A certain order of dignity
I noticed her in the vegetable aisle of the grocery store. Clothed in the obligatory uniform of a suburban mother (lululemon yoga pants, a sweatshirt emblazoned with the local high school insignia, name brand cross-trainers, hair pulled back neatly away from her face) she had all of the appearance and trappings of the affluent area of the city. I might not have taken a second look but for the way her children interacted with her and with each other. They were laughing, singing, helping to assemble the items from the list she carried. The very small girl and the teenage boy were joyful yet that glee did not extend to her. She was without any makeup that would conceal the dark circles that sunk profoundly into her skull beneath red eyes or color that might compliment the undertones of her too pale, almost translucent skin. Although she smiled at the antics of her helpers, it was half-hearted at best. She was not wearing a wedding ring which indicated to me that she was probably a single mother weary and drained by the all consuming activities of parenthood.
I continued my errand aisle by aisle not giving another thought to the small family until I overheard an exchange next to me.
“Not today, sweetie, we need to stick to the list.” The mother said in a quiet voice.
“Mommy, I need too buy this for Jason!” the little girl was adamantly shrieking.
“Stop acting like a brat. Mom just does not have enough money to buy junk.” The boy’s voice was very firm. He was openly annoyed.
I glanced at the scene when I noticed the mother’s face change. She was no longer weary. She was sad. I was frozen by the transformation.
“Mommy has lots of monies. She just does not want to buy me anything!” The little girl continued her demanding rant as the mother pulled a phone from her purse then knelt down beside the imp. She made some maneuvers on the mobile device then turned it to the child. In a low voice, almost a whisper she said, “I have 30 cents in the savings account and 113 dollars in my checking account. After we buy these groceries, I have just enough money to get a half-tank of gas so that I can drive to work next week. I want nothing more than to buy you everything you want but, baby, I just don’t have the money.” They mother and daughter shared a tight embrace then righted themselves. The boy tenderly seized the girl’s hand then the three of them silently moved along to the next item on the list with their heads held high.
I felt sick inside having witnessed this scene. Was this a temporary situation? Was this a new way of life brought about by a change in marital status? Was their once comfortable life now a struggle to maintain? Do the children have any idea how dire things really are? Is this the reason for her depressed countenance and troubled expression?
Later in the parking lot, I noticed the woman setting grocery bags into the trunk of an SUV. The children buckled into the seats, she was alone at the rear of her car. When she was done, she reached for the tailgate then stopped. She covered her face with her hands, her shoulders slumped forward — she appeared to be crying. I drove off thinking Bukowski was wrong. To have the desire and the need to live but not the ability does not make you weary. It makes you worry.