no fun in the funhouse

Remind me never to go grocery shopping by myself on a Thursday night at seven o’clock on a pathetically sunny Maine day in May. It seems that’s exactly when my buffer of retirees shuffling down the aisles have gone home to eat supper, watch television and turn in while the mom’s with their beautiful, talented, smart, coordinated sons and daughters come out of the woodwork.

Last night was like a grocery store version of a father-daughter dance, only it was moms instead, and it wasn’t in an open gymnasium on squeaky hardwood floors with a rockin’ band or a DJ. We were in a bleak paved parking lot and the narrow Lenoleum aisles and checkout lanes of our grocer.

Around every corner the happy mother-child pairs popped out like in some twisted amusement park funhouse. I looked at these moms with their remarkable children as if peering into one of those warped funhouse mirrors; my sorry reflection was distorted and it would have been even more farcical if I’d had Calvin with me. We’d have had our own little grocery store sideshow: Calvin seizing or screaming or laughing hysterically at nothing and walking as if drunken. With one hand I’d prod him to stay upright as I fumbled with a basket or cart in my other.

There were mothers gently holding their son’s hands, daughters riding on the front of carts, babies sitting upright reaching for crackers, toddlers barely eighteen months old running down aisles actually holding things in their hands. Calvin can’t even do that, I thought, even though he is eight.

As I passed the alcohol aisle I wondered if I should grab a bottle of bourbon to drown my sorrows. But I don’t drink bourbon. Oh well. I left the market down and dejected carrying my peanut butter, yogurt, chicken thighs, cat food, cat litter, milk and avocados in the colorful Michelle Obama shopping bag a friend gave me.

I must not be getting out enough lately. Been hunkering down in the house writing on rainy days and out in the garden for hours on end weeding, pruning, raking, mowing, planting, edging, watering. I realized I must have been suffering a bit of the lonelies when I got all gussied up—put on a clean pair of jeans, a pretty shirt and earrings—simply to go to the supermarket by myself.

Just as I was leaving home—Calvin shrieking as the nurse fed him dinner—our friend Macauley stopped by with a bouquet of pink and yellow flowers. He knew Michael was gone again and so was hoping to cheer me up. We stood in the driveway talking about Calvin’s manic, antiepileptic drug-induced behavior and I wanted to cry, but didn’t. “I can’t imagine,” he said, “no one can know how hard it is but you.” I told him that that’s what my mother always says to me when she learns of my struggles. I added that hearing him say that is so much better than someone saying, "it will get better" or "there is a higher purpose that you just can’t see" or "God doesn’t give you more than you can handle." He knows I think that’s all a load of crap, and might even feel the same though he is an episcopal chaplain. We hugged. Then I drove off to the market to get my groceries and one gut-wrenching ride through a funhouse full of ridiculously healthy children and their mothers.

photo by Michael Kolster

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