We stepped off the escalator a couple of blocks from City Hall. None of us had used L.A.’s Metro before, but it was pretty clear which direction we should go. We followed the people with the protest signs.
I don’t have much use for large crowds, and I usually set to work breaking them down into individuals, a task best accomplished by chatting with total strangers. As much as anonymous crowds overwhelm me, the chance to get to know new people sets me at ease. In this case, I was with a group of people I did not know well, having tagged along with Wanda and her friends.
Wanda and I were friends in college, and although we lost touch for over a decade, we fell right back into the rhythm when my family moved to L.A. last spring. She comes to dinner at our house regularly, both boys made a point to invite her to their birthday parties, and she was the person I called when I went into labor. She qualifies as a damned good friend. Her group of friends, however, were somewhere between acquaintances and strangers.
Normally, I do well with this size group: five or so people to learn about, stories to elicit. J hates small gatherings because he feels obliged to talk to people. That’s what I like best. A group of five to ten is neatly contained.
Unless, of course, that group is moving towards a slightly larger group. Say 10,000 people gathered to demonstrate for same-sex marriage.
The crowd wasn’t too bad when we arrived. Most of the participants were on Gay Standard Time and hadn’t arrived yet. Our group, being straight, was early, so the crush of bodies had not begun.
We stopped under a large tree, figuring shade would be good on a 90 degree day, especially for the eight-week old I was wearing. I was relieved; we were in the back and in the shade without me having to make an issue of it.
But, then someone else arrived who wanted to be closer to the front, and we played follow the leader. There was shade here, too, but it was hotter and getting much more crowded. From my point of view, a much less pleasant place to stand for several hours.
I could feel it as it happened. The switch flicked. The High Maintenance switch. The I-want-to-be-with-other-people-but-I-want-them-to-do-everything-my-way switch. The very switch that gets thrown inside my eldest child, causing him to destroy the play dates he has begged me for. We are both People Persons who get easily annoyed by Other People.
In this case, I could probably have forced them to go back, given the rather delicate accessory I was wearing. But it wasn’t their choice to travel with a baby. I was tagging along with them. And I did not want to put Wanda in an awkward situation.
Somewhere deep inside me, a force rumbled. It slowly reached out a finger on tapped that switch back into place. I told Wanda that I was headed back to where we had been before, that she should stay with the group, and that we’d meet up later at the same tree if she wanted to. Then I fought through the rapidly growing crowd of couples in bridal gowns and protestors waving signs to the shady area in the back. Where, incidentally, all the other families with young kids or dogs were hanging out.
I called Wanda, told her how pleasant it was there, not so that she would join me but so that if the group was uncomfortable, they would know their options.
It had not been easy, finding my maturity like that. What I wanted was for everyone to cater to my needs, but the fact was that my needs differed from theirs. I could have stayed up front, miserable, so as not to be left out; or I could have insisted everyone come with me, much as Zachary insisted his little friend needed to play Hide-and-Seek in our backyard on Friday. Neither one of those options would have been very grown-up of me. So, I settled in at the back alone and began to breastfeed. Incidentally, a gay marriage rally is very breastfeeding-friendly.
A half an hour later, Wanda showed up, somewhat out of breath. “How did you get through that crowd?” she panted.
I did not ask her why she came back to the Dogs, Old Married Couples, and Children section because I had a pretty good understanding of exactly what her reason had been. She hadn’t wanted to leave me all alone, so she had left the group she came with and come to keep me company as I changed diapers.
At the end of the rally, as we found the rest of the group and made our way to the subway, I decided maybe Zachary would be OK. It may take him thirty years, but I think someday he is going to learn how to control that little switch that makes him insist to his playmates, “You’re not doing it the right way!” And I hope he has a friend who cares enough to make sure he’s never left all alone.