What is it about me that attracts people who want to talk, especially when I do not? Now, don’t get me wrong – I can hold my own in a yak-fest. Put me in a room of strangers and in 10 minutes, someone will be telling me their life story. Maybe that skill comes from being a consultant or an internal auditor and having to ask a lot of questions to get to what you need to know. Or working for the government for decades and having to answer the phone with “good morning, you’ve reached ABC department, this is x speaking, how may I help you?” But those were my choices.
I’ve started swimming three times a week at the Community Centre in Bradford. Alarm goes off at 6:30 a.m. and I’m dressed and out the door by 6:43. Breakfast is a plum or a peach scarfed down as I drive. At the pool by 6:50 and in the water five minutes later. Sweet. Usually, I’m the only one in the dressing room, which suits me just fine. But on some days, there’s a gaggle of…older ladies…preparing for an aqua-fit class. They usually chat among themselves – the heat, vacations, medical treatments – but for the last few weeks, one woman has kept trying to draw me into their conversations, which I have studiously resisted. My excuse is that when I take off my glasses, I can’t see who I’m speaking to. Well, I can’t, that’s true. What’s also true is that I don’t like talking to people in the morning – ask Hub – he’ll agree that I’m monosyllabic. It has nothing to do with having coffee, either. I like to keep my thoughts to myself until I get my body warmed up for the day.
So last week, she actually reached over and touched my elbow and said, ‘Hi, my name is Gwen/Joan/Ruth”. I know it’s one syllable but since I had no interest in her, I didn’t pack it into my memory bank. Plus, she breached dressing room etiquette: if one or the other of you is naked, you don’t start a conversation.
“Hi,” I said, picking up the bag with my snorkel and flippers. I tried to ease around the other side of the bench but was slowed down by the butt-block of one of her buddies. I’d never spoken with her, either. Hmm, tag team? “‘Scuse me.”
“What’s your name?” She’d raised her voice. Geez, I felt like I was in grade four again. Or in Costco when some precocious toddler wants to chat. What to do, what to do? Do I give a fake name, like when proselytizers ring our doorbell asking, “have you found Jesus” and I reply, “I’ve never lost him.” I mean, if I’m going to see her every few days in the dressing room and she calls out my fake name and I don’t answer, wouldn’t I look like a rude a**hole?
Still not making eye contact, I mumbled my name. Maybe I should have whipped up my hands and used sign language. Of course she got it wrong when she repeated it, so I corrected her. I stomped to the pool deck, slipped into lane 3 and pounded out 30 minutes of breast strokes, fuming at how helpless I felt and annoyed that I’d given her my name, a piece of me I limit to people I want to interact with. Life lesson – you’re never too old to feel cornered, especially when you don’t control the situation. My mother would have approved of my politeness. I was just pissed.