It starts when you get there. No, it started before that. In the car? No. Before that. When you woke up.
You woke up feeling like you forgot something. And that feeling wouldn’t leave, no matter how many times you’ve checked and triple checked everything; deodorant, keys, phone, money, sense of dread. All accounted for.
You convince yourself to leave the house. You need groceries. You’ve been living off gas station coffee and french fries. You haven’t eaten a vegetable in two weeks. And that came from Taco Bell. Your body groans and curses you, so okay, you’ll eat a broccoli. A spinach. A lettuce.
But you gotta leave the house.
Get up. Let’s go. Swing your feet off your bed and put on your shoes. You’re already dressed, you fell asleep in your clothes. We’ll pretend that was because you’re super busy, but really it’s because you didn’t care.
Shut up. We don’t need to leave. Look, it’s cold outside. My car won’t even start, probably. Or the door is frozen so I can’t get in. Let’s stay, please? We’ll sit in the big chair and watch TV. We won’t stop watching TV until we no longer feel this way. Okay?
Get up. If you go, we’ll stop and get you a milkshake. How about that? If you’re a really good human, and do your errands, you can have a milkshake.
A large milkshake?
Jesus Christ why am I alive.
You move like a sloth, slowly putting on shoes and glaring at things like a grouchy toddler. Stupid jerk, making you do stuff. What kind of inner monologue plots against you, that’s not fair, if there’s one voice in this world that should have your back it’s your inner mono–
Shut up. Shut up shut up shut up shut up!
Yeesh. You get into your car, and now the fun begins. You’re half a mile from home when you realize you didn’t take your medication. The one that lowers your heart rate and stops those icy bolts of fear-adrenaline that hit you whenever you make eye contact with a person. The pills don’t help much, but if you take enough of them at once, you can coast, dazed, throughout most of the day. And even if they were a placebo, they’re your placebo.
Red light. Red light!
And there’s the first ice bolt coursing through your veins. You zoned out while driving, and nearly careened into an intersection, making the large red pickup behind you honk its horn in an accusatory fashion. The potential for death doesn’t concern you, but you’re very worried about how angry you made that man. Should you get out and apologize? Should you let him hit you with his truck? What is the proper etiquette for pissing people off via sudden braking?
And so it is. You get to Walmart, the holy mecca of cheap goods you can kind of afford. Products you buy to feel better, then don’t feel better, then feel worse because it was all for nothing and now you have a DVD collection you never watch.
There’s trouble immediately. There are 3 gateways into Walmart. You walk up to the one closest to you. There’s a black van in the fire lane. The mustached driver stares at you as you walk in front of his vehicle. His eyes hurt your skin.
The door doesn’t open.
You look like a fucking idiot. But of course, you make it worse by waving your arm, trying to activate the motion sensor that will let you in. But you’re a refugee trying to get into a powerful, safe country. Walmart thinks you’re a risk to their society of rollbacks and clearance.
Walk to the other door.
You stare at the ground as you pass the black van. The guy inside is thinking that you’re a waste of human life, that he was worth more than you, and all the cereal, air, water and products you’ve consumed would be better suited with him.
He ain’t wrong.
Move your feet. Let’s go. Good job, kiddo. You’re doing real good. Why are you so sweaty? It’s 0 degrees, c’mon.
You’re able to calm down in the cart corral. The rising pressure in your chest dissipates. You imagine your body as a submarine, and flustered little people are the crew. They desperately plug up holes and choke on the steam as valve after valve explodes.
Milk, eggs, bananas, salad, apples and bread. Got it?
Yeah, sure, totally. Totally got it. Not a problem. Look, bread is in this aisle right here.
The aisle is full of people. A family of four blocks the entire lane as they debate over the bread.
“Get Wonderbread, you know that’s all I like.”
“Wonderbread is three dollars more. I’m getting wheat.”
“Wheat is good for you.”
Say excuse me. Be a person, how are you so bad at this?
What if they get mad?
I can’t do this anymore. I can’t help you. You’re on your own, fuck it. Stand in the bread aisle forever with the American Dursleys.
So you cough twice, trying to get them to turn around, but they don’t. You have no choice. You have to use words. “Excuse me? Just trying to get through.”
Somehow, your voice is too loud and too quiet at the same time. It’s cracked and high pitched, but also gravelly and creepy.
The Dursleys turn to me, rotating their portly bodies.
Game over, man.
The biggest one, Dad Dursley, says: “Ohp, I’m sorry about that. Lemme move this outta the way for ya.” He scoots his cart out of the center and drags his kids over to the side.
Okay, smile and say thanks.
Grab bread and don’t trip.
You grab bread, but it’s the expensive bread you didn’t want, but it was the closest bread so this is now your bread. This bread has weird seeds in it, but you guess it’s time to be healthy.
We’re a mess.
I have nowhere else to go.
You put the bread under your arm like you’re carrying a football. One of the Dursley’s is somehow still in your way, so you do a spin move, your elbow clipping the shelf, knocking hamburger buns to the ground.
Inner-you finds this hilarious. You’re the best in the world.
That gives you a surge of confidence. A bizarre surge that powers you through the rest of your shopping. Even when someone mistakes you for an employee, and asks where the light-bulbs are. The fuck of it is, you showed them.
But you get through it, you strong, well-adjusted individual. You’ve got this. You can win the day.
You steer your cart to the checkout line and enjoy another icy heart-plunge because lane 3, 5, 12, and 14 are open, but lane 3, 5, 12 and 14 are packed. You could be here for whole entire minutes. And people will judge what’s in your cart. Your bread choice, especially.
Steady. Steady. We’re a jet plane in enemy territory, yeah, there’s some anti-aircraft fire, some flak, but we’re fucking steadyyyyy.
The self-checkout! That’s a moral conundrum for you, because on one hand, you’re eliminating a job from someone in your tax bracket and that could easily be you, but on the other, you don’t have to speak to anyone.
Someone lines up behind you. You’re trapped. It’s a Nazi and they’re marching you to death.
Don’t be anti-semitic.
How was that anti-semitic?
I don’t know, but I don’t think you can reference the holocaust.
You’re giving me anxiety about my anxiety metaphor.
How do you think the Jewish people felt? You should be more sensitive.
The line moves forward. The person in front of you throws all of their stuff–mostly potato chips– onto the conveyor belt, leaving a tiny sliver of room. You stand there, wondering if you should grab the little black divider, when the Nazi behind you grabs it.
The Nazi is a little old woman who has several bags of candy. She sees you staring at her. “Oh, I thought the potato chips were yours, I’m sorry.” She hands you the divider, and it’s stupid how touched you are that she was this nice to you.
You start piling your stuff on the line. You put the bread and the bananas down, nearly drop the cereal. Your hands are shaking. Why are they shaking?
You can feel eyes. The nice old lady-Nazi. The cashier. The people in the customer service line, and you know those people are already pissed, because their 15 dollar coffee pots didn’t work.
The cashier tells you it’ll cost 35.42. You know for a fact there’s 172.13 in your account and you already paid rent, but you’re terrified that when you swipe your debit card, it’ll scream: “Hell no!” and the keypad will send out a jolt of electricity, sending you flying into the produce section.
That doesn’t happen.
The cashier asks if you want a receipt.
Take the receipt. The IRS might want it. You once found fifty dollars, and that’s unearned income. You will be audited.
You wheel yourself out of Walmart. It’s nice to be out in the open, where you can run towards the horizon and leap into the sun. Your heart rate slows.
Where did you park?
We. We parked.
You’re not sure. The wind is cold and you’re alone with yourself in this parking lot, and you’re just not sure.