Friday, September 21, 2012

those who walk among us

photo taken by me September 20, 2012
Phipps Botanical Gardens and Conservatory
Pittsburgh, PA

I placed the items from my grocery cart (I mean buggy; they call them buggies here) onto the conveyor belt. Moving on autopilot, I unloaded and grouped my purchases in a certain, particular order as the cashier finished with the person ahead of me.

Rule of Thumb #528 About Living in Pittsburgh:

Simple errands like going to Giant Eagle to pick up a few groceries will ALWAYS take you twice as long as you've planned because ... people talk to you.

A lot.

You often wind up in conversations with total strangers. Sometimes several times during the same shopping trip. When he asks about your accent, you'll tell the elderly gentleman behind the Prepared Foods counter that you're from Philadelphia and you'll learn that his daughter lives on the Main Line. Or the person stocking ice cream will see you pondering the flavors on sale and will helpfully point out that if you buy three Edys this week, you also get an additional .10 of FuelPerks, until next Wednesday.

"Every penny counts these days," you'll answer.

"Absolutely. Crazy how prices are..." your new friend will reply, and then you'll be commiserating about the economy like two BFFs at the beauty shop.

I've had a lot on my mind lately. A spouse's potential cancer diagnosis tends to do that. But yesterday was a welcome reprieve, a much-needed one. It was a spectacularly glorious day here in Pittsburgh and when I was loading up my groceries at Giant Eagle, I had just finished spending the afternoon with one of my absolute favorite college friends and his partner and one of his longtime friends, showing them Pittsburgh for the first time and just forgetting about life for awhile.

Part of me was still living in 1988 as I hoped I had enough time to drop off the groceries and pick up my kids, which is why I wasn't paying much attention to the person ahead of me in line at Giant Eagle. For whatever their own reasons were, the person probably didn't notice me either.

Like a robot, the cashier said the same thing to her as he did to everyone else that passed through his line. "Thank you for shopping at Giant Eagle. You have a wonderful day."

She left.

The cashier started to greet me and then looked down.

The previous person's groceries were still sitting there.

Bagged. Paid for.

"Oh, my God," the cashier muttered in frustration. "Sarah!" he hollered, calling over to another employee. He explained to his coworker that the previous customer just left, forgetting all her purchases. He pointed to the customer as she was walking past Customer Service, past the Floral Department, past Produce and on her way toward the doors.

He returned his attention to me.

"For God's sake, really," he said, still annoyed with the previous customer. "Pays and then leaves all her groceries here. I mean, what kind of person DOES THAT?"

I see the world a little differently than other people, I wanted to tell him.

The kind of person who maybe just got a cancer diagnosis. 
The kind of person whose spouse or child just got a cancer diagnosis. 
The kind of person whose partner or parent just died. 
The kind of person who was just served with divorce papers. 
The kind of person who is recovering from a brain injury.
The kind of person who has early Alzheimer's.
The kind of person who just lost a loved one. 
The kind of person who just lost their job. 
The kind of person who is wondering if tonight is the night their significant other will kill her and her kids.
The kind of person who has been up all night with an autistic child experiencing night terrors. 
The kind of person who just saw someone in Giant Eagle who looked like someone who has been gone a long time.
The kind of person who just heard a song on the speakers overhead that took them back to another place, another time, and they just had to escape it. 

What kind of person forgets their groceries after paying for them?

"The kind of person who has a lot on their mind," I said to the cashier.

The kind of person I wish I'd struck up a conversation with, who I looked for (but knew I wouldn't see) in the parking lot to just pass along a smile to say: 

I've been there. I am there. 

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Lisa Gradess Weinstein said...

Melissa, I just love your writing. You develop a wonderful way to weave a story out of ordinary events - a skill I try to emulate. I hope the woman got her groceries. I am notorious for paying for my drycleaning and them leaving the dresses in the store. It happens to the best of us.

Rooster's Mom said...

I think this is a beautiful, brilliant post, and now it is among one of my favorites from your blog. It is completely universal, but such a personal moment you experienced and described so specifically. I felt all of it, and will continue to think about it. You are absolutely right.

The cashier who was impatient might have had other things on his or her mind when overreacting - it's all a cycle, and that is what I love taking from this post. I am so glad you shared it, as a reminder that we are all more than what we just appear on the surface in a single moment in time.

Your family has been in my thoughts daily and I am sending many wishes for your husband's health.

Peppermint Ph.D. said...

"We always did do things in a timely fashion" Melissa, even in your turmoil, you still manage to make others smile ;) I do believe in God, and I'm praying for you and your family. Stay strong!