Thursday, October 13, 2011

An Unusual Interaction

I work part time in a local retail establishment.  As far as retail work goes, it is not a bad gig.  Most of the folks who visit the store are pleasant people.  They are there to browse, or to buy gift for a loved one, or something special for themselves and I am there to assist them with their purchase in whatever way I can.  My interactions are generally enjoyable ones and more often than not the customers leave happy, and I’m feeling pretty good about helping someone.  Every once in a while something comes along that is just plain, well, strange.

This evening I was alone in the store and a man came in.   If I had to place his age I would put him in his late 40s or early 50s.  He wandered about the displays in a way that seemed both hurried and unfocused.  I approached him and asked if he needed any help with finding something.  His reply was that he was looking for a gift for his wife for their anniversary.

I asked him if there was anything in particular she liked for jewelry or maybe he knew her favorite color.  His reply was:

“Well, it really doesn’t matter what I give her.  She won’t like it and that’s okay because I don’t particularly like her anyway.”

I was more than a bit taken aback by his response.  I understand that sometimes it is easier to talk to a stranger about certain things, but this man did not seem like he was wanting to talk about his feelings.  He was very matter of fact about what he said.  It wasn’t angry or flippant.  He really seemed to be oddly okay with whatever his situation was.   He seemed so sure of it I couldn’t help but wonder why he was even bothering to go through the motions of buying a gift.

“It’s okay, “ he added, “She doesn’t like me very much either.”

As I stood there thinking that maybe the best gift they could give each other was divorce papers, he decided on a very bland, generic gift.  The kind of thing you would buy for your distant cousin who you don’t know all that well, but who you wanted to thank for house sitting for you while you were on vacation.   

I rang up his purchase and wrapped it up in a box for him, nestling it in a bed of tissue paper to prevent it from being damaged.   I wanted to ask him why they were still together if they really didn’t like each other.   I suppose the reason could be anything:  too financially intertwined, ‘for the kids’, or maybe they felt they’d been together too long and they were too comfortable with discomfort to change.   Of course I didn’t ask.  I simply put his purchase in a bag and wished him a good night. 

Hours later I am unable get this interaction out of my mind. I think perhaps what I can’t seem to understand is how resigned to his situation he seemed, as though next year at this time next year he will likely be walking into another store, in some other town, looking for some other equally nondescript and uninteresting gift.   Going through the motions for yet another year for reasons I or you are never likely to know.

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