Close near-death experience #1
We were three rows from the stage and a little to the left, immediately behind twin sisters. Teeny, tiny and older as evidenced by lots of wrinkles, slight, teeny tiny jowls, short dark hair streaked through with grey. No make-up, nothing distinctive in their dress, either. Jeans. One wore a shirt with a vest. The other a shirt, no vest. I did not assume that they are lesbians, although they each had lesbian haircut number six: short and around the ears. Or is that lesbian cut number 3? Anyway, not quite as refined as a pixie cut. More like an elf cut. They were standing with their backs to the stage and facing me, looking at all the people piling in, talking to each other in teeny, tiny voices. Right in front of me. I wasn’t exactly listening to the content of their conversation because my listening was in utter astonishment at the sound. As the Goddess is my witness, they sounded a lot like Munchkins from Oz.
My crew was to the right of me, doing what everyone else was doing; rubbernecking to see who else was here, who they knew. The event was the official launch of Michele Landsberg’s book, Writing the Revolution.
I was about to turn around and do some looking of my own when I was stopped by a smell. Worse than putrid. My nose hairs curled in from the outer edge of my nostrils as far as they could, seeking cover. I suppressed an urge to wretch. I tried to escape it — moving forward, putting my head down between my knees. I was at the end of the row. There was nowhere for me to go. My dear, dear, dear friend to the right of me turned to look at me and with great puzzlement, asked “What on earth are you doing?”
I could not answer. The invading odour was about to knock me unconscious. I was afraid that if I opened my mouth I’d get a deadly mouthful of it (scent also hits taste buds) and die on the spot. Truth be told, I was not prepared to die and certainly not from a noxious, toxic odour mixed with an upbringing that over-emphasized English politeness. My eyes watered. I politely put my hand up over my nose to try to filter the smell. I think I started to turn blue. Didn’t anyone else notice??
My dear, dear, dear friend — who knows that I have certain, shall we say, sensitivities, asked me a different question, her eyebrows furrowed.
“What is going on with you?”
I had to tell her. Maybe she could help. Would she mind if I buried my face in her long, dark, beautiful, wooly, wavy hair? I did not ask and just did it although I disguised it as a need to whisper to her, breathing in all the nice smells of her, the scent of cologne, hair products. I whispered as softly and as politely as I could, praying she’d understand.
“Some woman behind me has really, really horrid, hounds-of-hell demon-breath with a chaser mix of diaper+beer breath.”
My dear, dear, dear friend pulled away from me. A wave of the smell hit me again and my eyes crossed. My D3 friend looked at me with that look — you know the one, the what on earth are you on about look — and said, “Oh come on, you’re exaggerating. It can’t be that bad.”
At that moment a huge gust of breath hit us both. I turned purple. D3 friend’s eyes widened as if she could not quite believe what had just happened and as her eyes watered she looked at me, put her forefinger under her nostrils, nodded and said, “Oh.”
I did not feel so alone just then.
Barely breathing, I pulled out my little notebook and wrote I am going to die and passed it to her. My friend ignored the statement. Instead, she took my notebook and pen and wrote back, “Did you notice the elfin sisters?”
We burst out laughing, which was problematic because not only did people turn to look — it was after all a mostly feminist gathering and there was not a lot of laughter anywhere in the auditorium — but because with laughing, we had to breathe in. I didn’t want to: it was gonna hurt.
Another wave of odour. I steeled myself, tried moving closer to all of my friends, crowding them. Plopping my elbows in their laps, putting my chin in my hands — not my usual behaviour with my friends. It was uncomfortable so I had to sit back up. Then, I moved forward in my seat and twisted my body a bit, maybe 12 degrees. That helped a bit.
I was there in solidarity and out of friendship, so I was determined to soldier on. The event started. There were speakers and stories about the early days of the women’s movement in Canada in general and Toronto in particular. A reminder that the work to realize social justice is not over, that feminism is not dead. A few speakers suggested that the notion of waves of feminism is just plain silly.
