Target has become the scene and trigger of recurrent depression and rage throughout my divorce. My semi-absent parenting, my new fear of poverty, and middle-aged, single male pariah-hood intersect there with a vengeance. In front of me in line stands a woman with her daughter, maybe 18 months, who dutifully stays close and helps unload items handed to her. The mother has a brilliant engagement ring and matching wedding band. Her watch glitters as she swings her buff, tanned arms. Her fashionably distressed jean skirt outshines my own distress. The leopard print of her Tom’s ballet slippers contrasts with the even tone of her skin. She sweet talks her child and feeds her snacks with one hand while helping the cashier load her canvas bags with the other. I left my own reusable bags at home with the delusion it might save me time at check out. I imagine this woman doesn’t believe the anti-environmentalist a-hole behind her has any good reason for smiling and waving at her child, whereas I believe that if this were my daughter, I’d need someone to distract her from running away or playing with the spray cleaners stockpiled on the shelf below the cash register right behind her.
As soon as the first woman leaves, another one pulls up behind me. Her leopard print Tom’s have high heels and her rings a different hue. She reveals a baby bump while putting her plush king-size mattress cover on the conveyor belt. I have never had a bed that large and couldn’t make much use of one now if I did.
Hemingway, if I have my aphorisms straight, wrote that bitterness is the greatest enemy of writers. I write, but bitterness likely threatens all who have failed. I try to console myself that all of life is an experiment, so all results are equally insightful if one acts on them. I try to console myself that perhaps I have walked through some internal darkness and come to know it in ways these women and their surely perfect (to-be-) kids have not, but I assume they’d, rightly, furrow their brows to ask, “Why not just turn on the lights? Didn’t you pay the bill?”
Yeats has his line about descending into the “foul rag and bone shop of the heart” in order to come back with poetry and a Nobel Prize. I have not come back with either, and, in fact, I am not entirely sure I have come back at all. I seem stuck in the foul part, the rags, the bones, at least for which I now have a giant bottle of vitamin D in my cart. I thought I needed it just because the doctor told me so with his precious lines of test results, but the label suggests without these pills, I am in danger of snapping a blood-red femur.
At home, I unload pasta and canned beans. I unpack the toy tools I bought for my daughter but feel too guilty to give to her now, guilty at having spent the money for something that wasn’t strictly necessary, whereas at Target, I had felt too guilty for not nourishing her interests. After all, hadn’t she just the other day asked for my hammer? I hide the tools in the closet atop my own toolbox to wait for Christmas. I tell myself if she accidentally discovers them, I’ll pretend I had been waiting all the while to surprise her with the find.
I won’t, however, tell her about Target's surprises that, despite their variety, somehow predictably find me in near tears of envy and furious, resentful grief as I cross the parking lot. It doesn’t matter, coming or going—or neither coming nor going, as the Buddhists would say—the turmoil seems the same. When I do practice gratitude, I apparently miss the Target.