How to Know You’re in the Wrong Place

A few months ago, I was in a car with my boyfriend and his brother-in-law barreling down a dark road in central Illinois and we hit an owl. And when I say hit, we absolutely creamed it. Or as the boyfriend said later, “Did we hit an owl, or did an owl commit suicide?” Which was a legitimate question for two reasons. One, the owl was sitting in the middle of the road, and despite it having plenty of time to fly off, it turned its giant lazy Susan head around to look at us right before it got a Ford Escape bumper to it’s endangered forehead.

It had so much time to save itself, I had plenty of time to think all these things: “Hey, what is that in the road? A log? Oh, it’s an owl. I’m hungry. I’ve never seen an owl this close before. I wonder if it’s going to fly off. It’s not. I wonder what we’ll eat for dinner. It’s looking at us. Why isn’t it flying away? Is Jon going to swerve? Nope, we killed it.”

I’ve never heard of an owl sitting in the middle of a road. Maybe he was trying something new, but it didn’t work out. It’s important to know when to leave a bad situation, new or old, and this owl should have flown off before the front tires flanked him on either side.

But it’s not always easy to know to you’re in the wrong place. The signs could be as subtle as feeling dread, which is a pretty good clue, or you might look up and see someone glaring at you, which is a very strong clue. Or maybe someone is offering you the strongest clue ever by telling you to get the fuck out. If that’s the case, you shouldn’t be reading this right now to decide what to do; you should be getting the fuck out.

Regardless, if you’re wondering if your current situation is the right place, the right time, the right train, or even the right sandwich, you probably already know the answer. It’s not, and you should be getting the fuck out. Here are some examples I’ve experienced with being in the wrong place.

Someone yells at you to get the fuck out of the way.

A woman on the train once told me to get the fuck off that train, and I think about this all the time, even though it happened twenty years ago. I had just started moved to the city and even I knew, as a naive 20-year old lugging a duffel bag weighing more than myself, off the Brown Line that I had the right of way.

Granted, it took me some extra seconds to drag my body bag of personal belongings through the train doors, but it’s common sense to wait for the person trying to leave the place or thing you want to enter to leave before you jam yourself in there, right? Right.

I was doing my goddamn best with what little upper body strength I had to move my literal and emotional baggage through the door quickly before it shut on me, but some strung out white woman pushed her way past me, stepping over my sleeping bag filled with rocks or whatever nonsense I had in there, while yelling, “Get the fuck out of the way!”

It was sound advice, although useless, because that’s what I was trying to do. But I think about every once in a while. She didn’t look employed so I’m not sure what she was in such a hurry. Maybe she was rushing to outrun her regrets because that seems like the only thing she had going for her.

You’re standing in a doorway.

I don’t do this, but as a former cocktail waitress, it drives me fucking crazy. Why do people, especially old white people, decide that standing in public doorways in a crowded bar is a good idea? Unless you’re in your home and leaning against a door jam with your arms crossed and offering either sage advice to a rebellious teen, or you yourself are a rebellious teen telling someone with tears in your eyes, “I need to find out who I am!”, then you really have no reason to be in a doorway.

You cry inside a McDonalds.

They put mayonnaise on my chicken sandwich and this was my first of many public breakdowns. I was a broke college student with body dysmorphia in between classes while responding to calls from my emotionally abusive long-distance boyfriend, who was like the woman on the train but all the time and about everything.

I remember sitting down at a table by the window, plopping all my books and academic detritus over the table. This was my dinner until I went into my night class; it was one of those long days of classes, like 10 or 12 hours, so I could work as much as possible at my minimum wage job to pay for my studio apartment with the one window that sat above a parking lot. Every morning I woke up to the smell of exhaust seeping in. It’s safe to say I was suffering from both burn out and carbon monoxide poisoning when I unwrapped that yellow paper and saw the white oozing out of the sides of bun. I immediately started crying.

I hate mayonnaise and ranch and any condiment that’s salty and white because I don’t like cold fat colligating on my food and the obvious association with jizz. But if you add flavoring and call it aioli, I’ll drown myself in it. To mayonnaise, not the other thing.

Anyway, I sat by the window, crying, scrapping jizzy cream off my sandwich until I just gave up and threw it away. Was I crying from the sandwich? Of course not. This McDonalds was in the ground floor of a well-known building in the Loop, and sometimes even now when I see it, I remember that and I wonder what passer-bys thought as they saw me crying and wiping mass produced salty bro-bro juice off my chicken sando.

If they thought, “Oh man, she’s in a really bad relationship and she needs to get out of it pronto,” then yeah, they were right.

The train you’re on will not stop.

Man, fuck trains.

Just jump on the Metra, they said. It’s super easy and here’s the train you need, they said. You’ll be here within 15 minutes, they said.

