Linda at Chico’s
I could have shipped the dresses back to Chico’s. I had the slip and the free shipping label. The dresses, bolder colors than I have ever worn, just didn’t look particularly good on me. Maybe too big in the wrong places, or too small in others, but when I saw myself in the mirror; front, side, head over the shoulders to see the back, the trash talking girl track started. Wondering if this life-long litany of complaints and body-shaming would ever end I agreed with that voice that said the dresses were not for me.
I needed an outfit to wear for an event where I am being honored. Actually, being honored, is well, an honor, but I was feeling a bit tired from hitting up every shop in my neighborhood, and most of my friends and family, for donations. I didn’t do badly raising money but it was now two weeks to go and I needed to make sure I had something to wear. I had thought about a red dress I have. I tried it on early this morning, tags still on and scratching my back. It looked good, and while this is not a Saturday night dress up event, I looked like I was going to a work meeting. I tried on three more dresses from my closet, which may be indicative of another problem, but they, too, looked just not right.
So the trip to the store for the return of those not so good dresses ended up as an opportunity for me to make a last minute purchase. Chico’s was having a 40% off everything sale. Lucky me. I like my sales, a lot, but 40% of money you shouldn’t be spending (remember the other dresses) is not as big a bargain as it seems.
I was wired this morning. Not upset, just jittery and I wondered if the half-cup of slightly caffeinated, probiotic, organically fermented, healthy for me Kombucha I had in my breakfast shake was not unlike my shopping for clothes on sale—it sounds good but gets me something I am not sure I need.
The store was quiet and a waiting cashier asked if I wanted a credit for my returns first or to shop for an exchange. I thought for a minute and said credit. It was what I said just after that was a bit off. I told this cashier, a stranger, that I bought the dresses to see if I could wear them to an event where I was being honored. I am pretty sure she didn’t hear me, which uncomfortably reflected back my embarrassment that I was blabbering. I was actually relieved that she didn’t acknowledge me and with a credit card that had just received a three- digit boost, I walked around the store, looking for the elusive dress.
I saw what I wanted and it was not a dress at all—soft gold loose slacks, cream-colored top, off-white loosely crocheted jacket with warm gold threads woven throughout. It was on me in about a minute but do you know what I told the lady (formerly the cashier) who was helping me? She walked by me to see how I was doing while I was checking myself in the mirror (front, side, head over the shoulder to see the back) and my story—I was being honored and I needed something to wear– drove itself out of my mouth. This time she saved me embarrassment by smiling but I went into the dressing stall and began to wonder what was wrong with me.
I thought, then, that my jitters this morning were not about a probiotic drink, or the colors of my clothing. The group that is honoring me provides support programs to bereaved parents. They, like me, have lost a child. They come to groups to talk and cry and try to make sense of the inexplicable. Grandparents attend and the often- stunned siblings show up as well. They were the ones honoring me. A tough crowd. A heart- break hidden inside a photo op was what was waiting for me.
I was relieved to have made a fast shopping decision. The gold in my outfit was just lovely and flattering, not too dressy, not too casual, and all three pieces of the outfit were, yes, 40% off. This was as good as shopping for this event was going to get. And I was feeling the weight of what might really have been going on with me. Dressed up grief is still sadness.
A mini pre-lunch rush had another cashier call for more help at the front. That’s when Linda came to ring me up. And what was the first thing out of my mouth? I was buying this new outfit because I am being honored at an event and needed something to wear. Linda congratulated me and asked who was honoring me. I told her, and talked some more, and first she listened and then we talked.
Linda told me she was a writer, adding that she had just written a dozen podcasts. She added that she collects ideas of things she wants to write about, writing them in notebooks for later projects. Linda said that one idea for a book she wanted to write has been sitting in her head for ten years. She wanted to take a cross country trip to take pictures of the roadside memorials people placed at accident sites where a loved one had died. Linda shared her thoughts about these markers of sorrow with home -made signs and plastic flowers and how both universal and unique they were.
I told her I was a writer, too (well, sort of), and that I had just made plans to finally see the site on the Pacific Coast Highway where my son was killed. And that I, too, have been thinking of these markers for the ten years since the accident. I looked at them wherever I drove, feeling a punch of sorrow and pity whenever I saw them. I felt bad that I hadn’t set up a marker for my son. Linda paused, and said with kindness, I think I have been holding this idea in my head not for me to do but to give it to some else. I think that person is you. Sandy, she said (she got my name from my Passport Account—it is a Chico’s customer thing), I think I have been holding on to this idea for so long so I could meet you and give you the book to write. It is your book, not mine. She started to tear up. She said she had goose bumps. I felt numb, but not jittery. I believed her. I shook her hand and thanked her and left the store.
And I finally shut up.
Sandra R. Wolkoff, PhD., LCSW-R, COPE’s Immediate Past PresidentSandy Wolkoff op ed piece Newsday 2009