Somewhere in the mid to late 20th century, somebody put a name to that very precious two foot area that surrounds us wherever our own two feet might happen to be planted at any given time. Since then we’ve all become hyper-sensitive and hyper-diligent about protecting our own as well as actively refraining from intruding into or upon someone else’s.
Unless you’re under 25.
At least that was my guess of the young woman’s age. It was really hard to tell. She was practically hugging my derriere while in line at the local pharmacy waiting to check out, and while I could feel her behind me, I couldn’t quite see her. Every time she moved, whatever it was she was carrying brushed across my backside.
It was not a pleasant feeling.
I inched forward just half a step to escape her. Then she did the same.
I began playing guessing games in my head in an effort to determine the products she was about to purchase. I didn’t know if I would get a quick glance around to see if I was right, but the line was moving slowly and there really was nothing else to do.
She had fallen into line behind me just a few seconds after I had stepped into it, except I was giving the person in front of me a respectable distance. When the person in front of him stepped up to the cashier, the person in front of me stepped forward a little to close the gap some, and he was still giving the guy some room.
Finally it was my turn. My shadow and I stepped up to the cashier in sync and we placed my items on the counter. She was hugging up against my left side, so close that we were both beside the little debit card machine, only it was more in front of her than in front of me. She wasn’t so much occupying the space in front of the cash register as she was wearing it.
I tried to shuffle a little to the left. She didn’t budge.
I tried to wedge my shoulder into whatever available space between us might have existed, attempting, and trying to do it politely, to get my shoulder in front of her chin. The air between us complained about the displacement, but I was finally able to swipe my card, using my upper body as a shield against what may have been intrusive eyes full of ill will.
Had my shadow been just a little bit taller, she could have rested her chin on my shoulder.
I think she tried. I was already creeped out. Just as I was beginning to get angry, the cashier handed me my receipt and I was able to leave.
My long stride got me to the exit door in three quick steps, and I stole a quick glance around to see that she was small, very young, and conservatively dressed. During my sole second of sight of what had been behind me, I thought I could assume that my shadow was somebody who had probably been raised fairly well.
I could also assume that manners were not part of her upbringing.
And I could also see that the person behind her had given her some room. She was all alone at the counter, just her and the cashier, conducting her business with some modicum of privacy, because the middle-aged man behind her had shown some respect for her personal space, a privilege no one who ever finds themselves in front of her will ever enjoy.
I’m not sure what I could have done to protect my personal space in the face of such oblivious, yet intentional, intrusion. And I’ve been thinking about it a lot since the experience.
Apologize for stepping on her foot a fraction of a second before I actually did it? Stepped aside and asked her to get in front of me? Turned and stared her down until she backed up in fear? Farted?
Insert audible sigh of frustration here.