I went to the grocery store today, knowing that it would be an adventure in patience since I had a little boy with me. I anticipated lots of negotiating, telling him to sit down about 374 times and the obligatory marathon horsey ride at the end of the trip.
As an aside, can I just say that I love that the store still has penny horsey rides?
I had a list and the super fantastically awesome cart with the little car in the front and the horn that beeps. AJ was happy, for the moment.
As I entered the store, I made my automatic left turn towards the health and beauty section to start the shopping.
I saw him immediately, the man with the small cart paying for his groceries. The basket half occupied by his portable oxygen machine. The air hose tucked inconspicuously beneath his shirt. His hair perfectly groomed, just the right amount of gray with the brown.
Instantly I wondered about him. He looked to be in his early 60's. Men that age don't usually find their way into grocery stores in the middle of the day. He was alone, looked in pretty good condition despite the tubing and machine beside him. Who helped him?
Without knowing anything about this man, I was trying to decide what was wrong with him. Maybe it was emphysema. Maybe he had COPD. Maybe he was a cancer patient like my father had been, forcing himself to be as functional and "normal" as he could.
My Dad got up every day and combed his hair, whether there was enough of it to really bother or not anymore. He dressed impeccably, insisted on always putting his best foot forward. He was a proud man. So proud, in fact, that he refused to ever wear his oxygen outside.
I wasn't prepared for where my mind wandered in the course of the 3 or 4 seconds it took to walk past him. The whole time, I was reminding AJ that he needed to stay sitting in the cart, trying not to make it obvious that I'd taken such an interest in the life of this strange man.
Nothing could have prepared me for what happened when I walked past him.
It was the distinct combination, one I haven't smelled since Dad left us.
The aerosol hairspray, the Brut aftershave, the spray of Stetson. The scents washed over me as I walked past the stranger, the quiet humming of his oxygen machine filling the space between us.
I stopped dead in my tracks.
It was like he was here again.
I couldn't breathe, my eyes welled up with tears that I couldn't hold back.
My feet firmly grounded to the floor, I couldn't move.
As quickly as it came on, it was gone. I was snapped back into reality, where I was pushing a grocery cart and reminding a boy to stay seated. I turned and the man had vanished.
It had only been seconds, there is no way he could have walked away that fast on oxygen. How? Was he even there at all?
I took a deep breath, wiped my eyes, assured the clerk who'd stopped at some point to check on me that I was okay. I don't know how long I was standing there.
All I know is that for a moment this morning, my father was with me again.
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