Monday, January 15, 2007
"What happened to my life?" she questions internally.
She fumbles with her chair creating a loud noise and unwanted attention from otherwise inattentive, fellow coffee drinkers. Finally seated and waiting for her mocha, her head meets the comfortable resting place of her two hands, allowing a detailed look at the table's lacquer finish. It would be safe to assume that she is just hiding from embarrassment but the honest truth is that Mary spends much of life in this position. Head ducked down...depressed. And while she did take a brief moment to study the table-top finish with its glossy sheen, her gaze shot through the table distorting the details into a blur.
The images that entered her mind were no longer tangible pieces of the 'here and now' but rather on her frustrations and circumstance. So as to downplay her obvious discomfort, she slides her body into a more laid back position and pretends to read a flyer left by a previous customer. Silent suffering was her mantra. Never intent on the spot light, her sadness would just intensify if she knew she was on display for judgmental gazers.
She no longer asked herself the Big Picture questions, like "what would my life have become only if...?" Instead, she occupies her brain with the trivial such as, "how long does it take to make a mocha grande?" Ever wearing emotions like clothing, that thought was betrayed by an angry glance at the girls behind the counter.
She wasn't always unhappy and lost. She's not even completely certain why she lacks joy now. Sure her marriage of twenty years is over, forcing employment here at Target for $7.00 per hour. Those are indeed reasons to be mournful but this was deeper and less definable. Getting hot under the collar Mary starts to squirm and fight the urge to remove her coat, wanting at least for a few minutes before work, to blend with the general public and cloak her uniform underneath.
It doesn't help that the girl behind the counter finally delivers the much-needed-caffeinated-beverage with cheery glee saying, "Here is your mocha Mary...employee discount included!"
Rolling her eyes but careful to be thankful, Mary takes her first warm sip while scanning the room. She carefully takes inventory of who might have noticed the comments revealing her true identity. If anyone had been staring, they gave her the generous gift of averting her gaze. All of them busy with crossword puzzles, cell phones, shopping lists, and meaningless conversation. It was little moments like this that gave her some hope. It seems silly, since ten minutes from now she would be working the register, possibly even checking out some of the fellow patrons of the built-in Starbucks. But even ten minutes of being a "regular consumer" seemed to brighten her day.
"Tomorrow, I am going to go just a bit out of my way to the Starbucks on Morris," she thought. "Who cares about a 10% discount anyway?" This innocent thought became an intense day-dream of what tomorrow might hold for her. Her trance made ten minutes and 10 oz. of coffee fly by in the blink of an eye. Had it not been for a clumsy co-worker crashing carts into the holding bay, she might have sat for hours wrapped in the safe cocoon of her dream world.
Sliding the empty cup across the table, Mary stood upright, collecting her lunch cooler and gloves. Once again she created that wretched squeal as she pushed the chair back into place. This time, it didn't matter. It was time to reveal her proud Target uniform and nametag. Her ex-husband Marty didn't matter anymore. Her pregnant 18 year-old daughter and 22 year-old, pot smoking son became a distant concern as she carefully folded her coat into the crook of her arm.
"Mary Oswald" was etched into a rectangular badge, mounted above her left bosom. The training sticker would finally come off after today and she was glad for it. There was something even less noble about being in retail at the age of 46 with a sticker revealing her rookie status.
As she passes me, I intentionally catch her gaze causing her to flinch a bit. I am tempted to do as so many others had and give her the reprieve of looking away. But I can't. I let the uncomfortable nature of the moment hold as I widen my grin as far as my face will allow. I have a mission. This woman must know that there are other caring souls in the world.
Success. She smiles back almost with a chuckle. Her furrowed brow and intense focus drop ever-so-briefly, proving that her walls hadn't built up so high that they were impenetrable.
"Have a great day," I say as she passes by.
Even more cheerful than before, she exclaims..."You do the same."
I was careful in my exchange not to reveal my intrusion on her life. Who really knows if she is divorced or if she questions her life and the results of her decisions? These are just the thoughts that passed through my mind as I naturally but inadvertently "people watch". There were clues that led me to the backstory, so I might have been spot on with my observations as I seem to have a talent for doing. But I might be very far off. Who cares?
I took a moment from my coffee, newspaper, email, and virtual world...to engage a real, breathing person, in a tangible exchange. One that will likely have both us of feeling better for it.
At least...for a little while.