Tuesday, April 17, 2007

How are you?

It's a simple question, really. The answer, on the other hand, the real answer I have to give these days, is not what most people want to hear.

I do a lot of my grocery shopping is this funky chain of stores. They used to be nontrivial to find, but nowdays they have stores close to my work, sort of half way between work and home, and not too far from my house. I have yet to see a grumpy employee in any of their stores, and that just seems weird. The optimist in me was of the opinion that maybe they all just like their job, or maybe it was actually a good job, or maybe there were free happy pills in the employee break room. The pessimist mumbled something about aliens and too late, but I was too busy enjoying the sugar-free chocolate they keep supplying to my PCOS-afflicted optimist to listen to her.

Anyway, I used to like chatting with cashiers there-- they are energetic and helpful, and most of them, funny. They always ask how you are without making it obvious that they are only asking because the manager told them to. They tend to look right at you too, and to actually react to whatever you are saying. So... about that...

When I first started venturing out into the world, I found myself unable to tell any of the very nice, cheerful, and well-meaning cashiers that I am actually pretty bad, that my baby died, that I miss him like crazy, and that I wish I didn't have to be there. But I couldn't lie either. So guess what I did? If you guessed I avoided eye contact and tried not to speak, you win an all expense paid trip to the cozy little place I like to call You-don't-want-to-be-here-sville.

I am pretty sure I made some of them uncomfortable. I am also pretty sure some thought I was mean, or a stuck up bitch, or just rude. Some days I didn't even utter a single sound until the "thank you" right at the end as I start pushing my cart away.

The way I know I am better now is that I actually answer. I say "OK." Not much of a conversation starter, but at least I am looking at the cashier when I say it.

I am not so much better, though, that I don't twinge with dread, just a little, as I push my cart toward the registers.


niobe said...

It sounds like you're being awfully hard on yourself. The cashiers probably see plenty of people who are withdrawn or surly or even hostile. Any job that involves dealing with the public is going to mean dealing with people who, for whatever reason, are not inclined to be as cheerful as this store's employees seem.

Honestly, that would be one of the last things I would worry about, especially if you shop there often. When you're feeling better you can be nice to them. Until then, you should worry about taking care of yourself and doing only what you're able to do.

Adelynne said...

I've taken to answering that question honestly no matter who asks. It throws people something awful to have their schema interrupted so unexpectedly.

Sara said...

Niobe's probably right. Every day encounters like those at the grocery store are so hard. I used to be a person who had a smile on her face 24/7. I joked it was my "default" expression. Not so much anymore. I think I felt the same as you do, although rather than the grocery store, my "place" was the library circulation desk. When I could face the regulars there again I knew I was at least "OK." Take care.

Julia said...

Thank you, all.

Niobe, I am not so much worried about it as just thinking what I might have looked like to them. I knew that I was doing what I had to do to protect myself.

Sara, I'm sorry. The library has got to be tough. At least at the store I really didn't know them from Adam except that I recognized some of them as regular cashiers. At the library they know your name and such. Must be really tough.

Adelynne, your degrees are showing. :) Oh, and I am working on a post about why I don't tend to answer honestly all the time (and coincidentally why you might).

Julia said...

Dear Julia,

I am so sorry. I read your comment at Redbook and felt physically ill to learn about the death of your son.

I think OK is a pretty good response. I think abrupt and bitchy works too. I think you do what you need to do and all interactions balance in the end.

I'm thinking about you.

Lori said...

I remember telling a friend after Molly and Joseph died that I wished I could have a shirt made that said, "Please be kind... my babies died."

I also understand what you mean when you say you know you are doing better because you can now say, "Ok." I have a lot of things I can say now without flinching, that I never could have said three years ago.

Adelynne said...

Just the one, actually. :)

I'll be interested to see that post.

Antigone said...

ouch. yeah yesterday i said good morning to someone and that's how i knew i was getting better. my pathetic progress.