It comes in 3’s. That’s how the saying goes. Yesterday came at me in 3’s.
1. She comes in about four times a week. She buys her bottle or two of wine, maybe some vodka. Maybe some beer too. Something summery like a lemon shandy. She’s very tall and very thin. Like a 1970’s supermodel. She brings her two kids with her almost always. A boy about six. A girl about 4. And every single visit, she loses one of her kids. Either she sends them to the bathroom or they just wander around the very large liquor store where I spend forty hours a week. When I see them in the store, I watch them from the minute she walks in. It’s jarring to my core. I’ve stayed with the little boy, while he cried out in the middle aisle that he couldn’t find his mom. She found it all very funny as she emerged from another aisle. I’ve internally argued with the “mother” me, saying fuck it to all “the customer is always right” bullshit and wanted to tell this lady about how it only takes a second for something bad to happen. Something REALLY bad. How leaving her small kids to wait by the front door of the store on the edge of a busy parking lot, on the edge of a busy highway is not a good idea. No matter how much of a free-range parent you may be.
Yesterday, this scenario played out again as she approached the cash register with her daughter and bottles, casually asking, “Have you seen my son?” That sentence alone triggers me into a nightmare. She was not alarmed. She never is. And while I am a strong proponent of not passing judging on other moms, this repeated scenario is so far out of my comfort zone. Infringing on nightmare territory. She called his name a few times and he appeared. But guess what, lady. They don’t always reappear.
2. In eight years of working in a liquor store, yesterday presented a first for me. I’m surprised it hasn’t happened sooner, to be honest. Yesterday, I stopped a woman from walking out of the store after paying and I took the 1.5 liter bottle of shitty wine out of her hand. She is a regular. Usually starting at 10am with a big bottle of shitty wine. Sometimes two. Then she may come back around 3pm for another. She used to give me a story about how her family drank all her wine and they never replace it. But recently she hasn’t given any stories. It’s fine. The stories are for them. Not for me. And as long as you are able to safely drive away from this store, I really have to pace my involvement in these daily customers. Burnout in the liquor industry is rampant. And so is alcoholism. And while I am the first to say, “There but for the grace of God go I,” it is not a world I enjoy being in. And the view from the cash register especially is brutal.
Yesterday I noticed she was more disheveled than usual. And her blank stare was frightening. She will usually at least say hello. But yesterday, she looked like a perfect storm had hit her and to her salvation she came. I rang her up, watching her finish the credit card transaction with unsure fingers on the terminal buttons. I watched her barely able to snap her wallet shut and barely have a grip on her bottle of shitty wine. She didn’t smell of alcohol at all. And as she walked out of her flip flops just a few steps away, unsteady and lost, I stopped her. I had never done that before. Ever.
“Miss, are you ok?” I asked.
And as I took the bottle out of her hands, looking into her eyes, I realized she was even more intoxicated or drugged up than I’d even thought. I told her I can’t let her take this bottle right now. I asked her if she wanted to sit down. I asked her if she was driving. She said no, she’s walking. I called for my manager to come help. I really didn’t know what I could or should do to help this lady beyond not letting her take this alcohol. She left abruptly as I was getting her money back from the register. Then she reappeared again. She put her $8.50 back into her wallet silently and we watched as she got into her car. She wasn’t walking, after all. My manager went outside and told her to just sit there and call for a ride. And from my register, I watched her sit in her car for over an hour.
Should we have called the police? I think in retrospect, yes. If she would’ve been able to slam her car into drive and fly out of parking lot, I would’ve never been able to live with myself. I turn a lot of blind eyes daily. This one was just so hard. Story after story on the news of a drunk driver crossing a divider and killing families. And while I’ve experienced the horror of a sudden death and the impact on a family, being involved in this scenario was a lot to handle. I can’t save her or someone else she may hurt. I can’t do anymore beyond this point. And I hate that It’s not enough.
3. He’s a regular customer that I didn’t realize I hadn’t seen in a while. He doesn’t drink at all. He would come in for his wife. I’d never met her but I knew she loved Chardonnay, just like me. And I would suggest different ones for him to try. He was always so nice. Just a pleasant man with, I’m sure, a pleasant wife and pleasant life.
As I was hanging price tags yesterday in the Chardonnay section, he appeared.
“Hey Eric, how are you?”
“I need a Pinot Noir and a Pinot Grigio.”
And as my mind raced to remember the name of the new Chardonnay I was just about to suggest, I casually said “Oh is your wife off the Chardonnay?”
“My wife died.”
He said it so bluntly. I liked that he didn’t stammer or meander around the best way to say it.
I asked if it was sudden. It was.
When? Back in November.
So since he was not accustomed to being alone after more than thirty years of marriage, he decided he’s going to start dating. His adult children think it’s a good idea too. And the lady he’s been on a few dates with likes Pinot Noir and Pinot Grigio.
We picked a few wines as I guided him through buying wine for a lady who was not his wife. For a situation that was very new and scary. For a world that was radically different from what he had known for his whole adult life.
I asked about this new lady friend and as we talked about her, he also told me more about his wife. And in front of the Pinot Grigio shelves, he told me that his wife had committed suicide.
We talked with manageable tears in our eyes. Like two people who have reached their quota of sobbing and uncontrollable tears for a lifetime. He was hurting but surviving. He was crushed but hopeful. He was keeping his sense of humor. He still had an easy-going charm. But it was more vulnerable. Fragile. Afraid.
I walked him to the cash register as we talked more. If this lady doesn’t work out, keep him in mind for any sixty something ladies I may know. I told him I certainly would. We hugged goodbye and I practically sprinted to the back of the store for a cry. I told my coworker Mike what had just happened. We both just shook our heads and let it sink in. And then we simply went back to work.
I punched out at 7pm.
Thursday came at me in 3’s.