Today I left the house to do two errands. It was eventful in contrast with the past weeks of what feel like dress rehearsals for an uncertain future. I will remember nothing of such days days in a year or two.
Errands in the car are exciting. I look forward to light brushes with strangers, delighting in eye contact and banal conversation. It’s not an overstatement to say these breaks from the bubble wrap of confinement are life sustaining.
The meaningless rituals of life’s movement to center stage gives the people populating such encounters great power. Connection through plexiglass strikes me as a lovely affirmation of humanity’s virtues, a feeling I savor for hours.
The opposite feels just as true. Today, 2 hostile interactions pushed me to the brink of tears that could be described as both absurd and warranted.
The first was a Sephora employee’s stern scolding that by touching a Jo Malone bottle, I’d ruined it. No sampling is currently allowed! Now she couldn’t sell it (not true at all). “Are you buying this?” was asked rhetorically like I’d broken a piece of art. I was stunned by the animosity in her voice and outraged by the suggestion of purchasing a pricey fragrance in response to being shamed. As I left, I saw her disinfecting the bottle and returning it to the shelf.
Licking my wounds back in the car, I drove to my 2nd errand—a small, specialty grocer. Leaving the car across the street with the blinkers on, I ran in to buy a steak and some bacon. It’s an upscale place so you order from a butcher who lovingly selects and cuts your meat. It was far too loving and I fought back a request to hurry. Before I turned around to pay, I realized my mask wasn’t even on. Pulling it up, I turned to place my meat, beautifully tied in twine, on the counter while digging for a credit card. The young man about to ring me up said “Hi”.
Too distracted by the prospect of a ticket for pleasantries, I remained silent. Then came the infliction of grievous emotional harm.
“You’re not going to say hi OR wear your mask properly?”. A hot stare followed.
It was surreal to find myself standing in deeply wounded silence for the 2nd time in under 90 minutes.
I mumbled something about being distracted because of my parking choice. He looked contrite and issued a genuine sounding apology.
It’s been hours since this happened and I STILL feel wounded. I’m sitting at home in posture of pity.
Honest to God, I don’t think I’ve been so fragile since childhood, when a classmate could shatter my world with a mildly offensive reference to a shortcoming. Or an unfavorable comparison of my dog’s behavior with theirs (our black lab once ran onto the field during a school baseball game and resisted capture for an eternity. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so embarrassed since).
COVID has done this to me. I’m like a babe with no emotional armor and I must put an end to it.
I’m a grown woman. With good qualities. For one thing, I’m nice.
One of mid-adulthood’s best features is the falling away of those delicate sensibilities that bring so much misery to youth. The violent ups and downs are now far milder hills and flat terrain. Misunderstandings that used to turn into complete, existential crises, are just misunderstandings.
If you’ve seen Gigi, Maurice Chevalier’s “I’m Glad I’m Not Young Anymore” expresses the sentiment quite well:
“The Fountain of Youth is dull as paint
Methuselah is my patron saint
I’ve never been so comfortable before
Oh, I’m so glad that I’m not young anymore”
Tomorrow I’ll dust myself off and return to being a 40 year old who doesn’t stare at the ground when spoken to sharply.
Adulthood has its merits.