I stood behind her in the check out line. Peering. There was something about her. Vaguely familiar. Her jacket open with another underneath. To keep her warm? Why did she not just zip up the outer one? Her scent a mix of vanilla and lavender. She was pretty in a sweet way. The wife was nattering in my ear. I paid her half attention wondering about the young woman in front of us. Ran a critical eye over her purchases. Eggs. Pepsi. Pizza. Hmmmmmmmmm…….
I eyed the groceries I had piled on the belt. ‘Hey the first few items are the must haves…..after that we will see’……Nervously I watched the total add up. I had received an unexpected boon today which allowed me to shop for some items to tide us over until payday. Princess looked at me eyebrows furrowed in question. ‘Kay the pizzas. Cream.’ She looks over at me and pointedly at the pepsi I am buying. It came down to personal items (toothpaste/shampoo/vitamins etc) or extras for the kids lunches. Princess flippantly looks over items and in a throw away voice ‘healthy or beauty?’ I cringed having to say this. Furtively I glanced at the customer behind me. Hoping he would not recognize me. ‘Bars. Buy one get one at least have snack for first part of week.’
I zoned in suddenly. Caught the end of the conversation. That voice. Took a moment to cycle through and realized it was our regular cashier. Always cheerful. Smile on her lips. Asked after the family. Teased and laughed with me.Not someone I would have thought would have to make such a decision. I guess I had never really thought about what it must be like for her outside of the service she provided for me. For my wife. My family. Her cheeks reddened as she peeped from beneath shawl of hair. Realized she was checking to see if I had recognized her. Turned away and pretended that I was listening to the wife.
Oh thank goodness he did not recognize me. Benefit of having such long hair. When it is down most do not see me. Princess handed me the bars and I bagged them. Handed her my rewards card hoping there was something I could redeem. Add at least one of the extras but not yet. Shrugged and paid. Ducked my head so that my hair fell forward covering my face. Beyond Princess no one realized I had been there. I calculated what I had spent and yeah so the pepsi is not a must have but a little something as a treat. Not only for me.
I watched as she walked away. Saw her head swiveling subtly back and forth eyes gauging cataloging the people around her. She did not acknowledge anyone with raised voice or hand. She moved quickly neatly between the people blocking her exit. Realizing as she zipped through none saw her a ghost within their midst.
Thank god I got out without anyone seeing me. Hard to explain how money is something you need to count to the penny. Proud asking for no help because you can do it. And it is no one’s business learn to live in your means tighten your belt voice roaring in your head bow beneath the onslaught. Load the groceries into the back of the car pushing the cart back to the pick up area brace self against the sudden gust of rain washing over me baptismal flood slid behind the wheel. Windows fogged as I steam.
I watched standing at the cart corral as she puts her car into drive pulling into traffic. What I was seeing did not reconcile with the picture I had of her. Granted I only thought of her for the maybe 10 minutes a week I saw her. Never beyond but this is not what I had imagined. Kinda like a cartoon that does not end just because the scene has. Suddenly confronted with the bias of my thoughts. Middle class as they were. Laughing because I had been so sure she was middle class too.
I saw him standing watching as I pulled from my parking space. Rain dousing him until he became a blob in the rear view mirror. He knew now. How was I ever to meet his eyes? Poverty is not a sin…..yet we still feel as though it is.
Jan. 3 2020
Picture via Pinterest
She sat lank hair falling into her face smelling of body odor and cigarette smoke. All she wanted to do was go home. She was so tired. She wanted a shower. She wanted her life to return to her. She did not like the person inside of her. Raging black beast with fear as a companion. She watched as other social workers left and still her mom did not arrive. When finally mom did she could not look at her. Did not want to see the anger. The disappointment that surely was etched in deep lines across her mom’s pursed lips. A single tear fell a small bit of moisture she rubbed into her jeans.
When had her life become so shit? No matter how hard she tried to remember there seemed to be no defining moment. No time she could put her finger to calendar and exclaim ‘aha it was June 3 1986 at three p.m. that my life turned to shit.’ Wishful thinking. There was nothing. One day there was this sense of dread deep within. A horror. A need to not be awake. Not alive. It was becoming overwhelming. It was just so much easier to ignore the warning signs that were knocking at the door. Had been knocking for awhile.
How could she explain? How could she tell her mom the horror she found herself in. A part played and played well. Once she mentioned something but when questions arose buried her face in a book easy escape.
That sense of horror. It builds and builds exploding with vicious words. Tried to banish the darkening thoughts in her mind by writing them out. Death was her constant companion. Her constant desire. Need. However blessed or cursed with an imagination that defied her…..she had been able to imagine herself in a coffin while her mother and sister looked down at her. The abject sorrow upon their faces and whispered ‘whys?’ were enough to convince her to write out her deadly dreams. And truth be told, it hurt like a son of a bitch and pain was not something she could handle.
She watched the second hand sweep around the clock. Saw the minute hand tick off each 60 second. 15 minutes passed before her mom appeared before her. Looking up all she saw was anger. Sever disappointment etched deep lines around pursed lips. There was no love. No sympathy. Seen through the eyes of a child long feeling forgotten.
‘I do not want to do this. You have left me with no choice. As of now…..I am giving up custody of you for a year.’
Shocked all she could do was stare at her mom. This was not happening. It could not be happening. Her mom leaving her behind. Once more she had sought safety, had reached out to be rebuffed. Tears filled her grey eyes, threatening to overflow as she reached out to her mom. Voice lost in the thickness of pain…..of rejection…..of love and need.
‘Mom please. I will be good. I promise. Please don’t leave me.’
Her mom walked out the door. As it closed behind her she leaned against the wall, hand to mouth to muffle the scream of pain that was trying to erupt. Never had she felt so useless as a mother. So incapable of caring for this child of hers. Long passed the time of hugs and kisses to skinned knees. Walking away shakily this was a defining moment. Scored in pain.