It’s been three weeks and I cannot get you off my mind.
Nor all the things I would have, could have, or should have said when I saw you standing there.
I’ve been where you are. I have stood where you stood. And yet due to these new rules, around this “new normal” (that is anything but normal), I didn’t act the way I wish I had.
I watched you from eight feet away, in your navy winter coat, faded cropped leggings, and red flip-flops in the cold of December, frozen in time. I recognized your 1,000-yard stare beyond the sea of bodywash, extending past all the the other aisles, into that place of nothingness. So many decisions to make. Far too many.
I watched as you pulled your sandy blonde hair off your face and back into your messy bun, wiped the sweat from your forehead with the back of your hand, and then used your index finger and thumb to try and pull the discomfort inward toward your nose, with a tight squeeze from the top of your brow. I do that too.
I noticed how you leaned so heavily on that steel metal cart just to hold on, switching your centre of gravity from one leg to the other, trying to stop the spinning of your world for just a moment. Your short, rapid breathing, as your mask sucked in and out, in and out, in and out, trying to catch a deepened breath—I do that too.
I saw the tears fall from your eyes and land on the black, stretchy fabric over your nose and mouth. You tried to wipe away the others, pulling your hand into the arm of your coat so as not to touch your face. Through this, you were still staring into the abyss.
I didn’t know where your mind was, but assuredly, it was not on bodywash. As a woman who has, over the years, cried many times in Walmart, I had my suspicions.
I watched as you grabbed the tan leather strap of your oversized purse hanging off your right shoulder, and with all your might, you jarred it over your head and across your chest. I saw your posture change. Your shoulders rolled forward. Some days, the gravity of the things we carry can’t be held in our arms. Nor can the weight of the world be carried on one shoulder, and we need both to brace ourselves, just to remain standing. I do that too.
I wanted to help, I swear I did.
I thought of offering you a Kleenex, or my unopened water bottle. I came prepared, but then again, so did you. We opened and drank almost simultaneously, quickly from under our masks. Some days, it is not easy to swallow all this pain back down. We both know no amount of fluid will keep it down, but god damn do we try to choke it back, don’t we? I know. I do that too.
I wanted to offer you a hug. I wanted to take the Cheerios, the orange juice, the three avocados, the family size bag of M&Ms, the tampons, the paper towels, and whatever bodywash you chose to the checkout for you, pay for them, and help you to your car—like I wish someone had done for me once upon a time when I was crying in Walmart.
No, these are unprecedented, and it’s hard to know the proper etiquette for helping a sister out during a pandemic—when an act of kindness could be misconstrued as reckless or even risk-taking behavior.
Instead, I just stood there and acted as your mirror, with my eyes filled and overflowing—because no one cries alone in my presence, not even from eight feet away.
We exchanged smiles, but with the wrinkled crows feet from our eyes and a few nods of affirmation through our tears.
Leaving the aisle and going the wrong way, I placed my hand on your back and whispered, “I know it doesn’t feel like it today, but you are going to be okay…”
Three weeks later, I hope this post finds you. And that you are okay.