Wal Mart, New Hope Commons
It’s not hard to get lost in a Wal Mart. And I think you should know that I’m not the only one it ever happened to.
I was in the aisle with the cheese balls when I realized that I didn’t know where my mother was. Which meant I was lost. I tried to remember what my mother had told me to do in the event of getting lost, which was
stay in one place,
tell an adult your mom’s phone number,
make sure the adult is a woman, but not a woman who is also with a man.
This is harder than you might think. Especially when you are just seven years old and small for your age and it is hard to see everyone’s faces clearly without staring, which is a very rude thing to do. I almost asked one long-haired person could she call my mother but then when she got closer, I saw that she was a he, so I hid in a circular rack of life vests.
These life vests had never been worn before. I know this because they smelled like plastic, and not like the sea.
I could feel my heart beating in my ears, which is something that happens to me when I feel nervous. Also, my eyes start to sting and I get the urge to cry and sometimes I accidentally hold my breath. One time by accident I held my breath for so long that I passed out. So this time, I tried to remember to breathe and do what my mom told me to do when I am nervous, since what she told me to do when I am lost so far hadn’t worked. I counted my breaths all the way to twenty and I thought of somewhere I like to be, which is the ocean, which was kind of funny, since I was surrounded by life vests that have never even been there.
I pictured the ocean. How it is blue and then green and then blue again and how, with the sky above, it is all the shades of blue. How the ocean rises and falls way, way out where it is very deep, like it is breathing. And how it is moving in this way because there are whales underneath there, and dolphins and manatees and sharks and whole schools of fish that swim together in huge swarms of bright colors and how together, they are like one giant fish and above them is the surface of the ocean and they move the water with their giant bodies.
I was thinking about the ocean and feeling calmer, until one of the life vests brushed my cheek, all scratchy and plastic smelling. I felt sorry for the lifejackets. It was too cold in there. There were no windows and the only living things were the people and they did not seem happy. I know this because their faces were not smiling and when there were two of them walking together, usually they were arguing about something. Like, a man told a woman not to put those sunglasses in the cart because she already had a million pairs and she told him to shut up, which is definitely not a nice thing to say.
I started to wonder what the floors were made of in there, and if it is something that comes from the earth. I started to wonder about the walls and the ceilings and the shelves and all the things piled on them – fishing poles and plastic bottles and strollers and televisions and racks and racks of clothes – and I wondered where they all come from. An egg comes from a chicken, the cotton in my shorts comes from a plant, and the leather of my shoes come from a cow, which is sad but at least understandable. I could not imagine one bit where that plastic life vest came from or even the rack it was hanging on and not knowing this made me hold my breath. It almost felt like I was drowning when a woman parted the vests on the rack and saw my face there and screamed. Then she laughed a little. Then she told me to breathe, please.
By the time I caught my breath enough to tell her the phone number, my mother had appeared with a cart full of snacks and towels and toys for our beach trip. She was a real thing in a sea of all the not-real things and I knew that I came from her, and she came from her mother. And also, she smiled.
We left without buying anything. On the way out, we walked past a long tall aisle of lipsticks and other makeups and my mom did not even try on a single one.
Afterwards, we drove to this park and we sat in the grass.
My mother asked me how did I get lost in the first place. And when I thought about it, I knew it must have been because of those cheese balls, which were as bright orange as firecrackers, or witches’ eyeballs. And everyone knows when you’re being stared at by hundreds of witches’ eyeballs, it’s impossible to look away.