I went to a gas station to fill up my tank, get some beer to go with the frozen pizza I was planning to eat for dinner, and see if they had any of the brands of protein shakes I like – they didn’t.
Things in this gas station seemed to be operating normally – as normal as things in a gas station can operate in downtown Nashville right after sunset.
When I entered, I noticed a dirt-covered man with blood shot eyes stocking up on 40’s and cigarettes and a couple of young kids with sagging pants loitering in the bakery section. As I made my way to the back towards the coolers, I heard someone crying. Sobbing would better describe the sounds coming from this woman. Deep wails slid up her throat as she sucked down her snot. I tried not to impose too much on the meltdown, but I had to slide by her and the Lay’s chips to get to the coolers. She didn’t seem to notice me as I nearly brushed her shoulder.
Once alone in the icy beer cooler, browsing seltzers and pale ales, I wondered if I should say something encouraging on the way out or acknowledge her at the very least. I debated it while scanning the beer selections. I finally made up my mind: I would leave her alone in her devastation and I would buy the Sweetwater pale ales.
When I exited the cooler, I was greeted by the sounds of her muffled sobs. She was in the same place I had left her, but now her face was buried into the chest of a man that was at least two heads taller than her. I couldn’t make out anything she was saying, but the man kept repeating, “I know, baby, I’m so sorry. It’s all gonna be okay.”
At first, I assumed this man was her boyfriend and he had screwed up somehow by cheating or lying or maybe even stealing. But for some reason, that didn’t feel accurate, her whimpers held too much agony for it to be that petty. I thought about some of my bad days and lowest points and I naively wondered if anything would ever wreck my world enough for me to wail in the middle of an Exxon.
When I made it to the counter, I slid my items under the thin plastic curtain that separated me from the cashier. I pulled my ID out and handed it to her.
“You care if I scan it?”
“Go for it,” I told her.
“It ain’t gonna get flagged or anything, right? You on the run from anyone?” she joked. From the crinkles around her eyes, I could tell she was smiling underneath her mask.
I chuckled and hoped my own smile creases were visible to her. “Nope, I’m not on the run,” I assured her. “At least not tonight.”
Her laugher echoed through the small cashier’s chubby. “Well, shoot! You must be having a good night then.” Her eyes quickly darted to the woman somewhere behind us that was still crying.
“I am indeed having a good night,” I promised her as I grabbed my bag and made my way to the exit to submerge myself back into the crisp air of the night.