I recognized her as she exited the produce isle. I was sure she saw me too. A negative and nasty former corporate acquaintance, the type of person I call “low frequency”. My previous interactions with her confirmed that she reveled in opportunities to be mean. I had witnessed her with others. On top of being mean, she was smooth as hell. She was skilled at coating her disguised insults with just enough sweetness to confuse the best of people. Our paths hadn’t crossed in awhile, I hoped to keep it that way so I lingered over the fresh herbs and tomatoes keeping an eye out for a safe trajectory to a check-out.
That’s right, I wanted to avoid this toxic social vampire. We had a history.
I rarely trusted myself to be strong in these situations. I dreaded the inability to scrub out the shitty residue left in my brain from such an encounter.
Today, I definitely wasn’t up for it.
As I waited in the check-out line I felt her presence before I heard her voice; she began unloading her basket behind me, while reading aloud the headlines from the trashy magazines. I didn’t turn around. I felt my breath change, my posture stiffen. I fixated on the large clock hanging directly across from me, the second hand sweeping away time- wishing I had selected another line. We were stalled for a price check, while the elderly woman ahead of me argued with the cashier over the price of toilet paper.
The tap on my left shoulder caused me to flinch, instinctively I turn around. “Well that is you, couldn’t miss that hair. Guess that won’t be staying around long, I hear you’ve got the cancer bug. And look at you still buying all that healthy stuff, not that it’s going do you much good now – that must be a piss off. I mean, all that living healthy for nothing.”
I tuned her voice out by focusing on the conveyor belt; judging her food choices and her words. Judging HER. Grocery lines are the ultimate display of vulnerability I thought, we reveal so much about ourselves through our food choices.
Mine represented survival, as did hers I realized.
We are all trying to survive whatever way we know.
To say her words felt like getting slapped in the face would be an understatement. My blood was hot, my heart racing. I’ve never been one who could generate a witty response on the spot, I did however contemplate delivering an East Coast throat punch that would land her ass back in the doughnut aisle where she had clearly spent some time looking at her stockpile.
Breathe and say nothing I told myself. It equals a NO. Silence IS a powerful answer.
The Mantra “Take no shit–do no harm” ran through me.
When I tuned back in, she was spewing comments ripe with conditions that commanded my compliance.
“Here I am with my doughnuts and potato chips. Yep, I know, that’s what I’m eating these days, it makes my life happier.”
Her rambling segued into how she hated her stressful job, but needed the money. Lamenting about her kids, and the wasted years, some of dieting and exercising only to end up where she began.
Again, attempting to reinforce that my lifestyle was futile, she offered:
“My advice to you is that life’s too short to deprive yourself. If I were you, I’d be eating whatever I wanted and lots of it. You’ve got a free ticket now. I wasted lots of years eating salads and it didn’t do me a damn bit of good, just like you hey. I wasted too many years giving up things I loved; besides, you could stand some meat on your bones.”
As I paid the cashier, I managed to utter: Well, it sounds like you have stock piled an abundance of wasted time in your life. I’d be pleased to take it off your hands anytime.
I turned and left.
In the safety of my car I dug into my judgment laced organic strawberries, still reeling from the shitty encounter.
Her words made me want to justify my choices, my faith in life. I wanted to inform her toxic ass that I wouldn’t lose my hair.
I wanted to tell her she was ALL wrong.
And then it started…..the old mental tapes on replay. Old voices began making excuses for her.
Maybe I could have been nicer, she was misery on two legs. Maybe I could have tried to make her feel better.
She was using my situation to tell HER story, one of regret and wasted time. She had attempted to hand me her shit to feel better at my expense.
Maybe I could have said, it must be hard to see the beauty of life when you’re stuck in the same rinse and repeat cycle of settling and feeling like you have wasted your life. It’s hard when relationships aren’t like you dreamed and you wake up in a life day after day that feels like it’s for nothing.
We all get knocked down. Being knocked down in life hurts.
It’s hard to see the beauty in ourselves when we’re feeling defeated, stressed and tired.
When you hate your job but the bills and the expectations pile up. It’s hard to see the beauty when you feel trapped.
Maybe I could have told her to remember that even if she felt she has fallen down, felt overwhelmed, and just wanted to burn it all down, that she can always get back up.
I didn’t say any of that.
Because… here is what I know without any doubt.
There will always be people who cannot accept or handle your grace, your beauty, your wisdom, your heart; because they can’t find their own.
So I summoned everything I had in me.
I walked away.
I chose me.
Zero excuses. Zero desire to fix. Zero fucks given.
That’s the strength that we all have.
And to me – that’s the real beauty of life.