Saturday, June 13, 2009

Over and around and through me...

I was behind her in line at the grocery. She didn't have many items, and I was in a hurry. I looked in her cart at the few things she had, and then looked in my own. "Poor thing," I thought. She must live alone, like me.

I checked the clock on my phone. I had 15 minutes to get my things paid for and haul my ass to work. I hadn't slept well the night before, worries and annoyances plaguing me for hours. I was tired. I was cranky. I was in a hurry.

I watched as she began to remove the items from her cart and place them on the counter. She moved as if she was mired in quicksand. "Ok," I thought. "She's old. She's slow. But she doesn't have much and it won't take long. Breathe."

I looked more closely at her. She was a tiny little thing, a little hunched over in that way that older people get. She was dressed in what my kids like to call "old lady clothes": a polyester pantsuit and shoes that looked "comfortable", which is my euphemism for UGLY.

Every hair was in place and sprayed to within an inch of it's life. She wore no makeup except for a touch of lipstick. Her face was lined and her skin was saggy. Her hands were wrinkled and gnarled from arthritis and every move she made looked painful.

I stifled a sigh. I do not have a lot of patience with older people. Quite frankly, they frighten me. I have this fear that one of them will fall or die right in front of me, and I won't have a clue what to do with them. I send a silent wish to the heavens that this little lady doesn't keel over dead, not right NOW, when I'm late for work and my head hurts and my eyes feel like I slept in a sandbox.

I looked around. Why was there no one helping this little old woman? Didn't she have children? Were there not people who took care of this sort of thing? I checked my phone again. I had 10 minutes now, to get my shit and get to work. I considered leaving without my things, but I REALLY needed the coffee. And the milk. And holy SHIT we were out of toilet paper. I couldn't leave.

This time the sigh escaped me. The woman turned to look at me and our eyes met for just a moment. Then she smiled at me, and her face was transformed from the wrinkled little... OLD PERSON that she was... to the beautiful woman she must at one time have been. Her eyes were blue and clear and when she smiled, the laugh lines around them crinkled and framed them in a delightful and lovely way. "Oh, I'm sorry," she said. "I'm just poking along, and you only have a few things too. Would you like to go ahead of me?"

I was immediately contrite. I might have been annoyed, but my mother had taught me good manners. "No, of course not, you're fine. Thank you." I said to her. I was a bit ashamed of myself for being so petty.

After what seemed like HOURS, and after she had found a coupon for nearly everything she bought, and after she had counted out EXACT change from the tiny little faded blue change purse she pulled from her ENORMOUS purse, her bags were placed back into her cart and she began to make her way to the front door.

I was late. Crap. My frustration returned and I quickly paid for my things and began to hurry to my car. I passed the little woman and didn't turned back when she said to me, "Have a nice day, honey."

As I left the store, I noted a car parked at the curb. I noticed it because a little old man, not much bigger than the little old woman, was getting out of the car and looking around. "I bet he's looking for her," I thought. "At least she has someone to help her. Though I can't see how he's going to do her much good. He moves more slowly than SHE does."

I put my things in the car and lit a cigarette. Starting the car, I exhaled a cloud of smoke and looked back toward the entrance to the store as I put the car in gear.

And I sat there. And stared.

And I put the car back in park and rolled down my window.

And I watched them.

He met her at the door and walked with her to the car, one hand on the small of her back, one hand with hers on the cart handle. Slowly, so slowly that it was almost painful to watch, they walked back to the car. He stopped the cart beside the passenger door and opened the door. Turning, he took her hand in his and helped her to the car, bending to help her lift her feet inside.

I watched, my eyes wide, as he put his hand on the side of her face and kissed her on the forehead. She reached up to pat his hand, and her face lit up in that beautiful smile again. My eyes began to fill as I watched, and a jumble of emotions welled up in me.

I felt ashamed for being so annoyed with her. I felt humbled by the courteous and loving care he'd shown her. I felt happiness that two people might still feel so much love for each other, after such a long time together.

I put my head down on the steering wheel as I cried. I felt defeated, for my own marriage had ENDED after 25 years. I was alone. I felt bitter jealousy that I did not have what she had. I had never had it.

And that thought filled me with another emotion.


I let it wash over and around and through me, as I sat there that day and cried. I cried for the aching loss of something I had never known. I cried for the young girl I had once been, whose goal in life hadn't been money or fame or power. Her only goal had been true love. I cried for the many pieces of my broken heart, my heart that had reached out so many times, in hope, in love, at times in desperation. I cried for the lonely old woman that I would become.

And then I wiped away my tears, started my car, and drove myself to work.

But the fear and the lonely and the loss still washed over and around and through me.