Something I like to do for lunch is grab some fast food and drive up to the hill above the Saddledome to sit in my car, eat, and gaze upon the city skyline. It's my version of an urban picnic. The view is similar to the one on Crescent Hill, just north of downtown, but way more peaceful. Except yesterday. While I was eating, I parked my car2go in front of one of the houses when a truck creeped up behind me and honked. I assumed the guy wanted to park in front of his house, so I scooted the car up and continued my lunch. He gave me this incredulous death stare as he exited his vehicle and went inside. I didn't really think anything of it at first, but as I ate, the experience slowly started seeping into my mind. I thought he was being way too aggressive. I have the right to park the car2go there. It's a city street, and car2go has an arrangement with the City of Calgary. Normally I would have just left it alone and drove off once I finished eating, but the thoughts started to fester. I usually let that kind of aggression roll off my back, but when I try to, the thoughts stew and bubble inside of me, and it takes a lot to process it out. This blog is filled with posts resulting from me holding my emotions inside with no outlet. I de-escalate situations because I'm a polite Canadian. In light of my therapy however, I didn't want to respond in my usual way. I knew that the thoughts would chase me for weeks, thoughts of cowardice, of running away, of reacting instead of thoughtfully choosing a response. This time, instead of fleeing or freezing, I chose to fight.

I finished up my meal, and then I reversed the car2go back to the space in front of the man's truck. He had no right to push me off, and if he wanted me to move, he could have asked nicely. As I exited the vehicle, I discovered that a woman, whom I presume to be his wife, had been watching me the entire time. She asked me to move my car because she was having company over that evening. I barked back that I could park there if I wanted to. She said her disabled mother was coming over and that she had trouble walking up to the house. I was taken back a bit and asked "Really?". There was a slight pause, and then she said "I'm asking as a favor." Suddenly, I realized I didn't have the energy to keep bickering with her, so I relented and drove off. Not much of a fight, but hey, I pushed back.

Pretty short episode, but significant for several reasons. I fought back against an aggressor for the first time since my Short Term Disability case worker in July. Since then, I've generally just been hiding out at home, hoping that the world would leave me alone. I automatically reacted when the guy honked at me, but after a few considered moments, I responded with equal aggression. It was immediately clear to me that I couldn't escape this confrontation. This event was going to be a thing, no matter how I responded, so I needed to choose wisely. Instead of buckling, I engaged with it and responded in kind. I got it out of my system. Writing about it helps too.

The main reason I relented was because the lady asked nicely. The old man was pretty aggressive to me. I didn't realize that she was staring at me the whole time I sat there, so maybe she indicated to him to tell me to move. Alas, they put me on the defensive immediately, which made me feel powerless. Once she admitted that she didn't have a leg to stand on, that all she could ask for was courtesy, then I was okay with it.

They seemed pretty entitled. You have to be pretty rich to live up on that hill, considering the million dollar view and how fancy their home looked. I get that there must be a lot of people constantly driving up there and parking where they shouldn't, but the street doesn't belong to them. They must have enough free time if they have the energy to fight strangers, preparing at lunchtime for their dinner party. When someone is used to privilege, people demanding equality feels like oppression to the privileged person. The privileged play through life on easy mode, so when they have to play by the same rules as the rest of us, they freak out. It's the same with my family of origin. I'm merely asking them to treat me with some respect after years of not doing that, even though I've earned it, but somehow they're the unfortunate ones when I stand up to them. I'm not returning to those relationships where they tried to convince me I was crazy for expecting equality. Similarly, if I wanted to park somewhere that I was allowed to park, this couple felt like I was imposing on their lives. There was plenty of parking all around us, which is why I stopped my car there in the first place.

Practically speaking, the car2gos in that area typically get used pretty quick. It would definitely have been gone by the late afternoon.

For the record, of the fight-flight-freeze responses, flight and freeze would have been okay too. I'm used to fleeing from confrontations, and while historically I'm not great at unfreezing, it's something I could have worked through. I wasn't entirely happy with my knee-jerk reaction of deferring to this random person by scooting my car up, but I am happy that I responded firmly. What I did was legal, I didn't lose my cool, and once they re-escalated, I ran away. I could always let the bullies in this world have their way, or I could stand up to them. If I were a truly great person, perhaps I could have made them into friends with some sort of charm or wit, through conversation and empathy, but it was immediately apparent to me that they had all the time in the world to make mountains out of mole hills and that I had fewer resources for fighting strangers. I made the most of a short, high-pressure situation despite having plenty of other options that would have been okay too.

