"What are you looking at?" I asked when I noticed my mom casting an excessive series of glances into the rear view mirror. I asked her again when she didn’t respond.
"Nothing," she said flippantly, but her eyes went right back to the mirror. I twisted in the passenger seat, squinting out the back window to see what sort of exciting scene had her attention so tightly bound. The light turned green; as the Explorer began to accelerate, I noticed that a man was crossing the street behind us. He looked around my mom’s age and his head was wrapped snugly in a black and gold bandanna.
I snickered. "Oh my God, you were totally checking out that guy crossing the street behind us. That’s what you were looking at!" The thought of my mom preening in the rear view mirror at the sight of some sloppy stranger made me spit out my beverage.
"I was not," she denied haughtily. But it was too late, giddiness had set in and I was already construing a tale of dramatic (dis)proportions to be passed on for generations. Undaunted by the rest of my family’s failure to see the humor in the story, I couldn’t wait to tell everyone at school. I had a hard time sleeping that night, scenarios of their reactions playing out behind my eyes.
At school the next morning, I still wasn’t over the excitement. I tried to relay the scene to some of the kids in my eighth grade homeroom, but they seemed confused. The ones who knew me well enough knew to ignore me, but the others seemed like they really wanted to understand, like they desperately needed to be in on the joke that had me crying with laughter.
Thinking a diagram of the situation would paint a better picture, I stood at the chalkboard and drew a crude version of my mom with heart-shaped pupils intently watching the man crossing the street.
"Is that supposed to be a pirate?" someone asked.
"No, just some dude in a bandanna," I explained.
"Looks like a pirate."
I brushed it off and tried unsuccessfully to re-tell the story using my chalky story board. I had to pause after every third word because laughter would start to strangle me.
"I don’t get why this is funny," someone interjected, annoyed.
"You’re a fucking sped." That came from Scott Ash. We would start dating a year later.
"Sit down, Erin," Mr. Rubinsack begged, paired with his standard temple-rub. Teachers did that a lot when dealing with me…? Mr. Rubinsack remains my favorite teacher of all time. He made me sit in the hall when I got on his nerves. (Not as often as you’d think.)
My friend Keri used to get especially annoyed when I would tell this story. She would assuage confusion by explaining, "Don’t bother trying to understand her. She’s a fucking idiot. It’s only funny to her, in her head."
It took me months to be able to keep a straight face when recounting it.
A year or so later, my mom picked Keri and me up from the mall. Sitting at a red light, I glanced out the window, and in a moment of sheer serendipity, I saw him. With his head swaddled in a taut bandanna, I saw the Man Who Crossed the Street, well, crossing the street. There he was, slowly schlepping along in his worn jacket and scruffy beard.
"Oh my God! Oh my God, look who it is!" I jabbed my finger excitedly out the window. "It’s—"
"Huh, it’s my step-father," Keri finished my sentence with detached ambivalence.
"——yeah. It’s your…..step-father. That’s exactly who it is, wow," I quickly covered. A wave of nausea pummeled over me. What an awkward, unexpected twist to a saga, a year in the making. I didn’t really hang out much at Keri’s house back then, and had only met her step-dad once, in passing. There was no way I would have made the connection.
After we dropped Keri off, I turned to my mom and exhaled melodramatically. "Wow, that was a close one, huh?" I let out a terse laugh.
"What was?" my mom asked, not sounding like she really cared much for an answer.
"That Keri’s step-dad is the Man Who Crossed the Street." Did I have to spell it out for her? I scoffed inwardly.
"The who?" My mom sounded impatient. This was a normal tone for her. I actually had to re-tell the story from that fateful afternoon a year before. She looked at me blankly.
It was my turn to be impatient. "You know, the guy I was obsessed with, like, forever?" She rolled her eyes.
For weeks, I couldn’t make eye contact with Keri. How was I supposed to tell her that I learned the identity of this man who I had clutched so snuggly against my heart for so long? This man that I had sketched pictures of, laughed about, wrote stories about, all this time it had been her step-father. Her step-father who she despised. I was so afraid that if she knew, she would be angry. Maybe she would find herself adverse to crossing streets, or looking at pictures drawn on chalkboards, or worst of all maybe she would run away to a home that wasn’t inhabited by the Step-Father Who Crossed the Street. Maybe she would start boozing it up with men who didn’t wear bandannas and didn’t resemble pirates when people tried to draw pictures of them.
I finally told her, years later. The air was heavy with tension that night, and I broached the subject with extreme caution and hesitation. She kept slicing through my nervous silences with aggravated sighs. "What?" she would prompt, churning her hands in a "speed-it-up" motion.
"Your step-dad Ron is the Man Who Crossed the Street"! I blurted out, wishing I had a shot of tequila to nurse my heart-rate back to normal.
She laughed. "That’s it?" she asked. "Why were you so afraid to tell me that? I thought you were pregnant or something."
An anti-climactic ending to such a cherished chapter of my life.
I wrote this story two years later when I going through a really awkward poetry phase. It would probably sound best if read above a jarring beat of a bongo.
THE MAN WHO CROSSED THE STREET
(A true story)
Once, many long years ago (two to be exact)
There was a woman in her car with her daughter at a red light.
It seemed to be an average, ordinary day.
Until the man crossed the street.
The woman quickly glanced at her reflection in the mirror
Making sure she looked alright.
Cuz [sic] the man was walking right behind her car.
It was love at first sight, the daughter could tell.
The woman blushed and denied it all.
But that short moment changed their lives forever.
The man who crossed the street will always be in their hearts.
Eventually, he quit being known to me as The Man Who Crossed the Street, becoming instead The Man Who Gets Me Served in Bars When I’m Underage.