The Event of Grocery Day

person wearing a mask

By Amy Ratto-Parks

Yesterday was grocery day, which I suppose should now be called The Event of Grocery Day. To be fair, grocery day has long been a thing for me. It is common for me to plan a menu for the week, plan a detailed list of items, and - if I'm being 100% honest - rewrite the list so that the items appear in the order I will find them in the store. So, it's fair to say that I never exactly expect a leisurely stroll through the store.

But being in a grocery store these days is like moving through a confusing, anxiety-fueled dream. Everything is heightened. I pull a makeshift mask up over my face and feel like an old fashioned bank robber. There are people in masks all around me and I can't tell if I recognize anyone so instead, I watch them for a beat too long while they stand before the produce, studying it closely without touching it; tipped forward on their toes, they appear suspended in time. Everyone moves with a sort of gluey slowness trying to stay 6 feet apart and it's hard to tell if we're being nervous or polite or both (maybe we are being polite by being nervous for each other?).

I find myself mentally cataloging the things my hands touch - the cart, each grapefruit, the glass of the tamari, the tongs used to gather brown mushrooms, the carton of creamer. I wonder how long a virus lives on the skin of a fruit.

As I place a bottle of shampoo in the cart, I exhale my warm breath into the fabric mask then inhale it again and the sensation of breathing my own air gives me a vision of Halloween as a kid - running through the dark neighborhoods, inhaling the sweet vanilla scent of a head mask, hearing my exhales whistle out of the breathing holes, feeling the cold rubber on my cheeks when I smile from inside the private darkness of the mask.

In my half-mask, I can't tell if I feel too visible or only half-visible. I feel myself trying to smile at people and I see others doing the same. We wave each other ahead or nod to say, no, you go first, because so many of our social cues are distorted -- and I smile my eyes extra hard, but wonder if it looks like a smile or a wince. I want to express a smile because I want to tell others and I want to tell myself the thing I cannot feel, the thing we say even when we know it's not true: it's OK, it's OK, it's OK.