I jumped on a non-stop train without checking it was the right one. I just saw a train pull up on the right side of the tracks as I walked up to the platform and thought, “Killer timing! Awesome!” The train skipped right past Park Ridge, where I was going, so I asked the woman next to me when the next stop was, thinking it was like the el and I could jump off real quick. This was not the case.

She said Barrington. I had to look that up on my phone because I didn’t know what that Chicago suburb was located, or really , where any of them are, which to this day still remains true. I saw where it was and my heart dropped to my stomach when I realized it was 30 or 300 miles away from my stop. But it did explain why a bunch of older white men in loosened ties and polo shirts with industrial logos were standing in the doorways (see?!) drinking tall boys because this wasn’t a 15-minute ride but an non-stop 45-minute train ride. It cost me a $40 dollar Uber ride to get back to Park Ridge, which included the Uber driver having to stop for gas because he didn’t expect to pick up a fare this long, and neither did I, sir, neither did I. ironically, I could have spent maybe $10 to get there from my apartment if I just stuck to my intuition and said fuck trains.

Thomas the Tank Engine’s dick brother, Frank

Oh, and the best part was as I was boarding the train, I walked right past a conductor, who said, “Hello!” And I said, “Hi!” Instead of just asking if this was the right goddamn train.

You’re in a men’s prison but you’re a 13-year-old girl.

Listen, I think I inadvertently wrote a blog touching on some of worst and maybe some of my best experiences of my life. And going to prison when I was 13 was one of the best! Sometimes you might think you’re in the wrong place, but it’s actually the right place, and I honestly feel like I won the lottery for having experienced this.

By the way, this was not a scared straight thing, but a family fun day while all the prisoners walked free around us. My aunt volunteered at the Missouri state penitentiary, and one day a year, they allowed employees and volunteers to bring their family members in for a tour. I watched little kids get their picture taken in an old gas chamber right before they took us into death row, that was filled with actual human beings looking at us through tiny panes of glass. To say it was depressing doesn’t even scratch the surface of how devastating that was to see. All while on spring break during 8th grade.

Even though they told us the inmates would be under lockdown, they weren’t. My aunt about shit herself and I was gleeful knowing how mad my parents’ were gonna be when they heard about it later. The following year was the last year of the prison tour because an inmate threw a cup of piss on a lady, which I am so disappointed I didn’t get to see in person.

The ‘90s were the tits.

You develop IBS.

I was living in Philadelphia with an alcoholic and one day, as I was getting ready to leave our cigarette-smoke filled dump of an apartment for a job interview, I literally couldn’t stop taking dumps. This reliance on toilets went on well after I left that city. If you’re not going to listen to the warning signs your brain is telling you, oh, trust me, your body will let you know. And my intestines were begging me to get away from that guy.

Sometimes you cry about a sandwich, and sometimes you have diarrhea for half a decade.

You agree to run a race and then back out at 5am.

This one was actually the clincher that made me realize that the trapped, sweaty, frustrated awful feeling I routinely got when I was either literally or figuratively in the wrong place was a sign that I didn’t want to do something. I didn’t know to trust my own instincts, which is why gaslighting is an everlasting motherfucker.

I didn’t want to run a 5K. I have never wanted to run a 5K. I like running, sure, but when and where I want to, and not at dawn. My boyfriend’s family likes to run races and one time I got asked to join them. Even though my body, especially my bowels, was screaming, “Nooooo.”, I agreed to it. But the night before the race, I spent hours watching the clock tick towards the alarm set at 5am, and I laid awake, rigid with anxiety and filled with regrets, probably how that meth-head lady on the train felt so many years ago.

Sometime in the night I decided they were going to have to drag me out house to do this thing, which is a really dramatic stance to take for a fun run, and as the alarm went off that morning, my boyfriend jumped out of bed and straight into his Adidas, I hid under the blanket, pretending I was dead.

That didn’t work. He turned to me all chipper, singing to me to wake up. I sat up in bed and handed him cash to pay his family back for the the sign up fee, sweaty bills I had been clutching to my chest since 3am. and said, “I never should have agreed to this.” Mainly because I didn’t feel like stress shitting in, but I had been awake all night with the anxiety of having to run for less than thirty minutes, and with only 15 minutes of actual sleep, there was no way I would be able to run and drink, which was really the main reason I even out myself in that position to begin with.

Even with the tempting thought of getting drunk at breakfast, with so much anxiety-induced acid boiling inside my small intestines, I couldn’t trust them in an unknown toilet situation. They would have throw down out of sheer spite; I know my colon, this is what it does.

Isn’t this what everyone dreams about?

Anyway, he ran it and drank Bloody Marys with his family at 9am, as I went back to sleep knowing I wouldn’t be shitting in a Porta-Potty on the side of a road that day and it was glorious.

The moral of this story is, if you feel like you’re in the wrong place, get out. Otherwise, you could end up shitting your pants in a 5K or get blasted out of oblivion by a Ford Escape. I honestly am not sure which is worse.

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