To the woman in line at Walmart-an essay

Once upon a time there was a woman.

A human woman with friends and favorite foods, great parents who loved her, two small children who needed her, and a husband who worked hard to provide for her.

They had a lot of material things, given over holidays and anniversaries. Surpises and items they saved for. Their house wasn’t ever spotless, but it was warm. Her friends went out on Thursdays for drinks, he golfed on Saturdays. They donated their clothes and sometimes remembered to volunteer.

They were black, and white, or Mexican, or Asian. They lived in California, or Nebraska, or Florida or Ohio. They were the Smiths, or the Jacksons, or the Hernandez’s or the Wu’s. They were us.

One day, her husband lost his job. It was a surprise. Something they hadn’t saved for. It was a lay-off, a cutback, a restructuring…the factory moved, the market dipped. Here is what we can give you. Good luck out there. Goodbye.

And weeks past, or months, or years. They measured them in cold nights, monthly bills, crockpot meals, the cost of childcare, the market dipped, growing kids, red stamps on mortgage papers, boxes in her parents garage, fights, broken leads on maybe jobs.

One day-the end of the line. Her milk isn’t coming in right. There’s a baby now. A surprise. One they didn’t save for. Do you know the cost of formula? Do you remember the cost of diapers? He’s out with resumes and a smile and she’s in line at Walmart with her new WIC card-two cans of formula-and glasses pulled down over her eyes. Her old friends don’t come here–but still. She used to have opinions about these kind of things.

She got up early, pulled on her old Uggs. The $400 dollar shoes she HAD to have that year with the good bonus. Her Michael Kors purse, a gift from her Mother who won it at a fundraiser. Things that reminded her of when she was still Rachel, or Tanisha, or Marguerite or Lin. Things that reminded her that they would pull through. That reminded her to be grateful they still had each other.

Her baby crying on her hip. She hands the blue card over and shhh’s him. “You’re going to eat so soon, my baby,” ignoring her own growling stomach. Thinking of fast food and quarters in her bag. “We will never let you know hunger,” she thinks but doesn’t say. She just whispers it in a kiss on his temple and takes her bags.

So many people live this story. Countless of families that have been thrown from the comfort of their lives, caught in an American middle class struggle for survival.

But this story isn’t about her. Rachel, or Tanisha, or Marguerite, or Lin.

It’s about the woman behind her. Watching her with slanted eyes, a disapproving scowl, shaking her head, immediately formulating an opinion to share on Facebook. Stripping her down to the barest of bones. Looking at her Uggs with disgust and her bag with judgment. The WIC card sends a chill up her spine along with all the words her limited vocabulary can muster. “Eww.” “Gross” “Barf.” “Mooch.” “White Trash.” “Nigger.” “Spic” “Chink” “Loser.” “Poor bitch.” She grips her cigarette pack tighter in her coffin nailed hand. She pets her childs head and vows he’ll never know “welfare food.” She hurriedly throws her cheetos and oreos on the belt and won’t make eye contact. “Can’t wait to share this bullshit.”

Devoid of experience and real world struggle the word Humanity is a four letter one. Forgetting that you are them and they are you. You are always one call away from being “other.” Be grateful for what you have been given and what you get to keep. When it becomes more about politics, about competition, suspicion–than about people–the world becomes more dangerous. More violent. Even in passing. Your thoughts become things.

Compassion, Empathy, Understanding, Solidarity, Kindness…

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