I pushed the cart through the familiar aisles. Mack was buckled in the front, happy as a clam having just sucked down a fruit filled pouch. I’m not much for packaged foods, but these I find handy for Mr. GoGoGo. The store was relatively busy, a Friday, new sales, lunch time fast approaching. I’d filled my cart with staples, things we needed, things we probably didn’t.
More than halfway through our trip, I heard a child crying. It sounded like they were in the front of the store; we were in the back. I started to worry. I could feel my mind start to rifle through its file cabinets of memory and knowledge, trying to figure out how old the child was, trying to figure out what their cries meant. The child sounded older, a toddler maybe? I formed a picture of “her” in my head, probably offended by something her mother wouldn’t get her. But that didn’t quite fit what I heard. The child sounded in pain, hungry, inconsolable.
Anxiety started to prickle up my arms, my own distress settling in the back of my neck, spreading out onto my shoulders like heavy, burning tar. I thought to myself, oh my god, I’m getting triggered. This is triggering my anxiety. I propped my elbows on the cart and blocked my ears to get a break from the screaming that permeated the entire store. I could still hear it, though muffled. A break as she or he drew in breath, and then another desperate cry, and again, and again.
I had to see the child, find out if they were okay. I made my way to the front, eyes darting around, trying to match the direction my ears heard the cries coming from. I was on high alert, wondering if anyone else was as bothered by this child’s cries as I was. And I saw him. His mother at the register, one or two other children circling around her, holding her 5 or 6 month old baby facing out, his face crimson face crumpled into screams. I knew there was nothing I could do to help her, nor could anyone else for that matter.
I wheeled my cart down the nearest aisle to get away from it again, afraid I looked as frantic as I felt, embarrassed by my reaction and afraid what was happening to me was obvious to everyone around me. Three quarters of the way to the back of the store, I allowed it to sink in, the baby was okay, he wasn’t be neglected or hurt. He was safe with his mother. And I started to cry, my face folding into its own origami pattern of sadness, I felt my shoulders heave, and a breathed, deeply. I had to shake it off, keep walking, no one could see me upset in the middle of the grocery store.
Less than a minute later the screaming stopped. The family was gone. I finished my shopping there. I went to another store. I went home.
I was upset with myself, I couldn’t believe that triggered me. I know I’m often triggered by loud noises, but this wasn’t loud, except to me. That desperate baby’s cry seemed to float on top of all the other noise in the store straight into me. I couldn’t escape it. I couldn’t believe the panic I was feeling.
As I wheeled myself and Mack out of the store, I wondered why I responded that way, why today? My anxiety has been pretty well managed lately. But I’m on day two of a headache. And this morning I woke to news of the tragedy in Colorado.
I spent the whole morning thinking about the 6 year old child reported to have been killed. I thought about the 3 month old baby reported injured. I thought about the people commenting and debating on Twitter. I thought about the people judging those parents for bringing their kids to a late movie. I felt myself wondering about their choices – not judging, mind you, just not understanding them from my own parental perspective. I thought about guns and lack of guns. And bombs. And mental health. And sociopathy.
I thought about getting my conceal carry permit. I thought about what I would do as a mother in that theater. My children wouldn’t have been with me, but I imagine I would have thought about leaving them motherless as the heartless gunman opened fire on hundreds of innocent people.
I didn’t wonder about why he did it. It doesn’t matter. Nothing could logically explain such a cascade of thinking errors that would lead someone to do such a thing.
And then I heard the baby screaming; I heard it’s fear, it’s confusion, it’s desperation. And all the angst and confusion of the unknown surrounding the events in Colorado wrapped itself into that child’s real life pain and knocked me over like a huge wave.
Once the screaming stopped and my body started to relax. I had a decision to make. I could sit there, sand and freezing water swirling around me and chastise myself for letting it get me. Or I could get up.
So I got up. From a mental distance in the now quieter store, I could see where small, quiet waves collected into what would eventually take me down. It made sense, enough sense to allow me to let go of the shame, to see my humanity, to hold myself gently, to know that I am okay, that baby is okay, and some day that won’t happen to me in public. But today it did. And I’m still okay.