I’d been at the store for over an hour, and called Mel over a dozen times, when I started to realize that I looked a lot like all the single men walking the aisles wearing headphones. Most of them had lists, only they weren’t nicely organized and on full sheets of paper like mine, but rather they were messy scrawls on coasters or torn corner sheets of newspaper, that sort of thing. Most of their carts were filled with ready-made dinners from the frozen section. This was a college town, so a lot of the men were in their late teens and early 20’s. They had a spring in their step and a confident smirk that reminded me of when I was in my early 20’s shopping after high school. I recall feeling like I’d really figured things out. I was an independent adult, shopping on my own, and living on my own. I had my shit together.
I didn’t pay much attention to them.
Who I did pay attention to were the single men in there 30s. The ones who were obviously single for one reason or another, probably divorced, and held a look of contempt or fear. They were the men that looked at ladies in the store with longing and hope that they might find something of value in their sad carts filled with cases of diet soda, a few bags of Tyson’s frozen chicken, bags of cereal, and tubes of various bread dough. They looked so sad and lonely and I had complete empathy for them.
There was this one guy who had a serious neck beard, greasy bleached hair with dark roots, and was wearing a wrinkled Call Of Duty shirt, and an old pair of those large-legged Jinco Jeans from the late 90's.
He looked a lot like I did before meeting my wife.
He was in his mid 30’s, wasn’t wearing a ring, and was pushing a cart full of TV dinners. Perhaps this guy was single because he wanted to be. Perhaps he was just like me, and had an 8-month pregnant wife at home and was grocery shopping for the first time in five years. Perhaps my assumption that he was a single straight man, wandering the grocery store, lonely and sad, was incorrect. I don’t know anything about him except for what I observed. But what I do know is that as I looked at his sad eyes, and sad diet, and sad list written on a torn piece of cardboard that appeared to come off a box of cereal, I wanted to give him hug.
I looked at him, and saw myself as a single man in my 30’s, and got really scared, and felt ever so grateful for my wife, her grocery list, and all the other wonderful things she contributes to my life. And here is the really scary part. The middle-aged women shopping in the store seemed to assume that I was one of these lonely single men. This meant that they wouldn’t make eye contact with me. If I glanced in their direction, they looked right at the ground, or to the side, or their lists. I felt like this thing that was not good enough to look at.
There might be really good explanations for this. Perhaps these women were happily married, or in a happy relationship with someone, and didn’t want to put across the wrong idea. Maybe they just weren’t looking for a relationship. Perhaps they simply weren’t into short stocky white guys with a shaved head and a trimmed beard. But as they looked away, it made me really think about the way Mel looks right at me, and smiles. The way her eyes light up when she sees me.
I stopped, right there, in the frozen aisle, and gave Mel another call. She picked up and I said, “Stop calling me.”
“You called me, ya jerk,” she said.
“Yeah. You’re right. I am a jerk.”
I told her about the tomatoes with green chilies, about how I felt in over my head, and about all the lonely single men at the store. I told her about how the women looking away from me like I was bad fruit.
I can only assume that the people listening to this conversation in the store thought I was a crazy ranting man, and perhaps I am, but this experience really made me value Mel and what she does for me, and sometimes, when things like this happen, I find it best to just pick up the phone and let Mel know how much I appreciate her.
“I just want you to know that I love you, and that I appreciate all the work you put into planning our meals. I love the way you look at me, and I am grateful that you have put up with my shit for this long. You are amazing. I’m sorry for not appreciating this earlier.”
Ok… well… maybe it didn’t come out quite that smoothly, and maybe I stumbled a little bit in what I had to say, and perhaps Mel had to ask me to repeat certain parts because I was taking softly so the people around me wouldn’t hear. But that is the gist of what I said, and it came from the heart, and Mel replied by saying, “I love you too. Thank you.”
I picked up the last dozen or so items. I had to call Mel two more times. Once about the French bread, and again about the salsa. I checked out, and realized that this store doesn’t have baggers, and once again, I marveled at how Mel bagged one month worth of groceries herself each month. It was kind of a pain in the ass, and I had a difficult time keeping up with the checker.
All together I’d been shopping for three hours. My legs were tired, but I felt enlightened. I came home and hauled all the bags in, which took much longer than I expected and made my arms tired.
Mel was in the kitchen putting things away. I gave her a kiss. Told her again that I loved her and all that she did. She smiled and asked, “Where are the lemons? I need them for dinner.”
I thought about it for a moment. I didn’t recall picking up any lemons. I looked at the list, and sure enough, there they were, listed. But I hadn’t put a line through them.
“Looks like I missed them.”
Mel exhaled and rolled her eyes.
I put my jacket on again, and headed back to the store.
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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, and a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His essays on parenting and marriage have been featured in New York Times Motherlode, Huffington Post Parents, Huffington Post Weddings, and The Good Men Project. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
Photo by Lucinda Higley