It bothers me that they'll probably malign all Asian people for being barbaric as a result of my actions. As a person of colour in Calgary, I have the burden of having to represent my race in everything I do, which is unfair. Generally, white people are treated as individuals, but people of colour are ambassadors of their ethnic group. If I act aggressively, I'm a savage barbarian that hasn't learned my manners. If an immigrant doesn't work, they're lazy. If they do work, they're stealing all the jobs. It's often a losing proposition for marginalized groups. Some people are used to racism and oppression from dealing with it their whole lives, but other groups are inexperienced at it, often because they're on the side that's perpetrating it. I'm used to receiving racial slurs or other comments on my ethnicity, eg. "Let's play Asian bingo and guess which country you're from!", but it's tiring always having to be the bigger person.

To be fair to them, I overreacted. Maybe they were hosting an intervention for a loved one that evening. Maybe they were mourning the loss of a family member. Who knows why they were having company over that night? Maybe I could have just eaten somewhere else. However, I have the right to be there, so where does it end? Would they like me to leave the city because my presence here bothers them? But then that mentality works in my favour too. They didn't know I wasn't even going to park there, but I was going to, out of spite. I was just idling my car there so I could eat lunch, enjoy the view, and ponder my life. Because of their aggressive response, I'll probably have to go back there again to eat my lunch and ponder this situation.

I'm probably not the first person they shooed away from parking in front of their home. Carrie and I have a parking spot with our condo. Carrie takes the car all day, so it's a pretty sweet spot that's available all day for delivery people, service technicians, or other neighbours in the building. Sometimes people park in it, but even though I could have them towed, why would I? They're in and out pretty quick, and it's available when Carrie comes home. Even if they weren't, we could park on the street and leave a nice note on their windshield wiper. Or not. It's happened so many times that it's not worth the effort.

Did I do the best thing? Was it godly? Is that what Jesus would have done? I'm not sure what the Bible says about recovering from abuse and bullying per se, but I chose my own well-being over that of those two people. I think they'll be okay. Am I overanalyzing the situation? You betcha. Am I overreacting? Definitely. This is life with PTSD, anxiety, being gaslighted and bullied, and being silenced. Because of trauma, you're hypervigilant because you never feel safe. Everything is a threat. I think a healthy person would have just been annoyed by someone honking at them and moved on. A healthy person also wouldn't have been eating McDonald's like I was. The logical part of my brain considered leaving unscathed, but the recovering victim in me wanted to stand up for themself. This week when I was playing Civilization, I started with a relatively peaceful campaign, focusing most of my efforts on developing culture and science. Then some countries started expanding really fast and building up large armies. Every once in a while, the game compares your progress with the other AI players, so when they listed everyone's military might, I learned that I had the second smallest army. That was intentional, but it freaked me out when as I observed the personalities of the other leaders. I felt really unsafe, and as a result, I took over the world. I declared war on the big players, allied with some city-states and smaller nations, annexed some cities, and gained some Major Warmonger penalties in the process. Now I have the largest army, more powerful than everyone combined, and all the other leaders feel guarded or afraid of me. (This is all possible because I’m playing on Easy difficulty.) That's my overreaction in the game. It's a lot harder for me to do the civil thing because I'm so allergic to being bullied or silenced. Maybe you wouldn't have responded the way I did, but we have different problems.

The healing and recovery process means building new neural pathways. I'm changing the way my brain operates. The old way of thinking is a well-worn path, like a six lane highway. Changing my decision-making process is like forging a new path in a field of fresh snow. I'm reprogramming my instincts and reactions, making new connections in my brain. It's hard doing the right thing. I still get triggered by things randomly, whether it's from my childhood sexual abuse, from being emotionally bullied my whole life. I'm practising calming myself down from those triggering experiences, but I also want to work on being triggered less often and with lower intensity. It's slow work, but it's possible and worthwhile.

This isn't going to stop me from returning to the hill. I'm not vindictive enough to go back and park in front of their house again. I don't have time for petty fights, except for just this one, and I'd rather just move on. I'm not traumatized from this experience, partly because I chose to respond the way I did. I typically choose to flee, which means letting that negative energy mess me up inside, but I wanted to take a risk and stand up for myself this time. It's an indicator of my health and progress. I saw my counsellor this week, and she said that I've made a lot of changes in a very short amount of time. This incident is a pretty clear sign that I've turned a corner, as clear as the parking sign that said I was allowed to park there.

Jonathan Phan Lê @jon_le