Throughout it all, the woman behind me kept on breathing. I don’t know why I entertained the thought that she might stop. She breathed in and she breathed out unfortunately for me, through her mouth. Those stinky molecules targeted my nose, although every once in a while I noticed it hitting D3 friend too. I wondered if Demon, Diaper+Beer-breath woman was going to see a doctor. Or maybe she was already ill and I was being insensitive.
[The sad fact is that sometimes, older people’s health and personal hygiene, or lack thereof, and systemic changes and diet and medications are often transmitted through their breath and the sad fact is that some older people lose their health benefits when they retire and can no longer afford regular dental care which typically takes care of things that regular brushing and flossing does not. Over time, problems with teeth or gums can lead to serious health issues and it is all told through the breath.]
I alternated between burying my nose in my sleeve and pulling the collar of my sweater up over my nose. When that didn’t work, I tried to breathe without engaging my sense of smell and all the while, shifting in my seat. I was getting tired.
After two hours I could no longer take it. I am all for social justice. I am all for stopping the rising tide of insidious inequities. I am all for everything that supports a humane approach to all of humanity and ending inequities and violence in all its forms and permutations, particularly against women, but oh my goddess, I had to escape that smell. It was killing me.
I hunched down and whispered to my friends that I had to leave. As I stood up, I glanced at the women seated behind me. One of those three was the demon. It was the one on the end, who’s exhaled breath damn near killed me. She looked clean. Well-dressed. Nice grey hair. An attractive older woman, in possession of something that if bottled, could stop an advancing army of lesbians interested in her dead in its tracks.
Close near-death experience #2
About a week later I took a spur-of-the-moment trip to Ikea to get some small household items. I decided to go to the Ikea located north of me because quite frankly, while it’s marginally closer, my research shows that it’s the place frequented by a goodly number of attractive women, some of whom are lesbians.
It’s easy to become lost in Ikea. It’s huge and its wayfinding system is designed to steer shoppers through each department like sheep and cows and pigs to slaughter. There didn’t seem to be a direct way to reach the department I wanted without having to go through the entire store. I decided to ignore the wayfinding arrows and go the wrong way to go to the department I needed to get to, however, I somehow landed at the second floor in spite of myself. As I was about to furrow my brows and get grrsome, I noticed some attractive women and attractive boots and it took the edge off when, you know, eye contact, smiles and hellos. Research results replicated, again.
Did I mention I hate shopping? In under an hour I was finished, in my car, heading home.
About six blocks from my house, near a high school, at lunch time, as I was driving at the speed limit and passing through an intersection, a Range Rover ran the stop sign and was headed directly at me, a perfect T-bone into the driver’s side, directly into me. I couldn’t swerve or speed up: there were kids on the road. There were cars behind me. I couldn’t stop. I dared not blink. Time might have stopped.
As the blood froze in my veins, as I held my breath, as my heart stopped beating or thudded, or both, as my ears twitched, as my body tensed, I leaned on the horn and took my foot off the gas pedal. The Range Rover driver slammed her brakes and stopped less than a metre from me. Dark hair. Dark glasses. She held up her hand in that universal signal of I’m sorry.
Two seconds? Three seconds? One? An instant? I held up my left hand in acceptance.
Driving on, willing my heart to be calm, willing it to warm my blood.
I got home, parked in the garage and sat for a moment, my head back on the headrest. Caught my breath.
Only about 10 per cent of us are going to go quickly. The rest of us will not. I haven’t thought too much about my going time, but after demon breath and a near-miss courtesy of a Range Rover driver, I wondered.
Inside the house, I turned on music, put things away and sat down with my dogs. The bird, not one to be left out, climbed down from his cage to strut up my leg and cuddle in. I had a call I needed to make, but hadn’t quite figured out what to say. Until I figured that out, I busied myself. A little later, I made up a card for my wallet with names of people and numbers to call. Just in case. Updated my phone book. And took the dogs down to the lake for a walk.