He moved with the energy of a stretched rubber band. The black pleated khaki pants, paired with a short sleeve button up tucked in shirt, were worn like a costume. The fidgety adjusting and re-adjusting of his sunglasses. The quiet strained way he barked orders at the two boys, to look for quarters in the arcade machine’s slots. How he grabbed the joystick and gloated “this is how you do it,” as if he needed to show them who’s boss at these fucking machines. How he slammed the second beer glass into the first when he was finished. The way he strode outside and smoked a cigarette hastily, after telling the woman to just ‘take a damn picture’ of all the art on the wall. And then, he got into his black Toyota, kids buckled into the back, and his wife texting in the front seat. I watched him pull on gloves, and speed away.
Our Monday night solo-mama dinner out had been punctuated by witnessing this strange interaction between a man and his family. There was nothing overt. He didn’t touch anyone harshly. He barely even raised his voice. But the strained energy was like that gas smell right before an explosion. My gut screamed danger, but my eyes said ‘normal family eating dinner at Zippy’s Giant Burgers.’ Sure the kids seemed angrier than other 8 year olds, but they could have been having a bad day, right?
My gut says domestic violence.
But my question is…what do you do about it? If you ever witness something…off…in public (or not), what do you do (if anything)?
When I worked as a crisis counselor I felt prepared to go into situations that were volatile. When I’m out for dinner with my 2 y/o I don’t expect to have to put up emotional boundaries about what I will experience and how I will react. There’s no law against being an asshole, and the guy didn’t DO ANYTHING. But my gut said a different story. My mind starts to race, thinking that when he was in the bathroom I could have struck up a conversation with her. Or asked her outright if he hurts her. Or just given her the Crisis Line #. Or I could have said something to the kids. Or I could have gotten the license plate and reported a drunk driver (because I had just seen him drink a beer).
Instead I stood gape-mouthed as he drove away. Even hours later, the icky feeling in the pit of my stomach lingered. I know that legally I didn’t have to do anything. I don’t even know if ethically or morally I needed to do anything. I do know that if Candid Camera was filming I would have felt like an ass for not doing something. But…but…what would you have done? What should I have done?