Many years ago, in a movie theater that has since closed, in a part of my life that feels as if some one else had lived it, we were waiting in the lobby for the doors to open. We were part of a crowd, more than a hundred in a small space. I do not remember the movie, only that it was one that was ‘hot’. Abruptly, behind us, a shout, then a ripple of bodies stumbling and lurching, a man breaking through carrying a child, and then another man, one who had been pushed, stepping towards him, enraged, shoulders forward, aggressive, shouting threats. All this happening so fast. The man with the child hunched, turning his body to shield the child. Two of us, strangers, stepped into the space between the two men, hands up in the universal sign for no, hold on, calm down. The enraged man hesitated, stopped, continued to shout over us. No one touched although we were only inches apart. His face was writhing, a red knot shifting up and down, back and forth. But he did not step into us, neither of whom was making a fist or yelling back. With a final curse, he turned away and left the theater. The man with the child, now shaking, came out of the bathroom behind us. He said he had only been trying to get his son to the bathroom. It had been an emergency. He was almost frantic, his adrenaline giving him little jolts and rattles. The stranger and I listened. Then it was over. The theater doors opened. We went our separate ways.
In the last two weeks or so, I keep coming back to that moment, where one more step, one thoughtless touch, an arm in motion, a fist brought too close would have created violence and a series of unpredictable actions and consequences.
This is what it feels like now, each morning: all of us becoming strangers in a crowded space, waiting, anticipating, and then the shouts, the movement, the curses, the bared teeth, the moment full of nothing but edges and blades.