME!”
I sped away from the house, waving goodbye to Charlie and Bruster as they stood beside each other, calmly, and looked on from the doorway. I arrived to work at approximately 7:38 and was incredibly thrilled to find my spot unoccupied. I pulled into it, and I was overjoyed by our reunion, but the joy was short-lived.
“Sooooo..” I struck up a casual conversation with myself as I sat there, rocking from side-to-side in my seat and waiting for 8:00 to roll around. “When maroon gets here, they’re PROBABLY going to VERY IGNORANTLY think, ‘Oh wow, who’s that in MY SPOT today?'”
I shook my head. “Yep. Bet they will. Ugh.. the audacity.”
“I KNOW. And they need to KNOW that THIS is MY SPOT. That it’s been my spot for two years, and that they need to just choose another spot. Because arriving early today and reclaiming the spot one time isn’t going to fix this; if I don’t get here at 7:40 tomorrow, you know they’re going to try to take this spot back.” I gazed out the window, feeling stressed. “How long does it take to change your taste buds?” I asked myself. “Two weeks, maybe? What about habits — how long does it take to form a new habit or change an old one.. is it three?” I sighed. “I guess I’ll just arrive to work early for three weeks. Just to be safe. Get them in the habit of parking elsewhere.”
I talked the matter over with Charlie that evening.
“Could you maybe get a pole and a sign?” Charlie asked quietly. “Stake it into the ground right there in front of your spot so that everyone knows?”
“Nooooo,” I brushed the idea off immediately. “That would be too weird. Technically, there aren’t any assigned or designated spots. We all just know which spot is ours and RESPECT other peoples’ spots,” I grumbled.
I plunged my spoon into my bowl of soup and then held it in the air and tilted it slightly, watching as tiny red droplets dripped back down into the bowl.
“I thought about buying some chalk and hand-writing ‘Jace’s Spot‘ on the concrete,” I admitted, “but I think I’d get in trouble for that.” I paused, considering whether or not I should admit to my next idea. “Honestly,” I whispered, “as I was leaving work today.. pulling out of my spot.. I paused, looked down at the blue Belk umbrella on the car floor, and imagined stepping out of the car, placing it in the middle of my spot, and then leaving it there — as some kind of deterrent — until I drove back tomorrow.” I looked up and across the table at Charlie, who said nothing. “I also considered,” I spouted off quickly, “going back into the corporate building, removing my black, swivel chair, pulling it outside, and placing it right there in the middle of the spot..” I was looking back down at my bowl of soup now.
“ANYWAYS, all of those ideas were stupid and weird and I’m not going to execute any of them.”
“I know what you need.”
He paused dramatically. Then: “A big.. orange.. traffic.. cone.”
I gasped. Oh my god. It was the best idea I’d ever heard in my life.
“The universal sign,” Charlie continued gravely, “that says: ‘You can’t park here.‘” Charlie raised his eyebrows at me impressively and waited for my verdict.
I shook my head in utter disbelief of his genius. “Charlie; where can I get one?”
I arrived to work the next day, twenty minutes early yet again, and removed a book from my backpack (to pass the time). I felt confident; I’m going to try out this arrive-early-for-three-weeks-thing, but if it doesn’t prove effective, I’m DEFINITELY going to buy a traffic cone and stick that sucker in my trunk. Smiling at the idea of my fantastic backup plan, I was about five minutes into reading when a moving object in my side-view mirror suddenly caught my attention; maroon. That stupid freaking color was the absolute bane of my existence; an emblem of fury — the token of the disruption, disorder, and chaos in my life.
My heart started racing a little. Oh wow; this is going to be awkward. It felt like I was the faceless figure who’d stolen somebody’s boyfriend or girlfriend, and now that person was about to put two-and-two together, stumble over to my car in a mad rage, and punch me in the gut. I mentally and emotionally prepared myself for the worst.
On second thought, let’s just get inside the building as quickly as possible, I decided.
So I slid my book into my backpack, zipped it up, grabbed my water bottle, and exited the vehicle quietly, beginning the short walk to the corporate office. I heard a car door close behind me as soon as I started walking and heard the sound of feet shuffling across the concrete.
Shit; maroon is RIGHT behind me. Should I turn around — acknowledge them with a smile and a wave — or continue moving forward and feign being oblivious?
I continued walking forward, trying to look and act and breathe normal. Once I’d reached the entrance to the office, I touched my right finger to the electronic entry pad and waited for the green light. Ding. I opened the door, entered half-way, and then paused, deciding to hold the door open for this mysterious maroon person. It was a brave move; I was terrified. And when I turned around to greet them, I was shocked; it was the sweet receptionist who worked the front desk.
“Good morning, Hayley!” I greeted her, probably failing to conceal the surprise from my voice.
“Morning, Jace!” she smiled sweetly, ducking into the building and then heading toward the front lobby.
I shook my head; every trace of anger.. gone.
