We were in the local grocery store. It was probably Safeway, but I don’t honestly remember. I know that it was an unusual occurrence – all of us were there together – Dad, Susan, Chris, Katy and me, shopping for groceries. Maybe it was the first and only time since we were new to town and Dad was afraid to leave us home alone, or maybe he wanted to show us around town and get food at the same time. I don’t know. I don’t think it ever happened again, though, and maybe this is why…
I was probably being sullen and pissy – the very picture of a soon-to-be sixth grade girl who had just moved away from everything and everyone she was familiar with to a town where she would live with her father and new stepmother. It could be that school had just started and I was bothered that I didn’t fit in. They all wore Wrangler jeans and shitkickers and I came clad in Levi’s 501s and sneakers. They knew all about dust and horses and I had spent the last six years in ballet classes.
Whatever prompted it, I remember Susan taking me aside and offering to talk about it. Why did I agree? I was thousands of miles away from my mother and she was my confidante, not this traitor who had just married my father. But I couldn’t burden Mom with any more troubles, especially not over the phone. Maybe I was just desperate for a woman to listen to me.
Susan did something nobody I had ever known would even consider doing. She sat me down. Then she sat down next to me. On the floor, our backs against the shelves stocked with cereal boxes and oats. We stopped right there. Dad was mortified. Small town newcomers, sitting on the linoleum floor at the supermarket talking and crying. Susan sent him off with the cart and the list to finish shopping. Whatever it was that was bothering me, it was important enough for now. She didn’t ask me to wait until we got home. She didn’t brush it off or dismiss it with the thought that we were all finding this transition tough. She sat down next to me in that moment and acknowledged my 12 year old reality. She honored my feelings. She listened.
She didn’t give a good Goddamn what it looked like to the locals passing by with their carts. She chose me over everything else in that instant. This person who barely knew me, whom I had barraged with dirty looks and quietly despised. She showed me love and compassion. She sat with me on that cold, hard floor and ignored everything else, listening until I was done. I let the gate down and the hurt poured out, puddling around us. I felt so comforted. So relieved.
I remember her warm arm around my shoulders as we walked together through the parking lot toward the car. Dad and Chris and Katy watched us from the windows. I had an ally. My problems were important. I’m sure we didn’t solve anything tangible that day, but, like it or not, I had someone who cared.