Conversation in Aisle 3

You can’t go to the grocery store in my town without planning ahead. I’m not referring to being prepared with a shopping list and coupons. I’m talking about being appropriately dressed and groomed before leaving the house. That’s because the grocery store is the one place where you are guaranteed to run into at least 10 people you know.

Since I usually go to the grocery store on the weekends but also embrace weekends as a time when I don’t have to “people,” this creates a conflict for me. I like my alone time on the weekends for many reasons, but I especially enjoy not taking a shower, putting in my contacts, or wearing anything fancier than yoga pants and a sweatshirt. Unless it’s summer. Then I wear shorts and a t-shirt. In other words, I am not looking my best on weekends unless I am forced to go out and be social. But I do have to eat, so I have had numerous internal debates about when is the best time to make a grocery run: I can go to the store early in the morning or late at night to avoid people or I can take a shower and make an attempt to look like a presentable human being. Usually, the part of me that doesn’t care what people think wins and I don’t choose either option. I just end up going to the store at the most convenient time looking a bit of a mess.

Decades ago, however, I did care. This was at a time in my life when I had a lot less free time to take care of my appearance or to choose when I would make a trip to the grocery store, especially when we had a milk (or rather a lack of milk) emergency. On one particularly evening, we had just such an emergency, and I told my husband I would make a quick milk run. I threw on a pair of work boots, which were sitting at the door and therefore were the most convenient footwear choice, and drove a short distance to the closest grocery store. It was only after I arrived that I realized how ridiculous I looked. The boots didn’t exactly go with the flannel boxer shorts and sweatshirt I was wearing (without a bra of course.) I didn’t worry too much though because I thought “no one is going to be at the store at 8:30 on a cold, Thursday night.”

I was wrong. I ended up having a ten minute conversation with someone I worked with in the community. I stood with my arms crossing my chest the whole time in fear they would notice my lack of appropriate undergarments. They probably thought my body language meant that I didn’t want to be engaged in conversation with them, which was accurate but not for the reasons they probably thought. I simply had no desire to talk to anyone in public without wearing a bra. I haven’t been caught braless in public since that time (unless you count the number of times I’ve walked the dog around my neighborhood without wearing one.)

Thankfully, this week I had a training on Friday which ended earlier than my normal work day. I took the unexpected time as an opportunity to go to the grocery store when I actually looked presentable. I hadn’t made it much farther than the produce section when I heard someone yell “Trina.” I turned around to see a woman I didn’t recognize. “Are you Trina?” she asked. When I answered in the affirmative, she motioned to the end of aisle 2. “That woman in the white t-shirt was yelling for you.” All I could see was the hint of the white t-shirt as the woman in question left aisle 2. Curious, I steered my shopping cart toward Aisle 3 guessing that was where the mystery woman had gone. I was correct.

It was a woman I know through community work but whom I hadn’t seen in several years. After a few pleasantries, she told me, “I applied for your old job when you left, but they never contacted me.” I apologized to her, but she said “Oh, I talked to one of your old co-workers and it was probably for the best.” I started telling her how I had left the position questioning my abilities and my strengths when the conversation took an unexpected turn. I had stopped talking about myself long enough to recognize that she had applied for a job and asked if she was actively looking for new employment. After she said, “not really” she began to explain her employment situation.

I won’t go into details here as it is her story to tell, but it did involve more information than I ever needed to know – including people whom she has slept with and whom other people haven’t slept with. We were having this conversation in Aisle 3. In a popular grocery store. With other people navigating their shopping carts around us. And I didn’t even think it was weird until later when I was telling a friend about it. I guess that’s because I’m used to having weird conversations in weird places with no room for judgement. That’s how my life always goes, and I love it.

Just this week, I posted an image on social media that might seem a bit vapid to some but spoke to my soul. “Imagine if we measured success by the amount of safety that people felt in our presence.” I realized that is what I have always strived for but never understood. While people around me were focused on how much money they made or having an important title, I was seeking something different. My husband calls me a “do-gooder,” but that description has never seemed accurate,. It’s not that I need to “do” good. It’s that I want other people to feel good about themselves.

And here is the thing. I left that conversation in Aisle 3 feeling good about myself (and not because I was dressed appropriately and wearing a bra) because the woman with whom I was talking is seeking the same thing. She turned a conversation about how I felt like I had failed to one that left me smiling, laughing, and confident in my ability to connect with other people.

It also left me recognizing that we all need more conversations like the one in Aisle 3.

About Trina Bartlett

I live in the Eastern Panhandle of WV, with one dog, two cats, and a husband who works strange hours. I can generally be found wandering through the woods my dog, playing in and planting in dirt, and generally stirring things up.

Posted on April 22, 2023, in My life and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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