"I was just trying to fix the pom-pom..." I said. The strangers turned back around, their interest already dissipated.
"It's not fixable," she said. And then she gave me a quizzical look. "Are you afraid of me?"
"Kind of," I said.
"Sometimes I think maybe," she said, "but then I think no, he couldn't be..."
I mumbled something. Probably "sorry". I don't remember.
"Can you understand," she continued, "how it might be kind of awkward to talk to someone who's afraid of you?"
"Yeah," I said. (Of course, the context would be completely different. As Margaret Atwood is often paraphrased, "Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them." And Mackenzie, being an ardent feminist, must be acutely aware of this.)
"What if you were afraid of them and they were afraid of you?" she went on. "Would that be easier, or would that make it worse?"
"I don't know, I guess it would depend... When I talk to awkward people, it's just twice as awkward."
"I sat by someone in Relief Society that you should talk to."
"How do you know she would be scared of me?"
"I can just tell. Let's see... that's her, in the blue dress. You don't need to like date her or anything, but I just think it would be good for you to talk to her."
"Go up to her and say, 'I like your dress.' And if she doesn't respond much to that, say something like 'Did you make it yourself?' And if she doesn't respond much to that, you're off the hook."
Alas, she slipped away before we could say anything to her. "I don't see her anywhere," Mackenzie said as she scanned the crowd. I did, but I opted not to mention it.
Later that day, at ward prayer, I said, "Do you want to know why I'm scared of you?"
"Because I'm a girl?" she guessed without missing a beat.
"No," I said. "I mean, yes, that's part of it, but not the primary part."
"It's so strange that you're scared of girls but you feel more comfortable hanging out with them than guys," she said.
"Normally, by this point, having known you for so long, I would be relaxed with you, like with Debbie -"
"You aren't scared of Debbie?"
"No. Did I seem like it?"
"When was that? Was it like at the beginning of last summer, before we hung out all the time, or?"
"I don't remember, it's been so long since we were all in one spot."
"Well, anyway, the main reason I'm scared of you is that I feel like I always have to walk on eggshells to -"
"Oh, yeah," she said, waving me to not continue, "you told me about that."
"And then, yes, the other reasons are that you're a girl, that you're pretty, that you're - never mind."
"I just was going to say that you're 'powerful' and stuff, for lack of a better word, but then you would think it was sexist of me to be intimidated by -"
"No, i's only sexist if you - never mind."
"How come you get to change your mind and not say things, but I have to say them anyway?"
She smiled. "Because I have the power in this relationship." ("Relationship" in the generic sense, obviously.)
"And if I tried to seize more power, and be assertive and stuff, would you push back?"
"Of course," she said. "That's how relationships work. They're a power struggle until someone comes out on top."
In the car afterward, Mackenzie asked, "Would it be all right if I criticized you?"
"You do that all the time," I said.
"No, it's more of just that we disagree," she said. (I feel like we actually agree 95% of the time, but she fixates on the other 5% instead and badgers me about it, and then as a result sometimes I play stupid and pretend to disagree just to mess with her.) "I mean, are you one of those people who would rather be told you have spinach in your teeth, or just find out on your own later?"
"I believe it's important to know the truth, even if it sucks beyond belief. If you break me into a thousand pieces, I will rebuild myself into a better me." (Not really. Broken things don't rebuild themselves.)
She laughed nervously. And we went on like that until in a very roundabout way she managed to convey what she had in mind. But that's none of your business.