This was one of those long days. I stopped at the grocery store on my way home. This after being stuck in traffic for a while making my commute even longer. I do most of the grocery shopping and I have been to this grocery store hundreds of times. I could do it with my eyes closed. And I was close to it.
When I first got there I noticed this little triad of a family coming into Publix with me. Young mom, beautiful curly-blond boy child, burly, buzz-cut dad. Good looking folks. Dad was about to hoist the little guy into the shopping cart when Mom said to wait. She got one of those anti-bacterial wipes offered near the door to wipe off the push bar of the grocery cart.
“What the HELL are you doing?” Dad asked sharply.
“Just cleaning it off. He’s going to have his hands all over it.”
“What’s your problem,” he mumbled loud enough so I could hear him. He held the boy until Mom was done and she tossed away the wipe. They went in just ahead of me. What was that all about?
It was just a little thing. One shouldn’t read too much into a single interaction. Everyone gets cranky from time to time. I do for sure. Maybe it was the effects of the insomnia, but seeing that little exchange, that long 20-second moment, really stung. It wasn’t just the words; it was the physical part as well, the gestures, the body language.
As I shopped I could mostly see Mom. She was racing ahead of her family slipping between carts, grabbing two or three things per aisle. It was a pretty crowded evening. Once she sort of squeezed between my cart and another going the opposite direction. “Excuse me. I’m sorry.” No eye contact.
“You’re fine,” I said, getting out of her way.
She was young. Early 20’s probably. Really thin. And while I can’t remember her face, there were dark circles under her eyes. Maybe I looked like that too since I had only gotten about three hours of sleep. But it seemed like one of her eyes had a darker patch beneath it than the other. And she really seemed nervous. She was obviously in a hurry dashing up and down the aisles. My guess was that they were doing some speed shopping; divide and conquer and rendezvous up front.
After checking out and pushing the cart into the parking lot I ran into them again. Turns out they were parked right behind me. It would be too mild to say that they were fussing at each other. And it wasn’t what they said, but rather how they said it that spooked me.
“Guess what, Mama,” the little one said as they were loading the groceries into the back of their SUV. “’Cat’ and ‘rat’ rhyme.” Of course that made me smile. The boy was full of life and curiosity.
I didn’t hear all of what they said. I didn’t really want to. I am a people watcher by nature, but not a peeping Tom. The parts I did hear were a little disturbing though.
“You’d better watch your mouth…”
“I went as fast I could…”
“Just shut your trap…”
The child kept chattering. Could he feel the tension? Did he understand the thinly veiled threats? Was this normal for him?
We were finished packing our groceries into our vehicles at the same time. As I unlocked the driver’s side of my car I glanced over to Mom and the boy as she was getting ready to load him into his car seat in the back. She opened the door and he put his hands to the sides of her face and turned her toward him. He looked right into her face, directly into her eyes and then kissed her. It was the sweetest little moment. Just what was necessary.
There are no great truths here. People are interesting. Complex. No big life lessons. Just questions.
What about that little one? What will he be like as a grown-up? Are these demonstrations constant? Was this just a bad night? Will that couple grow old together? Will they have more kids?
You know, maybe they are really very happy. Maybe that’s just their way. A lot of folks bicker all the time and still truly love each other.
The image of the child turning his mama’s face to his and his sweet kiss… It almost seems like despite his youth and inexperience with relationships, he was the wise one.