We are the battlefield
I don’t know the woman who walks past me in the grocery store at 07:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning. She’s wearing blue jeans, a cropped top, and sensible slides on her feet. She brushes against me lightly. I’ve forgotten what that feels like. Her hair is everywhere — neatly. It’s organized chaos — a private dancer for the wind.
She excuses herself.
She’s not wearing a mask and upon seeing that I have on mine, she panics. She cannot believe she stepped out of her car, walked into the store, brushed against another human being, and spoke to her — all without the proper face covering.
I deal with this sort of thing daily. I feel like a soldier, manning a station from a deadly enemy as his allies try to trickle in without one of the things combating it — a face mask. She has forgotten hers and I feel the need to reclaim safety for myself and those around me.
I calmly advise her that anyone can make this mistake, anyone. She is a fit of tears and apologetic to the point that I’ve now stepped closer to her with my hands slightly raised indicating that I mean no harm and I motion for her to follow me to the automatic doors.
We locate her car. We locate her mask. She’s still apologizing — telling me all the ways she’s done stupid things in life but this is now the stupidest. I don’t think silence is the best response. That would mean, I agree. I don’t. There are a ton of things far more stupid than what we found ourselves rectifying and I tell her this.
The tears pool deeply in the beds of her eyes. She blinks and two tears plop to the ground with a loud thud. I wait with her while she covers her face. We walk back to the store and I spot my cart and the unattended bananas, apples, spinach, and yogurt. I retrieve it. I am eager to finish my shopping and get back home.
She’s still beside herself with intense emotion but there are no more tears — only the puffiness of her eyes and reddened cheeks. And freckles. Freckles I didn’t notice before. She tells me — sweet onions are on sale as well as all-purpose flour and at this early in the morning, pre-breakfast and coffee, I’m struggling not to morph into an Addams Family character and spook her.
I want to move on.
This is my war. The store is my battlefield. She has fought her battle in the middle of a war and I want to move on from it. I let her know the morning is incredibly young and she is in the store early enough to catch all the sales. I wish her well. I mean it.
These days, I always mean it.
She grips the handlebar of her cart, pops it twice, and removes two pieces of tissue from her handbag. She splashes hand sanitizer on the tissue and smooths it over the bar and the sides of the cart. I nod to her and move toward the “No Pulp” orange juice and mouth a goodbye (out of habit).
Her glasses fog up and I miss her freckles. I wonder, what will be on the menu if there are sweet onions and all-purpose flour, both on sale. She follows me. She is talking to my back, luring a conversation.
The gods must dislike me this morning because my energy was zapped the night before at work and as much as I love to empathize, listen, and give my all to someone in need, my body nor mind can take it this morning.
“You like the ‘no pulp’ kind too, huh?”
Oh, this is about the orange juice. While I would love to skip meaningless chit chat, I do love talking about interests with another person. “Yes, I prefer it.”
She smiles. I can’t see her beautiful mouth anymore — her full lips, but I notice the eyes — they light up. She remains six feet away from me but leans in toward my cart and slaps an orange juice in her hands. It lands across her cropped top. I move along to the dairy section. I need cheese and milk. She comes along as well.
*What is going on here? Why does she keep following me*
“I have to get cheese, milk, biscuits, and creamer. They’re on my list.”
“Oh. I need cheese and milk as well. Please, after you.” I move to the side, allowing her to brisk by, and I walk slowly behind her. She glides — it’s not a stutter-step. She is floating toward the dairy section and her everywhere hair bounces as she moves.
*Am I smiling? I am. I am smiling. Why?*
I wait until it is my turn to retrieve cheese and milk. She stands idly by — watching as I retrieve said items, patting her feet while coating her hands with sanitizer. “I’m sorry. Is there a reason you keep waiting for me? Is there anything you need?”
I didn’t want to seem crass, but I am not used to people accompanying me as I shop. It’s a self-sufficiency thing. I’d much rather get in, get what I need, get out, and keep it moving. But this woman, the one whose eyes pool tears quicker than I keep breaths . . . the one with the organized chaos for hair . . . the one with freckles right under her eyes, just above her cheeks — freckles that come alive when she smiles — wants something from me and I have to know. What is it?
“Oh. Um. Well. I like your shirt. I also like your mask. I don’t know what half of your face looks like, but I’m willing to bet it’s likable too. I’m Rain.”
She extends her hand, and immediately, I tense up. Am I supposed to touch her? This is my battlefield. This is a war. A war between doing what I would normally do in the past without hesitation versus not doing it because it could well, kill me . . . And of course, her name is ‘Rain,’ of course, it is.
“Oh. um. Is it okay for me to shake your hand? You are okay with this?”
“Sure. You’ve already seen me without a mask. You helped me get it. I doubt my shaking your hand would do us any harm. But if you’re opposed, that’s okay too. Is it all right for me to give you my number? I don’t have many friends here — moved three weeks ago from Van Nuys, in Cali.”
“Get out! As in Los Angeles? A good friend of mine lived there for years before moving back east. What are the odds?”
Her eyes light up again. Her freckles dance. I watch her patting feet. I don’t know what this is, but I welcome it for a few moments. It feels nice — something I remember doing before — communicating with others outside of work and in person.
“So, is that a yes, me giving you my number. What’s your name?”
“Oh, okay. Sure. That’d be cool. It’s Tremaine, Tre for short. That’s ‘Tree-Maine.” I pull out my phone, hit contacts, and add her name, then her number.
“You live on this side of town, ‘That’s Tree-Maine.?’”
“Haha. You got jokes. Nice. Yeah, I’m about three miles away, right off the highway.” She smiles again. I smile. I give her my number and watch her sway back and forth on the balls of her feet. That’s odd. She must’ve danced in the past or maybe she still does.
“I know it ain’t the right time to be dating. Social distancing is a motherfucker, but I’ve been holed up in my new apartment for the last three weeks and you’re the first person to make me smile since I moved here. You wanna grab dinner one day next week — my treat?”
“Dating? Oh. Is this a date? Are you asking me out? You’ll have to excuse me, I am out of practice on this bit.”
She smiles again and I find myself loving the sight of dancing freckles and everywhere hair.
“Let’s just call it a thing until it becomes whatever it needs to be. But for now, it’s dinner, my treat.”
I tell her I must finish shopping. I have work waiting for me at home and a dog who likes to boss me around. She laughs and a few customers look at us. I shrink into myself — hating to be stared at, but okay with it too. That’s odd. Everything is odd around this woman — this Rain whose eyes pool tears and freckles that dance, and hair that does its own thing without any regard for the goings-on around it. I look back, she’s watching me. Eyes curved — lit up. She’s smiling.
This is my battlefield. The war rages on.
*Author’s Note: This is part fiction/nonfiction/fantasy. Originally published on Medium.
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