“Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable.
When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary.
The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.”
– Fred Rogers
“But, I don’t need to go to the bathroom!”
“Yes, you do,” I said. “Go now so we don’t have to stop later.”
Ari reluctantly headed into the men’s bathroom in the grocery store, and Hannah and I went into the women’s bathroom.
When we walked walked out a few minutes later, there was a man standing in the hallway by the bathroom doors. Something about him made my internal alarm go off. I glanced at him quickly. Not an employee. No one else was in the bathrooms. He was just standing there watching people. Why was he hanging out in that hidden corner of the store? He wasn’t doing anything, but something wasn’t right.
I walked past him with the kids, and we finished grocery shopping and went on with our day.
Several hours later we were home, the kids had eaten, and I was sitting in the garage. “Mom,” Hannah said. “There was a creepy guy in front of the bathrooms at Ingles.”
She’d noticed him too.
“Yeah,” I said. “I saw him.”
A creepy guy. I’d never heard her say those words before. Nor could I remember her ever commenting on someone appearing out of place. Ever.
“Why was he just standing there like that?”
“I don’t know,” I replied. “I wondered that also.”
Acknowledgement. We both felt the same way. This was hours later, and it was important enough for her to mention to me.
And, that was that.
“I forgot to buy soup,” I said.
“That’s not good,” Nick replied. “You live on soup!”
“I know, right? If I run to Ingles, do you want a Key Lime Refresher from Starbucks?”
“Okay. Trenta sized. I’ll get you one. I love you!”
Soup and Starbucks. Soup and Starbucks. Soup and Starbucks. I repeated it in my head so I wouldn’t get distracted and forget again. I stopped by the cantaloupes. Two other women were picking them up and smelling them. “These are great,” one of them said to me. “I got some the other day, and they were delicious!”
“Thanks,” I said. “I love cantaloupe.” A nice, normal grocery store interaction. I put a cantaloupe in my cart.
I walked through the produce section and stopped to grab a potato salad and macaroni salad for Nick. I rounded the corner to head toward the soup aisle.
The store was packed, but I noticed one man in particular walking toward me. He slowed his pace and looked me up and down. As he passed, I heard him say loudly, “Damn!”
Damn. In THAT voice.
And, then I heard him say it again from behind me. As I turned down the aisle, I saw him in my peripheral vision. He was tapping his friend and nodding in my direction. “Jesus!”
In THAT voice.
Is this really happening? In the middle of a fucking crowded grocery store on a Tuesday afternoon? As I walked to the end of that aisle, I could hear them behind me.
Breathe. It’s no big deal. They’re just assholes who happen to be shopping at the same time as you. I texted Pete. Something about throwing a cantaloupe at the heads of men who cat call and follow you in the grocery store. He texted me back. Creepy.
Yes. That’s it. It’s creepy.
I put the soup in my cart and walked to the self-checkout lane. I saw one of the guys again. He looked in my direction. He had no cart. Nothing in his hands. Where was his friend? I paid and walked to the Starbucks counter.
I texted Nick. If this guy comes near me again before I leave Ingles, I’m going to loudly tell him to fuck off and then ask security to escort me to my car.
I ordered our Refreshers. Trenta Key Lime. Grande Very Berry Hibiscus. I stood and waited for the drinks. One of the guys headed to the self-checkout lane. I texted Pete. What the fuck? What kind of a person says that shit in the potato salad aisle at Ingles?
“Trenta Key Lime Refresher,” the barista called. I stepped up to put the straw in. “I like your pants,” she said.
“Thanks, they’re new.” A nice, normal grocery store interaction.
I saw the guy finish checking out. He had one bag. His friend walked over to meet up with him. They paused in front of the door at the display of Starbucks coffee. They looked up at me and then walked out.
I put the Refreshers in my cart and pushed it to the first set of automatic doors. I watched them turn left out of the second set of doors and walk through the parking lot. Breathe. Nothing happened.
I texted Pete. I’m not walking out until they are gone, which is fucking bullshit because it is 4:16 pm and the store is packed. Pete told me to give it 10 minutes. Yes, it’s bullshit.
Breathe. I had no idea if they were gone. Should I ask a manager to walk me to my car? It’s broad daylight. There are dozens of people in the store and in the parking lot. What do I say? There were some guys saying shit to me in the store, so can someone walk me to my car?
Nick texted back. Jesus.
Breathe. I can just stand here. I have soup and a cantaloupe and prepared salads and two Starbucks Refreshers in my cart. There is no rush. I looked out the door again to the parking lot and debated whether to wait a few minutes or go to the customer service desk.
You’re just at the grocery store. It’s broad daylight outside.
Blue shirts with an emblem. They were either fire fighters or EMS or both. Three of them were walking in the first set of automatic doors. My brain told me to move. As they walked through the second set of doors, I stepped in front of them. “Excuse me, but…”
I choked up. Am I really going to cry? Nothing happened. Why are you almost crying?
“Would you mind walking me to my car?”
They looked at each other, and one of them said, “You have your walkie, right?”
“Yep.” The one closest to me stayed, and the other two headed into the store.
“Thank you. Sorry, there were these two guys walking behind me saying stuff in the store, and I’m not sure if they left. I was debating asking a manager to walk me to my car, and then you guys walked in.”
I pushed my cart out the door and into the parking lot.
“Do you know if they’re still here?”
“I’m not sure. I saw them walk out, but I couldn’t see if they got into a car or not.”
He stood behind my car as I put the things in the back seat. “Do you want me to stay until you drive off?”
“Yes. Just until I back out. Thank you.”
Breathe. You’re in your car.
I backed out of the space while he stood there waiting.
“There’s no ‘should’ or ‘should not’ when it comes to having feelings.
They’re part of who we are and their origins are beyond our control.
When we can believe that, we may find it easier to make
constructive choices about what to do with those feelings.”
– Fred Rogers
My daughter’s words were ringing in my head when I got home. “Mom, there was a creepy guy…”
Yes. There was. There was a creepy guy in front of the bathrooms that day, and there were two creepy guys in the store yesterday.
Those feelings were real, and they need to be acknowledged. I walk by hundreds of men in any given week, and they don’t make me feel that way. That internal alarm is there for a reason.
What’s wrong here?
What do I need to do?
I don’t want my daughter to think her feeling was wrong. She’s in middle school. It won’t be long before she and her friends are in the grocery store or at the mall by themselves. In that situation, what do I want her to do?
I want her to tell someone what happened and get a store manager to walk her out.
Most importantly, I don’t want her to second guess that feeling or hesitate for one fucking second.