April 18, 2006

The Saga of a Shopping Trip

I went to the grocery store by myself the other day, the first time I've done that in quite a while. To the observer, it was a successful foray, in that I went, I shopped, I bought and came home with food for the refrigerator. But the entire trip was an exercise in performance art...

What do I mean by that? Well, what I mean is that I was aware, from the moment I first approached the store, from the moment I stepped out of the car and was seen by another person, that I had no right to be there as me, that was the rule. But if I playacted being someone else, I could "pass" and would be allowed in. So I took on the identity of a permitted suburban shopper mom, squared my shoulders (only figuratively) and marched right in...Actually, I slid a cart inside sideways so as to take the least room and got out of the way as quickly as possible. To buy fruits and vegetables I held my list up and pretended to be clearly preoccupied with it, definite about what was needed, and never vacillated about my choices...I knew if I were wishy-washy and dithering, my cover would be blown and I'd be ejected from the store...Just doing this, and yet managing to get what I wanted, and making decisions that I hadn't already made on the list, took an enormous amount of energy...It was all I could do not to talk out loud about it, that's how close to the surface the strain was.

Eventually, it got to be too much, I couldn't be the supershopper mom any longer, and so I had to leave the produce aisle, finished or not.

I headed elsewhere, anywhere else with few other people...There, the discount aisle is not crowded, let's try it, browse the sales items. But someone enters the aisle just behind me and I realize it is a man who was just in the produce aisle and he has followed me here. I wonder what he wants. I stop to look at the discounted Gator Ade. He stops too, looking at Big Bag Chips. I move on and shortly after he does too. What is he going to do? What does he want? I'm not who he thinks I am, I'm not the super shopper mom he saw back there...I push my cart quickly to the end of the aisle and instead of rounding the corner into the next aisle, I head all the way across the store, crossing lines to the cash registers, heading towards Dairy.

When I finally get there, I look around in trepidation. Phew! He isn't there! If I need anything in the rest of the store, I'm going to have to skip it now. Nothing is going to get me to go back to the aisles.

In dairy, I picked up half and half and then, with the help of my list again, pretending I was the super shopper mom again because for her it was acceptable, I picked up several cartons of low calorie dairy deserts. Now, the frozen foods and I would be done.

At the cashiers, I started to bag my own groceries to be helpful, until a man in a wheelchair came up and groused that I was so impatient, couldn't I wait a single minute? Then the popsicles, sugarfree because I'm trying not to gain weight on Zyprexa, came down the conveyor belt: "I can tell someone has a lot of kids!" he said with a strange look. I knew he knew...But I was not going to tell anyone. "Yes, I have three," I said. "Ah, so that explains it--" My face was stiff and I was nearly in tears by this point, but super shopper mom had to get out of the store intact or else...I finally was allowed to leave. I pushed the cart through the parking lot...But where was the car? It wasn't there...It wasn't...Where was it? I couldn't remember where I'd put it...There I was in the middle of a half empty parking lot with groceries under a sunny sky in early spring and I couldn't find my car! (I know, it's beginning to sound funny, but it really wasn't...the whole shopping trip had been completely hair-raising and a totally exhausting and debilitating effort...I had only just managed to keep myself together.)

I did finally find the car and get home safely, so I can end this story on that happy note. But it is not anything out of the ordinary for me. There are all sorts of rules like that, rules that force me to be someone else, or do various things, or buy certain items...various tasks to toe the line in order to pass the test and be acceptable and allowed in...Otherwise, I'm talked about and stared at and hated and evicted eventually...So on and on it goes. More another time. This is all I have the energy for now.

Posted by pamwagg at April 18, 2006 09:37 PM


Pamela Braveheart,
"You're all right, Little One, You're all right." This was the mantra I would croon to my younger daughter so often during her childhood when she was afraid or worried or sad. The chronicle of your heartbreaking experience at the supermarket brought that feeling back to me with such startling clarity, that I wanted to have you here with me so that I could gently soothe you with those very words. I wish that I could say,"You don't ever have to do anything that frightens you,Pammy. I will shop for you, I will drive for you, I will speak boldly to those who dare to follow you, I will always be your angel,forever holding you aloft until your wings are strong and whole." That is my natural inclination. The reality is, of course, that I cannot do these things for you. You must do them yourself, and despite the anxiety with which you were filled, you DID successfully drive to the market, buy the food, find your car, and drive home safely. If for a time you must don a different identity in order to survive, so be it. "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players." This much I know is true.(Wally Lamb agrees.) Every day of my life I have played role after role. Actually, I'm quite an accomplished actress. Even I don't know who I really am. When your medicine is fine tuned to fit your needs, you will be able to be Pam again. That is the choicest role in the constant universal play in which we are all merely players. Hold on,my friend of the heart. You are never alone. When you think that someone is following you, fear not. I am right there with you ready and willing to fight to the death the forces that hold you captive. I am your Dumbo's feather. Every now and then, take me out of your pocket, dust me off, and put me back. You are really doing everything yourself, but it's so nice to have an ace in the hole when you need it.
You are strong and you are loved. Your Paula

Posted by: Paula Kirkpatrick at April 19, 2006 09:32 AM

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