To The Woman In Line At Trader Joe’s, I’m Sorry.

Mindy Stern
Mar 21, 2020 · 4 min read

Lockdown life and the need for dog food.

My anxiety woke me up like a jet engine on take-off. Dog Food. Three dogs, only one bag left of Trader Joe’s Chicken and Rice dry food. Sure, if I run out I can substitute another brand, but a house of two parents, two young adult children, one girlfriend, and three dogs with food-change induced diarrhea might be the death of me. My tombstone would read If only she found the dog food.

The night before, Los Angeles’s Mayor had announced the shutdown of all nonessential businesses would begin in the morning. As soon as they were open, I called all the local TJ’s seeing if anyone had the dog food. One store said they had one bag but couldn’t hold it, one store had none. One did not answer the phone.

So I headed to the store that had one bag. I arrived to see a block’s long line of people six feet apart. They were only letting in thirty people at a time. Social distancing. I can’t do math, but the odds of the one bag being available by the time I got inside seemed low, so I left and went to the store that didn’t answer its phone.

I stood on that store’s line and waited patiently. I texted friends and my housebound 80-year-old mother-in-law asking if they needed anything. My anxiety simmered. I scanned the carts of people exiting.

Is there a bag of dog food in that motherfucking cart?

Deep breaths. The dogs will be fine.


Deep breaths. The dogs will be fine.

Finally inside, I strolled towards the canine nutrition. There it was. One 20 pound bag of Trader Joe’s Chicken and Rice dry food. I cried. Literally, tears welled when I saw it. My walk there was the slow motion reunion of long-lost lovers.

Once my shopping was complete, my cart filled with my things, my friend’s, and my mother-in-law’s, I stood in the long checkout line.

But instead of feeling calmer — I have the dog food, plus surgical gloves on my hands— my simmering anxiety rolled to a boiling panic.

Anxiety is funny. It runs its own course, on its own time, any fucking way it wants.

My mind filled with flashbacks of myself 13 months earlier lying in a hospital bed. Nurses administered yet another IV bag of fluid and a doctor said “if this doesn’t work, you’re going to ICU”. Ten hours of IV antibiotics and fluids and still no known reason my white blood cell count was an astonishing 35,000 (12,000 is normal) and my fever was 103.

Last year I was in the hospital twice with sepsis, had surgery, and was diagnosed with Fever of Unknown Origin.

“It must be a virus we can’t identify.”

That flashback transitioned to another. I’m sitting with my 19-year-old son in the emergency room, just three months ago, as they administered a third breathing treatment to open his airways. Pneumonia. This kid lived the first 12 years of his life with an immune deficiency that resulted in recurrent severe pneumonia. But he was better. Why does he have it again?

The ER doc told me to have his antibodies tested. But life resumed, he went back to college, and that bloodwork never happened.

Worry about dog food was the gateway drug to the addictive fear about my family’s wellbeing in the age of COVID-19. My housebound mother-in-law, my 86-year-old mother 3,000 miles away, my son, my daughter with Celiac Disease, myself.

I am really fucking scared.

“Excuse me, my bag is so heavy, can I put it in the bottom of your cart?”

I turned to the woman behind me. In her hand was one reusable bag filled with groceries. Instead of replying “of course”, I hesitated. Irritation riddled my hesitation. I glanced at the bottom of my cart with the attitude of an 8th grade girl.

Before I regrouped to respond, the woman behind her spoke up.

“You can use mine” she said with the sting of one-thousand arrows in my back.

I could feel their whispers. I was embarrassed and ashamed. I’m a helper. Why did I hesitate? Because anxiety is unreasonable and fear is toxic. I hesitated because in that moment my head was one million miles away on a planet called Me.

“I’m really sorry I hesitated. I’m kind of having a panic attack.”

It still annoyed them, I could tell.

Here’s the thing about we’re all in it together. It doesn’t mean every minute of every day our best selves show up. It means sometimes you pick up my slack, and sometimes I pick up yours.

It means forgiveness and her sister grace and their brother humility and their parent compassion will carry us through this hellscape, and the many crises to come.

So to the woman on line in the Studio City Trader Joe’s who asked to use the bottom of my cart, again, I’m sorry. And to the woman behind her who’s best self arrived before mine, thank you. You helped me, too.

And perhaps instead of referencing food change induced dog diarrhea, my tombstone will say She did the best she could.

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Mindy Stern

Written by

I got my first TV writing job at 48, took 26 years to find my birth family. It’s never too late, you’re never too old. Keep going.

Age of Awareness

Stories providing creative, innovative, and sustainable changes to the ways we learn

Mindy Stern

Written by

I got my first TV writing job at 48, took 26 years to find my birth family. It’s never too late, you’re never too old. Keep going.

Age of Awareness

Stories providing creative, innovative, and sustainable changes to the ways we learn

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