I'm in Wal-Mart this morning to pick up a few items, but I don't want to be. The only place I actually want to be is back in bed underneath my covers.
I'm wearing black yoga pants, my hair's secured in a sloppy ponytail, and I haven't even bothered to swipe on Chap Stick. My eyes sting, my head hurts, my throat is sore, and the store feels entirely too warm. The end of the semester has approached, and with it, a pre-holiday immune system collapse.
Beyond the occasional muttering of excuse me as I navigate my cart around another, I have no intentions of talking with anyone. I'm banking on anonymity and disassociation from any human interaction in real-time, even as my thoughts -- jumbled as they are from lack of sleep and sickness -- seem to continually cycle back to a complex situation at work and a recent phone call about a family member's health concerns.
Alone with my congested thoughts, I wheel my cart to the self check-out.
But there's that employee, the one wearing the festive holiday sweater under her Wal-Mart vest. She's determined to monitor and engage. She stands beside me as I check out, telling me how to swipe the items across the scanner. I nod silently. She sees I've purchased masking tape and asks where I found it.
"The home office department." My words come out scratchy, and they sound more like a question than a declarative sentence. I'm find her question to be both obvious and odd, being that I'm the shopper and she's the employee.
She reaches into my shopping bag and pulls out the tape as I'm waiting for my receipt to print. "I thought it was freezer tape. Are you sure it's not freezer tape? It looks like freezer tape, but I guess it's just masking tape. I never can find freezer tape." She continues the conversation with herself, clearly not picking up on any of my social cues.
I blink. I don't want to be having this conversation. I've never heard of freezer tape. I don't want to discuss whether it might be located in the cookware section or near the aluminum foil in the grocery department. I just want to reclaim my masking tape and carry my gallon of milk and bag of deodorant, toothpaste, and Tylenol to my car, drive home in the rain, and get back inside of my house so I can kick off my wet shoes, sink into my couch, and cough in private.
When I've put the receipt away, she's still holding the masking tape in her hand. She hands it back to me with a smile.
I smile back. A bit tautly, but I make the effort.
Maybe the one thing God wants me to do today is to be nice to the Wal-Mart lady. Maybe the best way to spread peace on earth and goodwill toward men is simply to be gracious to the person who innocently annoys me by digging through my shopping bag and asking questions that seem unnecessary when I'm sick and tired and stressed. Maybe I can get out of my own head long enough to think of someone else's problems.
"I hope you find your tape," I say. She beams and reminds me to take my milk, even though I've already lifted it back into my cart. And then I head out of the overly-warm store and walk back into the rain.
Image compliments of Iryna Yeroshko (flickr.com)