There is a woman who comes into Whole Foods almost every night, right before close. The first time I saw her, my heart dropped and burned with anger. She was a walking skeleton right before me, with sunken cheeks through which I could distinguish the individual bones of her face. I couldn’t look at her without feeling disgust, without feeling shame. I honestly wanted to slap her, wake her up from her sickness, and drive her to an inpatient facility. She needs it, so much, more that I have ever physically needed it.
For a few weeks, I was afraid that she would come to my line. My coworkers were nonchalant, “Yes, she has a problem. But she’s really very nice.” I didn’t understand. I couldn’t understand how you could be so sick and at the same time, be kind.
When she did come through my line for the first time, she asked my name. “Are you new here?” I smiled and genuinely felt, for the first time, a sense of grief. We exchanged polite conversation, and I gleaned in those few minutes the soul that lies within her. I saw an honest person. I found a person I could love.
I haven’t felt angry on her behalf since that night. Rather, I’ve felt the unmistakable grief of knowledge. Knowledge that she will not get better, or ever see past her disorder. Knowledge that Whole Foods is likely the one adventure in her day, where she will continue to measure out tablespoons of oatmeal and peanut butter until the day she is too weak to walk inside.
She came to my line tonight, and recognized me, but didn’t remember my name. “Christina? Oh, right, Kaitlyn…Was that your boyfriend who picked you up a couple of weeks ago? My God, you two are so adorable. I saw he picked you up in the air, and it was the sweetest thing I’ve seen. He must love you very much. Really, I think I cried.”
I could have cried right then, when she spoke those words to me. Yes, that was me. Yes, that was my boyfriend. Yes, he picked me up that night, and he held me in his arms. Yes, we do. We love each other very much.
Was she crying for herself? I think so. Because all I could think of doing tonight at my register, after she left, was crying for her. She has probably never felt that kind of love. And if she has, she will probably never experience it again. I have watched her sit in her car for several minutes, waiting until its time for her to go in. To choose her food, to weigh it wisely, to face the cashier with the memorized codes of bulk items. I sense that she is very alone. And I only know a small extent of her pain. You don’t get that way from several years of starvation. You get that way from several decades.
I will never raise a fist to her bruised face. I will never lecture her, or tell her to eat a cheeseburger. I will drive her to Renfrew, if she wants it. If that could ever be a possibility.
Mostly, I will miss her the day that I don’t see her again, when she is gone from this earth, when she is missing from my till.