For ten terrible minutes I sat on a bench in Walmart and realized that I was insane. I was in my early twenties. I had already lived through my first mental breakdown and, at this point, I thought that I was better, that my mental state had regained equilibrium.
I had entered Walmart with my then husband and somehow we were separated. This was before people carried cell phones and could just call each other on a whim. At first I was just annoyed (I mean, really, who likes being in Walmart?). So I methodically walked up and down the isles trying to find him. Eventually, I gave up and sat on a bench by the entrance so that he could just find me when he was done shopping.
As I sat my old friend Panic came and sat down next to me. She asked me, “What are you up to?”
“I am waiting. Eventually he will he find me here.” I responded. She shrugged and together we sat for several minutes.
Panic gave an audible sigh…
“What?” I asked.
“It’s obvious right?” She started, “He’s not coming because well, you know he isn’t real.”
I laughed. A young couple, who were pushing their loaded cart by me, turned their heads and scowled in my direction. I wanted to tell them- sorry, I wasn’t laughing at you – but I kept quiet because I could’t explain what I was I laughing at.
“Maybe he forgot I came to the store with him?” I asked in a tone that tried to sound nonchalant while I pleated my skirt vigorously with my fingers.
“Or…” Panic’s voice trailed off condescendingly.
I looked sideways at Panic. She was looking straight ahead, eyebrows raised, lips slightly pursed, shoulders lifted in a small shrug.
The heat began to rise on the back of my neck and my vision began to darken at the edges. She was right, I realized, he wasn’t real. I was sitting in a Walmart waiting for someone who wasn’t real. He was a coping mechanism. A fabrication.
I was alone. I was always alone.
People were staring at me. They turned their heads as they pushed their carts by. Their children turned empty eyes on Panic and I. They pointed accusing little fingers in our direction and kicked their dangling feet against the metal frames they rode within. Clack, clack, clack.
I stood up, head down, eyes on my feet and began walking toward the exit. Panic laughed, “Where are you going?”
“Home.” I whispered.
“But…” I stopped and looked at her, “If he isn’t real, is home real?”
She was right. Maybe I wasn’t in the Walmart at all. Maybe I just needed to wake up. What if I woke up in an asylum though? Wouldn’t it be better to just stay in the Walmart? What is worse- Walmart or an asylum?
“There you are!” I jump, startled, and turn abruptly to the sound of his voice.
Panic chuckled as she began to walk away, “I guess you chose Walmart.”