Sidelined

On a typical spring morning in glorious retiree-land, I woke, got caffeinated, wrote a little something, and worked up a sweat in our gardens. I came into the house, showered, and washed my hair. Remembering Bob had said earlier he might have to drive into town today, I pulled on a denim shift: going-to-town clothes. And sure enough, when I went into our other bathroom to brush my hair, I found him shaving. “Mind if I go along?” I asked. “Of course not, love.”

I look forward to these shared trips to town. We save gas and electrons and enjoy our windshield time: undistracted conversation, heightened by the sense that we are moving in the same direction. As is our custom, Bob drops me at the Food Lion on his way to pick up mail at The Plant on the east side of town. Sometimes Bob finishes his business before I finish mine, but on this day I was done first.

I sent Bob a text, pocketed my phone, and sat down to wait on a wooden bench inside the store. Ordinarily, I would stand on the sidewalk, but today I had bought frozen peas, and it was already in the mid-80s. So I sat facing the glass wall between me and the parking lot, frozen in time, a victim of circumstances, deliciously sidelined from responsibility, with nothing better to do than watch life parade past.

I felt a swoosh of air each time the automatic doors opened, and with it, an undulating human vibe that wafted off the river of Pittsboro peeps. I imagined I was people-watching in an airport. I pictured myself as a wide-eyed infant, observing life from the inactivity of a bassinet.

It was about the time the kids get out of school, and the parking lot was humming like a beehive. I saw a woman hop up on the back of on her cart with a child on either side, crouched and clinging, the three of them open-mouthed and hair flying, coasting down into the parking lot, catching some free breeze. A rush of love and wistfulness took me by surprise. I felt simultaneously voyeuristic and connected.

A woman sat down next to me and plunged a plastic fork into a carton of deli macaroni and cheese. I nodded and smiled, striving for friendly, but not obtrusive. I moved over a smidge, an accommodating gesture that I hoped didn’t look like recoil, trying to remember the last time I’d shared a seat with a stranger. My stomach rumbled.

The parade continued, some people nodding, some saying, “How you doin’?” Some pausing to chat with the macaroni lady. A woman entered the store with a little girl, her kinky hair in three pompoms that made her look like Minnie Mouse with a bun. A man walked past us carrying a twelve pack of canned beer, and I remember seeing him enter the store. Eventually, the Minnie Mouse girl and her mother walked past us again, too, the little girl walking on the balls of her feet, all the way on out to the parking lot and to their car. “She is sooo cute!” I said, “She’s walking on her toes!” “Like a ballerina!” said the woman, and we both laughed.

A wave of emotion rose as I thought: these are my people, Pittsboro people, simple folks not looking for trouble or to wrong anyone; just trying to get along, and get home and make dinner or whatever. All about to spin off into separate realities, but here in this very moment, here and now with me sitting and watching, while the woman next to me greets them from behind her carton of carbs.

Ever since that day, when I go to town with Bob I find myself hoping I’ll have to wait on that bench again. I wonder if I have the discipline to spend ten minutes sitting idle for no reason. One of these days, I’m going to find out. I’ll drive myself to town, park the car, and sit down on that bench for a spell.

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