The noise started with a consistent clatter--round and round--metal hitting concrete. I thought the sound might be coming from my back tire. I turned up my radio in the car as I drove, in denial. But even the the soothing voice of Fred Child on Performance Today could not block out the persistent clacking.
When I parked the car, I looked at the back tire, and the silver nail head leered at me. I wanted to jerk it out from the tire's hefty tread, but didn't dare, knowing the air would leak from the puncture. I hadn't expected this. I didn't want this. Why did such simple annoyances unravel me, dysregulate me?
I sighed. I could feel my nostrils flaring, angered that I must go to Gerald's tire repair--not because the company didn't provide good service, but because they did. The shop was almost always packed. Located on a corner of a crowded city neighborhood, Gerald's exudes a chaotic friendliness. It's first come, first serve, and patrons often snake around its rust-colred edifice. Gerald's mechanics roll tires over to jacked-up cars and clanging tool sounds echo through the multiple car stalls. I stood in line waiting to spill out my tire problem to the manager at the customer service desk. I overheard the woman in front of me. "I'm not sure what's wrong," she said as she nervously twirled a strand of honey-blond hair. "The tire pressure light is on. Could you take a look?" I thought to myself, "Uh, that would mean you fill the tires with air." I was the Grinch.
My turn came and I blurted, "I've got a nail in my tire. Will it take long to give it a look?"
"I'm sorry, ma'am, it's a long wait. Maybe three or four hours. Could you drop it off?" The manager looked up at me, his eyes the color of winter gray. Kind.
I didn't want to take a chance of further damage to the tire. I would wait. "Thank you ma'am for your patience." No wonder people came to Gerald's. I took one last glance at the man as he handed me my paperwork. His hair looked sculpted in a black wave, like he'd used old-fashioned pomade. With his smooth brow and clean-shaven face, he could have been a 1930's movie star.
I sat down in the cramped waiting area. I could smell the fruity scent of shampoo wafting from the woman sitting next to me. A man on my other side incessantly bounced his knees. Another woman took the leash from her buff-colored dog. The dog roamed over to where I sat, circled in place several times and sat at my feet, leaning against my left leg. He looked up at me, liquid brpwn eyes peering through his shaggy bang fur. I patted him and pulled the book from my purse. The long wait provided some time to start reading my enemy's novel. Earlier in the week, I'd been in Barnes and Noble purchasing Christmas gifts, and I saw her book. The material wasn't my favorite genre, but I picked it up and began reading. I didn't like the first sentence. I put the book back on the shelf. Why should I buy this book? The author had been dismissive of me at the conference we both attended, now over a year ago. She had not made eye contact with me when I attempted to engage her about writing. She'd turned away from me at the dinner and chatted with other people, pointedly ignoring me. Her actions jabbed me--pierced me--pins in the heart. I resented her arrogance. I took the book back from the shelf. I'd buy it. That was the action to take. Love one's enemy, support one's enemy.
I'd softened toward the author before I opened the book. I'd read some reviews online, and her work had garnered several terrible reviews. Scathing, really. How had she managed to transcend the critical feedback and remain intact as a writer? I learned she'd submitted the manuscript for over three years before a publisher offered her a contract. I admired this perseverance and her courage. I began to read. The story did not engage me as I'd hoped. Yet as I sat there in the room full of strangers, the warm dog at my side, I felt the the pins of resentment loosened from my heart. I prayed for this woman who dared to write and submit and shrink from her critics. "God bless her work, favor her, give her success in the competitive, ego-driven writing culture," I prayed. "Forgive me, God, for resenting her, for being jealous."
"Ma'am, your car's ready. There's no charge. You're all patched up."
"No charge?" I stood up and gently moved the dog from my leg.
"That's right. It was an easy fix, and we appreciate your patience--for waiting so long. Merry Christmas."
As I left Gerald's I noticed a strand of vintage Christmas lights outlining a shop window across the street. The glowing, retro blue and red bulbs gladdened my heart, now sans pins. And my tire sans the nail I hadn't wanted, hadn't expected.