Sunday, June 9, 2024

Help Is on the Way

At the grocery self-checkout, my husband and I are pros. We have a system. I scan. He packs the bags. But we are at a new grocery store (for us) and the system is not working. When I scan and he packs, the machine freezes and the light blinks on: HELP IS ON THE WAY. But we don’t need help, I say to the clerk who comes over to help us. We know how to do this.

I say it the second time the light comes on and the third. The problem is the machine, I tell the clerk. And the fourth time—the problem is the sensor thingy under the bags! It thinks we’re not placing the item in the bags because we’re using our own bags?! Or it doesn’t recognize a second person doing the bagging?! Maybe we are too fast for it! The fifth time, I am sweating.

Each time the clerk comes over, he replays the tape, I guess to prove that we’re scanning and packing properly? WE ARE! Okay, the sixth time the light comes on, I admit it. It’s all on me. In my flustered sweaty state, I forgot to weigh the grapes before my husband placed them ever so carefully into the bag. But the seventh time, I TOTALLY weighed the bananas, I promise!

The clerk rewinds the tape. His name is Daniel—I see from his nametag, which I finally read after interacting with him another dozen times—and he is giving us a master class in how to deescalate a crisis. As I am raising my voice and one second away from tossing my bananas and stomping out of the store, he’s there again, talking us through it, patiently rewinding the tape and resetting the machine, joking about how if it didn’t mess up, he would be out of a job.

You’re doing great, he says. Keep going.    

I am trying to channel this man later as I talk with a friend who is going through a crisis much more serious than an exasperating grocery store experience. It’s anxiety, and it zaps her when she least expects it, spiraling her out and shutting down her usually bubbly self. I love this person so much and I want to swoop in and fix things for her.

I can’t fix things for her.

This is where I could say something metaphorically clever about how having trouble with the self-checkout at the grocery store is like having a panic attack. But that would be stupid because it’s not the same thing at all. I have had panic attacks before and it felt like I was dying. In the throes of my anxiety, I couldn’t see the hands that were reaching out to help me. I didn’t believe the hands were there. That is the evil trick about anxiety. It leads you to think you are alone in your suffering.

My husband and I finally finished checking out at the grocery store. It only took a couple more assists from Daniel, right at the very end when I was trying to wrangle loose oranges and then when I was trying to pay by credit card, swipe or tap, and oh my God, Daniel, just DO IT FOR ME. He didn’t, but he was immediately standing beside me with his same patient smile, saying, Look at you, you’re getting the hang of it now.

Ha ha Daniel, we both know that you are kidding. But weirdly, it helped.

The thing about stupid metaphors is sometimes they work. When my friend calls later, I tell her I am here for her and she will get through this. A friend said this to me once. 

Come to think of it, SHE’S the friend who said it to me, so we both know that it is true.


(Daniel is not shown in the picture but trust me, he's there)



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