I cradled the unsightly large box between arm and waist through the aisles of Walgreen’s. The box was weightless. Breathless, I struggled to hang on to a few other items in my arm – Gatorade, lipstick, copious amounts of body wash.
As I anxiously waited my turn in line, I cringed beneath the scrutiny emanating off gazes from the folks standing ahead of and behind me. I gazed down, all around, stared Angelina Jolie on the front cover of the People magazine, sighed at another cover of Nicole Smith, now that O.J. was back in the news.
The line inched forward in unison and I diagnosed each consumer in turn. Woman with Kleenex and cough drops (cold at home). Man with two boxes of milk duds (candy addiction, trying to break cigarette habit). Young gal with the heavy eyeliner (buying more of the same to impress friends).
These were not my favorites errands to run.
The task reminded of Sundays with my father. First we attended Church, then ate gluttonous pancakes loaded with strawberries and whipped cream, and finally, made the obligatory trip to Catholic cemetery.
By the time our family arrived at home, my father still had a few more trips to take. He would drive to Willow Hardware then check on the family’s shoe business. The store was closed on Sundays, but Dad liked to make sure no one had broken in, or that the cash drawer was ready for Monday. And when he had completed those tasks, he made what came to be known as the “Drug Mart Run”.
There was quite a dilemma on Sundays whether to ride with Dad or not. The choice involved accompanying Dad to the shoe store and possibly convincing him that I had grown out of my last pair of shoes, despite have always worn the smallest size in the store, an thus garnering myself a new pair. But if I went along, I had to also escort him to Drug Mart. It was an either or proposition. I balked.
His list for Drug Mart not only contained Ivory Soap, picture hangers, shaving cream, or whatever else Mom forgot to buy during her weekly grocery shopping, but the list also included, way down the bottom, in someone’s quickly hand-scrawled writing – tampons, minipads, maxipads.
Thus, if I accompanied Dad, I would be forced to meet the stares in the checkout line and answer questions customers were silently asking. Is she old enough? Shouldn’t she be buying her own? Or I had to merely stand next to my father while he was in line with the tampons or worse yet, while I was holding the package of pads, embarrassing enough for a teenager on her period. Might as well tell the world. Of course, I never considered the fact that Dad knew all too well about periods, with my mother’s six pregnancies, and raising four girls in the home.
No, for me, I wanted to save face. So often, I chose to stay at home and wash the car instead and hope Dad brought home the “right” kind of tampons or pads.
Standing in line at Walgreen’s now, I endured that same embarrassment. I was no longer mortified by buying pads or tampons. They were just a part of every day life despite my wish to be rid of the added expense at my age.
No, my face began to blush when I whisked the large box of Depends on to the conveyor belt. A thirty-something male customer, built like a lumberjack with chiseled jaw, turned to me and smiled, as if to say, What a pity.
I lowered my head so only the box of disposable underwear was in my view, comforted by the fact the underwear now boasted of more confidence, but only for the woman wearing them, not the woman buying them.
I wanted to shout out, “These are not mine! They’re for my mom! She’s in a memory care home.”
But why would he believe me when I also had a tube of lipstick and a People magazine in my stash, alongside a scented candle, shoelaces and Gatorade. What kind of elderly person drinks Gatorade, he would have countered. To which I would have replied, Plenty.
I turned to plead my case silently to those behind me but their faces offered no relief.
As I shoved the box towards the register, the clerk looked at me with a show of mercifulness, seen only by a priest after confession.
“Do you have your rewards card,” she said softly.
“Of course I do, I always use it when I come in here for my MOM.” I emphasized MOM so the surrounding customers could hear me, so the rugged Paul Bunyan, still slipping money and receipts into his wallet could look at me with admiration and wonder.
Instead, he went on his way and I scurried off on mine, conscious that customers in the parking lot might also get the wrong idea.
I really didn’t want any pity or respect from the other customers. It was clear, through the fictional stories I concocted, each one had their own burden to bear. But if my tasks were to always include the purchase of Depends, I should have been rewarded with a new pair of shoes.