As I walked to my desk, I thought to myself: If maroon – aka Hayley – wants to park in my spot, that is totally okay. Any other spot will work for me just as well.
Fun fact: The very next morning, this sweet little sentiment was put to the test. I was pulling up to the light where I turn left to get up the hill to work when I saw maroon parked at the light. Oh dear. I broke the news to myself softly as the hood of my car neared the trunk of hers. You’re going to have to watch it happen; you’re going to have to watch her take your spot. I paused for a minute; imagined it happening. And remember; like you decided yesterday, it’s really NOT a big deal. She’s a very nice person and she should be able to park wherever she wants to park. I smiled, grateful that I’d honestly been able to get over the matter.
I followed maroon up the steep, steep driveway; we both turned right at the end of it; I let out a gentle sigh that sounded like goodbye as I prepared to watch her vehicle turn left — coming to a soft, gentle halt in my old spot — but instead, her car veered right. I took in a quick breath; oh my god. She’s given me my spot back.
That’s it. That’s my story for the week. And remember.. before you think I’m nuts.. it’s a work of “fiction.” Yeah.
I’ll condense it into the smallest ‘Jace paragraph’ ever.
It was easy to feel angry at a faceless person; someone without a name, voice, or personality. But once I was brought face-to-face with the person, that heavy and emotionally draining pall of anger slipped from my shoulders easily, like raindrops springing lightly from a raincoat.
Similarly, it’s easy to get your feathers ruffled over competing sports teams, opposing political views, or disharmonious religious beliefs; it’s very easy to feel anger, to imagine separateness, and to build walls over these matters. But anger distances you from people, separateness stifles empathy, and walls obviously create division. Strip all of those differences away and you just see people.
It’s also remarkable that, when you’re feeling angry at a person, it usually isn’t really that PERSON you’re angry with; more often, it was the words they spoke, the actions they took, or the words or actions they failed to speak or take. For me, I wasn’t mad at maroon; I was mad at an innocent action that maroon took and the consequences trailing behind in the exhaust of that action. The simple fact that her car was in my spot meant that I couldn’t be in my spot, and I was mad that something familiar was being taken away from me; that something that made me feel ‘safe’ and like I ‘belonged’ and that I ridiculously thought of as ‘mine’ was being challenged. Maroon wasn’t trying to be mean; she was likely clueless as to my lunacy and my deep-seated feelings for the spot, which is understandable, because the spot itself has no inherent value. My anger and anxiety were wrapped up in the rolling ball of what the spot meant to me and how her actions were threatening to take that meaningful value and that sense of security away. See? Break it down to basic components and I was never mad at maroon at all. I was mad about becoming displaced because I was scared of the changes involved; the implications of those changes, the stress of those changes, and the uncertainty of those changes.
So here’s my unsolicited advice:
When you notice that you’re feeling angry, start a conversation with yourself. Talk it out and work through the anger. Cite your ‘obvious’ reason for being angry and then move backwards; follow the logical mind trail and discover the true cause of your anger. To illustrate, I’ll devise a totally fictitious (mean it this time) scenario that you might be familiar with.
Totally Fictitious Scenario: “The Big Pineapple Cupcakes Letdown”
I’m mad at Charlie.
Because he forgot to bring home a pineapple.
Why does that make you angry?
Because he said he was going to bring home a pineapple.
Okay; why are you so upset that he didn’t bring home a pineapple?
Because we were going to make organic, free-trade, raw, unfiltered, non-GMO, vegan, premiere-status pineapple cupcakes today and now we CAN’T.
Why are you upset that you can’t make these specialty pineapple cupcakes?
Because they’re delicious.
Oh. So you aren’t mad at Charlie; you’re mad that you are without cupcakes?
Bam. See how easy that was? Pinpointing the true cause, source, origin, or underlying reason of my anger? But let’s face it; generally speaking, it’s a lot less embarrassing to say you’re mad at a person than you are at an absence of cupcakes. Quick “real talk” sidebar: It’s not like it’s freaking Christmas and every grocery store in town is closed — go buy some exquisite $30 pineapple yourself and then make the damn cupcakes. Problem solved.
Obligatory Numbered Conclusion (because the length of this post is driving me mad):
- Familiar things and favorite things (like cupcakes and parking spots) are comforting and lovable, and that’s fine, but people will always be more lovable. If you’re a math person, it’s like this: people > things and objects, and to be even more specific, people > parking spots. At the end of the day, if given the choice (and the power of choice is always given), all I’ll ever do is love people.
- Why foster anger when it leaves you feeling ill and emotionally drained, and why be angry over silly, trivial things? Now; if someone ever walks up to you and threatens to steal your burrito, sucker punch that homewrecker. Don’t hold back. In this situation, your anger would be totally justified. But throw your figurative punches selectively; you’ve gotta really make them count.
Still here (and still parking in the same beautiful and flawless spot but if you park in it that’s okay too just please don’t),