My coupons were clipped, and I was at the grocery store before nine o'clock on Sunday morning. My plans were to be in and out of our MegaMart and back home before eleven; where my three children would be waiting for me, hungry, knowing that Sunday morning meant my cinnamon rolls.
I grabbed the first cart at the front of the store and headed toward produce. Apples, grapes, bananas, oranges; we were out of everything and the grocery list I held proved it. I pulled off a plastic bag from the roll available and began filling it with the pears that were on special. Toss, toss, toss, three, four, five; I counted the amount I needed for the coming week's lunches. I looked around for the next item on the list.
Shoot. The grapes, I reminded myself, I can't forget the grapes. If this was the way things were going to go this morning, I'd be here forever. I made a U-turn mid-aisle to get back to the grapes I remember passing at the store's entrance. As I stood near the automatic doors loading up on the fruit I needed, I could see a tall man staring at me. I looked up, and recognized him from a church we had attended years ago.
I remembered that he had lost his wife suddenly while she was away on a business trip. She was only 39 years old. At the time, they had a nine year old son, a twelve year old daughter, and another son who was fourteen.
"Hi," I said, surprised to see him after so many years. "Hi." He didn't answer back. "How are you doing?" I said his name twice.
He looked at me, not so much surprised as caught deep in thought. I saw that he was blinking away tears. "It's been eight years, you know."
"Yes, yes, I know. I am so very sorry."
I looked at his face. I put my bag of grapes into the shopping cart. I pulled my cart out of the way of the other early morning shoppers. He kept looking at me, not saying a word, and not moving. "Are you doing okay?" I asked, now feeling concerned for how disoriented he seemed.
"You know, people are afraid to ask me about her. They're afraid it'll make me think of her. I think of her, even if no one asks me about her."
"I know. I'm sorry. I don't know why people do that." I offered up an explanation, "maybe they're worried they'll make you sad."
He looked hard at my face for an awkward amount of time. His eyes beginning at my forehead, then jumping to each side of my cheeks. His pointed his chin down, and centered his gaze on my feet. He kept his head lowered. He began to speak, his eyes still set on my black clogs. "I knew something was wrong when they called me and told me she hadn't come to work....she never missed work. That wasn't like her..."
I felt the thickness of the shopping list I held in my right hand. I could see the hand on the clock in my head pointing to nine o'clock. I noticed how red the rims around his blue eyes were.
"You know, if we move toward the store's bank over here, we'll be out of the way," I hoped my suggestion wouldn't embarrass him. "They're closed Sundays." I didn't take my eyes off of his face.
He didn't answer back. I decided to lead the way with my cart. He didn't walk after me right away, but after a few seconds, he followed not even five feet behind.
It was quiet, empty, out of the way, where we stood. "Please," I asked him, "tell me about that morning. I've never heard you tell the story about how you found out about your wife."
He looked at me, quiet, his two lips trembling. His eyes made even more blue by the contrast of the redness surrounding them.
Without a crack in his voice, he began, "I knew something was wrong when the hotel called. She was always on time. Never missed work. That day, she was going to do a presentation for a group of engineers...." The words fell out of his mouth, so many of them, fighting to get out first, as if they hadn't seen sunlight in a lifetime.
I nodded, watching him talk. I let him tell me the story of that morning eight years ago. I let him tell me how he decided to let his three children finish out the full day in school rather than picking them up early to tell them that their mother was gone. I listened to him as he told me how the youngest didn't believe him and insisted on proof that he wouldn't see his mother again.
I listened to it all until he stopped. Then he said no more, and took a deep breath.
And then he walked away. Saying nothing.
I stood and watched the back of his blue jacket head to the store's entrance. I don't know if he went back to finish his shopping or not. I hoped for a minute that I might run into him again while we were in the store because I didn't have the chance to tell him I was sorry. I didn't have the time to ask him how I could help.
I don't know how long we had been together, and I thought of how I hadn't even started on the grocery list I came in with. I knew I'd be getting back home late. It would be time for lunch and too late for cinnamon rolls. There'd be no time for me to use the money saving coupons I had been stockpiling for this morning's trip.
I hadn't done anything I set out to do that Sunday morning.
But, somehow, I got it right.