I don’t do CrossFit, I do grocery shopping with four kids. Eli and Rudy like to sprint the aisles, slaying dragons, while Ella prefers cartwheels. Lea likes to scream full tilt from the cart, tossing loafs of bread overboard.
It’s a sinking ship, my cart. My car. My house. With laundry and lunches. Dishes and diapers, appointments and schedules. With Mark on the road with work the juggling act had become too much. Something had to give. I gave. I misplaced things. Lost things. Then one day at the grocery store, I found myself all alone in the frozen food section, wearing two completely different types of shoes. I’d misplaced my dignity.
At checkout, I didn’t have my rewards card. Eli, at four, had taken to rifling through my wallet, using my license, credit cards, or in this case my rewards card, as “tickets”.
”We can use your phone number.”
Eli was tugging at my shirt. Lea had that ear-piercing scream hitting the high notes. All those stares on me. So I blurted out a phone number, one ending with the ages of my kids.
“Thank You loyal customer.”
I don’t know why that made me so happy. Maybe because in a day—a life—when nothing worked out, that number did. I strode out in my mismatched shoes, pushing along my gaggle of kids. I’d saved $34.56.
That number became my identity. I used it all the time. Getting gas, shopping. Offering it to that person in front of me who needed a quick discount. I watched my savings to date climb.
I was on a roll. And then one day, when I had all the kids fully clothed and in the cart, no squeaky wheels or meltdowns, I even matching shoes on my feet when the cashier rang me up, and…
“Oh Wow. I’ve never seen this.”
She smiled big. I looked around. “What?”
“You’re the grand prize winner.”
“The grand prize?”
“Yes, 2468. She smiled real big. “You’ve just won a year’s worth of free groceries.”
The line broke out into applause. It was only then I remembered I was a fraud. A woman who couldn’t find her shoppers card. I blushed as the manager smiled, shook my hand and called me Katrina Johnson, Rudy asking why he called me that.
I lost my mind. I spent $200 to find out where the real Katrina Johnson lived, even got a glossy picture as part of the deal. The next day I took the kids and we drove over to Maple Run, where the oil stained pavement was devoid of Maples, or trees in general.
In the land of Section 8, my hand instinctively went to the door lock. Trash along the curbs. A single beer bottle on a stoop. Rudy stared out the window, the way he had when we’d gone to the Safari Park over the summer.
“Mom, where are we?”
I parked the van, thinking how Mark would kill me. Four miles from the grocery store, but it felt like Mars. Rippled pavement instead of craters. Every car was dented. Barren windows, oil stains, overstuffed dumpsters. Dark streaks lined the wood paneling of apartments 23 A-D.
Eli and Lea were sleeping and Rudy and Ella had been stunned into silence. They lived amongst lawns and trees. Here it was grimy buildings and bus stops. Taxi cabs backing out.
We waited. People stepping off the bus. I recognized Miss Johnson—2468—with four kids at her side. The oldest maybe a year older than Rudy, bouncing along. I scanned the lot and took a look around.
I stepped out, onto Mars. I locked the door. Checked it to be sure. Rudy’s face, white and wide in the van—the van like a spaceship out there. I took a breath and approached.
Ten feet of cracked pavement separated us. Her face tightened. The youngest kid was asleep, hanging out of the tiny stroller. Some teens breezed by us with lingering stares. At me, the white lady on Mars. I gripped my keychain, about to backtrack, when I saw something familiar. Exhaustion. Defeat. Mismatched shoes on her feet.