An Epiphany in the Grocery Store


The aisles of the grocery store are crowded. People jostle around next to me, the sights and sounds slowing into a calming lull. Someone’s shoulder bumps into mine, sending me careening into my cart.
“I’m so sorry,” I say, without even thinking. I return to shopping without waiting for the similar response I expect to hear from the short woman standing next to me. After our quiet moment of awkwardness and apology we both move on from the incident, both understanding that the blame was mutual and easy to shuck off.
Sometimes, when my shopping is too boring and I need something to occupy my time with, I think about small moments of embarrassment from my day.The freshest of these moments happens to be this incident and the small run-in plays over and over again in my mind. Soon, the incident feels much too average to replay and my mind starts to creatively disfigure the collision; the small woman is now a man with a beard and a frown who does not apologize. Now, instead of being embarrassed, I feel guilty and contrite. The feeling coils deep within my stomach, wedging itself between my spleen and kidneys. I feel a little sick and want to go back to my car.
I leave my cart at the entrance, giving a half hearted attempt to throw some of my groceries back on their correct shelves. I hustle out of the store and find my way to my car. I get in and shut the door hard enough to feel it reverberate through my arm. My ears are kind of ringing and I suddenly miss the commotion of the store. I’m too hot and my mind is stuck to itself. Thoughts clang around in my head, bouncing from ear to ear, trying to find a home.
I once read an article about the way men walk. Data pointed out that men usually walk in a straight line and do not get out of the way for other people; instead they just barrel along their line and hope for the best. When I first read this I half-chuckled at the idea of a man placing his feet heel-to-toe and making sure to stay on the straight and narrow.
Now, as I sit with the car AC cooling my skin, I think about the article again. Except this time, I think of the bearded man who I made up. I think about how I imagined he would react if I had bumped him. He would have been cruel and loud and I would have melted like butter in a skillet. I would have apologized and carried around a sense of guilt with a and slight tang of burned fat all day.
I sit in the parking lot of Trader Joes and imagine what it would be like to not feel the heaviness of my place in the world. I think that if I could only shrink myself I might be happier. Maybe I would be the one to leave and not the one left behind.
Or maybe if I was sweeter I would feel lighter; I can almost see the pair of invisible hands leaning down to take my burdens away as soon as I crack a smile. What would it feel like to not have to worry about being dainty and small and gentle? If I grew instead of shrunk would I wither away like a seed that sprouted too early in March? Would I be so fragile as to be taken out by an early spring frost?
But then, I find myself thinking of all the media my mom has painstakingly shown me during my seventeen years of existence. My mind plays flashes of Jane Austen and little snippets of gender study lectures. I feel guilty for my close-minded thoughts. I feel stupid for wanting to make myself soft.
I switch on my phone and have the sudden urge to text my ex boyfriend. I haven’t felt this way in a long time and I feel a little sick. I suddenly feel like vomiting. I want to be home, curled in a little ball, with my face tucked into my knees.
I pull out of that grocery store parking lot and think about all of the emails I should return when I get home. I flick on my right hand turn signal and glide my car into the street. As I leave the parking lot I try to imagine all of these thoughts staying with my abandoned groceries; piling up and stacking neatly together amongst the forgotten boxes of crackers and bags of carrots. I try to imagine this, but even as I leave the store long behind me, I find the thoughts trailing me in little whispers, trickling into the cracks in my mind.