Tuesday, March 14, 2006
I have a part-time gig in retail. Picked up the habit a little over ten years ago and I’ve been there ever since. Other than taxes, Banana Republic is the one constant in my life. And to the creepy Match guy who asked if my retail job was at Victoria’s Secret and then put one of those winky punctuation things, the answer is no. First of all, Victoria’s Secret is cheap crap. Second of all, ew. I am so not going out with you now.
I’m retail bound no more than one night a week. I’ve quit at least ten times but my manager knows it’s just me venting about annoying customers. She continues to put me on the schedule and I continue to clock in at the assigned time. I’ve built a lovely little wardrobe at a deep discount and made some great friends along the way. Four hours a week is a small price to pay for those two, hard to find things.
Because I’m not there that often, I only really know a handful of the employees. As of late, three of us have been landing the same schedule. There’s me, Oliver, a guy from Senegal who is charming and kind, Linda, a mother of 5 boys who uses retail as an escape from home, and Kate, one of the three managers. We each fall into our typical tasks. Oliver handles the registers, Linda acts as a personal shopper and I tidy up the messy trail left behind in a piggy customer’s wake. Kate flawlessly oversees it all like a maestro in front of the orchestra.
I’ve taken to Linda in recent months. She’s funny, thoughtful and sincere in her inquiries about my dates, my job, my dad’s health and my life overall. I tell her about the crazy men I meet and she tells me about her gorgeous single brother, a one-time professional tennis player. "If only he hadn’t moved west to coach Lindsay Davenport," she says. Oh, if only.
Linda married her college sweetheart and the two of them lived happily ever after. I’ve seen Christmas pictures of the family and let me tell you, those boys of hers are utterly adorable. I’ve heard stories about her sweet gay brother who heads a hotel in Aspen, rubbing elbows nonstop with A-listers. I know she refuses to exit the bedroom naked any other way than with backward steps so her husband can’t see her size four tush. She’s invited me into her life, open arms and all.
As we straightened things in preparation for the final closing of the doors, Linda asked me a hushed question.
“When you were with your ex, did you ever just not feel in the mood for, well, you know, sex?”
Those who know me well know that this isn’t a question I’d duck. But what killed me was that it was coming from a woman fifteen years my senior. I pulled words from my head to provide an age appropriate answer. Before I knew it, we were adjusting hangers and discussing the value of porn (not working), vibrators (too powerful) and other bedroom paraphernalia (Barry White).
“I just think it’s the estrogen,” she said.
And then I remembered. With a history of breast cancer in her family, Linda had both breasts removed a few years earlier. Because of the cancer issue, estrogen replacement therapy was off limits. The porn, the toy and everything in between was falling short and she was pretty certain there wasn’t anything she could do to solve the problem. It was about what was going on inside and nothing on the outside was going to make a difference.
I found a rack of pants to tidy and headed in another direction. Part of me wanted to go back and tell her that sometimes I am the same way and I still have my boobs and estrogen. It isn’t a lie. There were plenty of times with Ex where I just preferred to be calm and close instead of riled up and writhing. He’d try to push the usual buttons but I just wanted to bop him on the head. Stop fiddling my tits and for the love of God, just leave me be.
I wanted to make Linda believe it was fixable, even if it really wasn’t. I suddenly found myself solo in a far off corner patting down a perfectly folded pile. It didn’t need touching up but it scared me to go back to Linda without a silver lining. I’m not a parent and I’m not sure if I ever will be. But standing there with a woman who has become a friend, and not being able to make it all better, well, it made me feel so helpless.