Before seeing a band a couple of months ago, my friend and I stopped in at a pub for a quick tipple. To get to the empty seats at the bar we had to make our way through a bunch of older men who were blocking the walkway, talking loudly, obviously drunk. As I moved through the group, one of the men reached out to shake my hand, and I gave it to him, not knowing what else to do. He did not let go. He placed his other hand on my lower back and asked for my name. I told him. My friend glanced around and realised I was no longer following her; she looked at me as if to say, “What’s happening?” and I looked back as if to say, “I have no idea.” I grinned at the man, which is my default expression when I’m feeling ridiculously uncomfortable. It would be far more useful to be able to react, instead, with a look of displeasure and a firm but polite, “Please remove your hands from my body immediately.” But, no.
The man asked me what I did for work, and upon the mention of children, he released me. As I continued on towards my friend, he called out, “Annelise!” I turned. “You have a beautiful smile,” he said.
I smiled, stupidly, and felt ill.
Not long before that, I was down the street with Moses and Hazel. Mo was walking a few steps ahead of me, as he does. There were a few people out trying to raise money for Greenpeace, brightly dressed, pamphlets in hand. As Mo approached, one of the women stepped toward him, and held up her hand for a high five. He watched her carefully, still walking, obviously considering her offer. I looked on, thinking, “High five her, Mo! Don’t leave her hanging!”
He left her hanging. He continued on, checking behind him a couple of times to see how she was reacting, and still thinking, thinking, thinking. A few metres beyond where she stood, Mo looked up at me and told me what had obviously been playing through his mind: “If I don’t want to, I don’t have to.”
My heart swelled. “That’s exactly right, buddy,” I told him, proudly. Fiercely.
Maybe when I grow up I’ll have healthy boundaries like my five-year-old.