I pulled into a Sunoco station at half past midnight last night, tired and miserable after an 11 hour stint at work.
While I shopped for some kind of junk food to add a mote of happiness to the end of my day, I eavesdropped on the employee behind the sales counter. She was probably about 19 or 20, engaged in a tense discussion on the phone with (I guessed) her mother.
“I’m never going to pay for daycare with what I make,” she was saying. “Even with food stamps I’m not paying all my bills.”
I scanned the shelves, unsure which bromide served up by a benevolent corporate icon would perform the magic of making the day’s pain go away. As I listened, I heard the same desperation and futility in her voice that no doubt others have perceived – often – in my own. She had the inevitable reticence of someone who’s been brow-beaten and overworked, a parent plagued by feelings of impotence, a woman whose spirit had been dowsed, a human robbed of the power to meaningfully create.
“How am I ever going to get anywhere,” she wondered. “And what do I tell Lindsey – that her mom is a gas station attendant?”
I grabbed a bag of chips, indifferent as to which brand or flavor it was. As I approached the counter, she ended her conversation and put on her customer service persona.
“Hi, how are you tonight?”
I shrugged. It was a ridiculous question.
She announced the amount due and I overturned a pocketful of coins and gnurr on to the counter. She counted out the change and said she hoped I’d have a good night. I turned and started to walk away.
Then I stopped and went back.
“What’s your name,” I asked her. She seemed surprised at the question, probably since it was emblazoned on a badge affixed to her jersey for the whole world to see. “Samantha,” she answered. “Why?”
“Because we’re people, not jobs. Not bank accounts. Not property,” I said. “You’re Samantha, and you’re not just a gas station attendant.”
She nodded. Slowly. “I try to tell myself that.”
“Me too. Every day I tell myself we all deserve more than” – I looked around the cramped and over-lit little store – “this.”
For a second, we made a connection. A marginal repair to the breach. It wasn’t triumphant or inspiring, it didn’t warrant an over-produced video on Buzzfeed or Upworthy or a fist-pumping editorial on the Huffington Post. Two wounded people were heartbroken together for a moment, and that was it.
“We should all try telling each other sometimes,” I said. “Hope you have a good night, too.”
Free Photo of the Day – Taken this Afternoon at Merrow Road Meadow. Canon T3i, 45mm, 1/800 sec; f/5.6; ISO 100.