One small movement of the wrist, one tiny swoosh and I was overcome with unwelcome memory fragments. I knew rationally that this was not the same. Didn't I? Yes, I understood that this was an inconvenience and a completely other context. By the third failed attempt to swipe my card, my emotions were raw and way too near the surface. I inhaled sharply and the nice man set my things aside. He didn't seem angry or judgmental at all, but I was feeling old overpowering emotions and could no longer connect my thoughts.
Thank God, I was not alone. My sister ushered me to a chair and I shoved my phone and the offending card at her. I was very aware the semi-numb feeling was keeping the tears at bay. "It’s not the same." The same as what? The frustrating answer from the curt customer service representative meant more work, phone calls and time. I started making the calls just to feel like I was doing something.
I snapped out of my fog when I heard my sister asking the cashier for my things that had been set aside. I had to make a decision right then. I forced a weak smile and paid for the items. It seemed strange to be acting as if nothing had happened. I may have even apologized to the cashier although neither of us had done anything wrong. Strange.
The sunlight hit my eyes with an uncomfortable intensity when we exited and I had the feeling we had been in that store for days. I was again grateful not to be alone. No telling if I could have made the short journey home with my head reeling this way. Could I let it go, I wondered? Not without knowing exactly what "it" was. What the hell was the matter with me?
My seat belt clicked far too loudly and the car was taking too long to move. It was no big deal, right? So, I got excited and shopped for things I wouldn't have and the silly gift card didn't work. So, it was embarrassing. Everything will be fine I’ll get the money back. At least I had the money in my bank account….Oh! Oh.
Now I knew. All at once, I was standing at the checkout counter two years ago trying to buy a frozen pizza for the kids to eat before trick or treating. My card isn't working. I don’t have enough in the account. I’m humiliated. I have no idea what we will eat tonight. I have to put back the pizza. I have to borrow a few bucks later (which I pay back in 48hrs) to buy another pizza at a different store. In the years since I have never gone back in there.
That was the end of a dark time. It was the last time that ever happened. I vowed that day, never to let it happen again. I found a way and I tried to forget, until today. Today made me remember. Today brought back that moment in blinding clarity and all those feelings of frustration, pain and shame. We fought so hard and survived so much worse than that, but that was the day I knew I had to do more. Stupid, horrible memories of counting change to buy diapers and not having enough were now pushing on the edges of my brain.
That’s over now, I tell myself. I've started to cry. "It just all came back." I explain now completely annoyed with myself. I take a few deep breaths and compose myself before climbing out of the car. Reality. I tell myself to snap out of it. It’s all over I keep repeating. As I pass my dining room table I glance over at and the stack medical bills, that outnumbered the Christmas cards this past month, and I feel sick. It could be that way again.
I give myself a moment to wallow in the fear, but only a moment. I sweep the leaning tower of bills out of sight and take a deep breath. I work hard to keep it from happening again. Time to hug my kids and be damn grateful for where I am now.