May 9, 2014
From the time I was able to see over the line of fake texturized plastic of the door in my mother’s dreaded mini van, I was socializing with people I didn’t even know. Sitting in silent agony as my mother cautiously drove over worn down pavement with quietly playing hair metal in the background stirred something inside me that I can’t even begin to explain. Every time I would clamber up into my booster seat, the first thing I did was stare at my neighbor’s lawns waiting for them to see me and with a slight wave of their hand, say hello as we drove by.
A few years past, and Mrs. Darden, my neighbor had stopped saying hello to me as we drove by her, which stirred something within me again: denial of the situation. To an overly active eight-year-old girl, an adult ignoring your presence wasn’t something you wanted to happen, so I switched “greeting targets.” I went from my neighbors to other people in cars next to me, but I didn’t wave to just anybody. If I was going to wave at someone, it would have to be someone I, as a self-proclaimed VIP of the “gregarious passengers” world, deemed worthy of my flapping hand, so I created a system:
If they had a white car, it meant they had the time to keep it clean (which was highly impressive then and now), so they deserved a wave.
If they had on earrings, they deserved a wave, because I thought they looked pretty.
If they had a smile on their face, they deserved a wave. (By the time I was a couple months older, however, I had given up on this rule, as I realized not many people seemed particularly happy to be going on a car ride to Publix.)
If they looked like nice people, meaning they looked like someone who would give me sweets if I asked, they deserved a wave.
After a few more months of sticking with that system, my mother soon began to pick up on it and would wave to complete strangers with me, and that became our regular activity. After school, she would pick me, wave to some people on the way to the grocery store, wave to more people as they bought food, wave to some more people on the way back to the house, and repeat. It became our daily routine.
By the time I was ten-years-old, I had stopped, realizing how ridiculous I looked waving my hand in the air every couple of seconds, looking something like a traffic director, so I resorted to uncomfortably staring at people whenever we stopped, watching them as they reached for a different CD or a tube of mascara to reapply. Only some had ever realized I was watching them as intently as I was, which made my mother worry about my social skills, which would ultimately lead to being left at home while my parents did the grocery shopping on a weekly basis, rather than a daily one. Otherwise, I was free to stare as I pleased.
I stared at other children too, sometimes waving to them if we both shared the same bored face. I stared at elderly couples grabbing at each other’s hands and smiling with their crinkled skin tugging tight, I stared at middle-aged men talking, and I stared at teenagers’ texting and driving, causing one of them to have a “fender-bender” with my mother’s rear bumper.
Even today, I still have the tendency to stare in my own rear view mirror as I drive to watch the overly rambunctious children in the cars behind me, a world you can only observe from a distance.