I probably can't even remember the number of times A and I went to Safeway together for groceries when I visited. Not a lot. Maybe half a dozen, give or take? Not so many that it should matter. And such a mundane activity, too. But it's stuck with me, maybe because I appreciated doing the mundane things with him, because I didn't get to very often.
And every time I go to a Safeway (any Safeway), I see a man who reminds me of A. Sometimes there's a strong resemblance in his face. Sometimes it's the way he walks. Sometimes it's the baseball cap he's wearing. Sometimes it's a gray goatee. Sometimes, it's nothing more than being of similar age and the store lighting brings me back. That's what it was Saturday. I was walking down the Asian foods aisle, and coming toward me from the other direction was a fifty-something man with gray several-day stubble and a baseball cap on his head. And I felt the knife go right through my heart again.
The path is well-worn, though, and it only hurt for a moment, plus a lingering ache as I thought about it until I left the store. It's a powerful sensation, yet oddly fleeting now. I sometimes wonder if anyone who might look at me at a moment like that would see me flinch, would see that knife as it passed through my soul once again. Or does it all play out only inside of me, invisible to everyone? Is it entirely a private experience? I feel so alone when it happens, like I am forced to feel all of it by myself, though I couldn't tell you who else I might imagine should share it. It's mine, of course. Mine and mine alone. Whose else? I am what remains of the two of us.
I remember a time, before A died, when I was sitting in the airport in Salt Lake City on the way home from visiting him. I had been crying on and off since we said goodbye at the airport (because I'm a sap like that), and I saw my fellow travelers in a totally different light that day. I looked around at the people who walked by me or sat across from me. I looked into their eyes, and saw all manner of emotions there. For maybe the first time in my life, I didn't see people. I saw souls, souls who had their own trials and pain and worries that they were going through, and nobody around them knew, in all likelihood. I realized I had no idea what they might be dealing with right now, and it softened my heart, a heart that was usually annoyed by the people in the airports getting in my way and bumping me with their rollerboards and yakking on their cellphones. You just never know when someone in the airport, or the Asian food aisle, is having a tough time. It could be anyone. It probably is.
We should probably be kinder to each other as a matter of course, no?