Dusk was already upon me as I walked home from my cozy co-working situation (also known as a dimly lit corner of a cafe with friends and coffee). A man whose bulk was carried in all parts of his college basketball height body crossed the street and wound up next me to as we walked uphill. My arms were already pulled in, my cold not reacting well to the slight chill in the air.
“You’re cold?” the man barrel laughed. “I’m from Chicago. Girl, this is balmy!”
I smiled, a soft spot in my heart for midwest transplants. “What brings you to California?”
“I’m a reverend!” he proclaimed, not allowing one sentence going by without an exclamation point.
“Oh, which church?” I asked politely, our feet still traveling the same way, just a few more steps to my corner.
“I’m still getting my license so for now, I minister around the lake! I’m interested in young women and the relationships they find themselves in! I even wrote a book!”
I craved going home. We were at my turning point and I lifted my index finger to gesture I’d be parting ways.
“In fact, I’m going to minister to you right now!” It was, unfortunately, not a question, and I, unfortunately, didn’t want to be rude. “How old are you? Are you married? Do you have a boyfriend?”
His reaction to my being 32 and single wasn’t favorable, as though time were slipping away from me and soon I’d be pruned up and with nary a man for me in sight. Attempting to confirm my worst fears didn’t endear me to him, and I wanted even more to be in security and warmth of house, where tea could be made and a nap before soccer had.
But I wanted to be nice. I tried to imagine him on a pulpit, three front teeth missing yet not a gleek in sight.
On and on the Reverend went, about men who are real gold versus fool’s gold, about how I was my own key to letting people into my (large space with a gulp) heart. About how I needed to sow my own seeds.
The more he spoke, the more trapped I felt. We were on a reasonably busy corner where people walked and biked by without acknowledging us, yet suddenly stranger-danger had kicked in. I didn’t care who he was. I didn’t feel safe. In fact, my time and space felt violated.
And I was angry that I had let myself be so.
I looked for spaces in the conversation where I could say I needed to leave. I grasped for a polite way out, yet I couldn’t find one, his monologue so airtight there was no loophole I could hold onto and pull open. All the while I couldn’t hear this man anymore, my anger and fear a shield against absorption. I felt like an animal with only escape on my mind.
Almost fifteen minutes later, he asked me if I agreed with him. I said I did, not carrying what I had complied with. Sure, make hand-wringing bunnies necks a must for school children, so long as it meant I could go home.
The reverend asked if I lived by myself nearby and dumbly I nodded, thinking only now of the end of Nymphomaniac, the ending I foresaw in the first five minutes of the film.
“Great to meet you,” I finally eeked out, careful not to shake his hand as I was sick and overly explaining that we should fist bump, which we did before I turned and walked away, praying to the same God he believed in that I wasn’t being followed.
If I still can’t stand up for or walk away from a stranger, if all I do is forgo what I want in favor of someone else’s needs in order to keep them happy, how will I ever learn to stop defaulting to over-niceness in relationships?