A particular person shops at TJ’s: mid to late 20s, probably not wealthy but on the road to success, sophisticated about food, bargain hunting. There are a lot of young couples in there on a Sunday afternoon picking out the sweet corn and gouda and frozen tamales for the week ahead. I feel at home there at first, seeing all of these people like me who share my taste and my background. Guys in band t-shirts, girls wearing checkered Vans.
Of course, I’m not at all like them. I’m fifteen years older, forty pounds heavier, alone and adrift. I never left my teens, but my body did. And all these young couples have what I never have, and what I never will. I fell off the middle-class college-kid track into something dark and grimy and never got out. I wasn’t pretty, or socially adept, or wealthy, or even successful. And then I was under water for ten years. And now I’m just kind of screwed.
And there’s never been an “us” that went shopping on Sunday and had little domestic arguments about whether to get the two-buck chuck or the cheap Belgian beer, and then trundled home in the little sedan to cook dinner and watch a movie. There never was an “us” at all.
At this point, there won’t be, either. The couples don’t notice the middle-aged man alone who is looking around at a world he never visited.
As so often happens when I’m reminded of my station in life, I got a bit ill. It was temporarily hard to move around, and my legs were heavy and trembling. I took my purchases home, cooked and ate dinner, drank some ice-water, stared into the back yard.
I really don’t know what the hell happened, or how I got here. My whole life now feels like that time after a car accident, where you’re thinking: Hey. That really was me who hit that. That really is my car that’s crushed. That really is my bruise and my blood. What the fuck.
I can no longer shop happily.