Below is a sneak peek of Chapter 1 (UPDATED) of my novel My Side of the Bed (unpublished). All rights reserved Feel free to comment and let me know what you think!
The Day I Left
I left my family on a Tuesday afternoon in June. I did not mean to leave. It just happened.
And it all started with a can of baked beans.
* * * * *
To my way of thinking, Tuesday is the best day to go food shopping. My local FoodMart receives their deliveries early on Mondays and spends the morning stocking shelves. Later on Mondays, vans from the retirement community across town roll up and spew out dozens of sticky-smelling old folks, with their walkers and electric scooters clogging up the aisles for hours. By Tuesday, sale items are usually still plentiful—seniors rarely buy much anyway—and the store is fairly clear of mobility vehicles.
Not so much today.
I can only guess that yesterday’s afternoon thunderstorms kept them safely ensconced inside the overheated rooms of Sunset Village until today. Driving into the parking lot, their brightly-colored orange and blue vans line the sidewalk near the automatic doors leading into the store. Shit. So much for a quick trip.
Slinging my purse over my shoulder as I make my way over to where the carts are waiting, I hunt in the outside pocket for my shopping list. I have exactly 27 items on it which means I will probably end up buying nearly double that if previous trips are any indication. I truly, truly hate food shopping. It is a specific kind of torture reserved primarily for wives and mothers, who tend to be more invested in this process than men are.
As I walk inside the store, I wonder why that is. Why do women seem to care more about fulfilling their family wants and needs at the grocery store than men do? Why do women fill their brains with an overabundance of details about these endless options and preferences?
For instance, I know which cereals need to be a brand name (Cheerios and Rice Krispies) and which are okay as generic (Corn Chex and Raisin Bran). I also know which discount laundry detergents actually work, and which are to be passed by no matter how cheap they are. I also know exactly what brand of peanut butter my kids will eat: Crunchy Peter Pan, but it CANNOT be the reduced fat variety. Anything else is a waste of money. Michael always says, “Peanut butter is peanut butter.” But he is wrong.
Men are more concerned about how much everything costs. One time early in our marriage, after I returned home from food shopping, Michael helped me unload the bags from the trunk of our aging Toyota. He usually unpacked the bags but rarely put things away. “You know where everything goes,” he said to me by way of explanation and then plunked himself down in front of the TV to watch SportsCenter. He never inquired if I remembered his shaving cream or if I happened to pick up bananas. But he always asked, “What was the total?” As our family grew, he grimly accepted the expanding grocery bill that went right along with it.
Even now, Michael has no idea how taxing it is to shop for a family of five, making countless decisions while considering the demands of individual members—and the household in general—as well as the complicated ratios between the numerous sizes, brands, varieties, cost, nutritional value, and availability of all those items. Only moms seem to stress about important things like unit price per fluid ounce and whether or not the first ingredient listed is enriched flour.
It is mentally exhausting. Truly. And it’s only one of many chores in my life. And it has to be done every single goddamn week.
Steering my cart inside, I turn right into the produce section. As I place items in the top section, I am reminded that not too long ago, one of my three children would have occupied that very space, when they were younger and their tushies were tinier. Apples, peaches, all the fixings for salad. Don’t forget that Callie asked for pineapple. And maybe some strawberries for Odie. The last time I went shopping, I forgot them, and he threw a fit. Maybe I’ll get extra mommy points for remembering them this time. Two Sunset Village ladies are stalled in front of the berries, but I am able to reach around and grab a pint anyway.
Next, it’s off to the aisles. Up one, around and down the next. Each item involves grabbing, comparing, deciding or reshelving, all the while dodging the slow-moving seniors. Spaghetti, cheese crackers, applesauce, paper towels, plus glue sticks for Rissa’s science project and shoe polish for Michael. I check items off my list as the cart fills up.
Heading to the back of the store, I stop at the deli counter and grab a ticket to wait my turn. It reads “34” but the number on the wall sign indicates they are helping number 18. Only two other people wait with me. What the hell? The two men working behind the counter are moving like they are performing underwater ballet.
At that moment, my cell phone chirps with an incoming text message.
Hey, gonna be late tonight. Meeting got pushed back to 4, it reads. Really, Michael? I sigh so loudly that the lady next to me glances sideways.
I type back, I need you to get Odie, remember? Rissa has a dentist appt, and tap SEND. Woop! Off it goes.
Seconds later. Chirp! He replies, Shit. Any chance you can pick him up? I’m in a bind.
Yeah, Michael, me too.
I’ll handle it, I type back.
Thanks, babe. You’re the best! XO
Ten minutes, seven texts, and one phone call later, I leave the deli counter with a pound of beef bologna, two pounds of American cheese, and a ride home from the aftercare program for Odie. Maggie Dawson’s mom is thankfully able to help out at the last minute. And it will only cost me two packs of juice boxes for Friday Fun Day, since she’s the head room mom of Odie’s preschool class and she “finally got me on the phone, thank goodness!”
A short while later, my cart is loaded up. I pick up meat for the week, including ground turkey for our cookout tonight. I’m making Callie’s favorite: turkey burgers with my “special sauce.” On to the dairy section and then I need to get out of here because I am running out of time. I still have to drop off all the bags at home before heading over to the school to pick up Rissa. And of course, I forgot to write a note, so I will have to wait in the office. Another delay.
I check over my list and realize that I forgot baked beans, which are my favorite! No cookout is complete without them. Turning my cart, I head over to aisle 7 where the canned goods are usually found. The cart resists this sudden change of direction, its front left wheel refusing to turn with the weight of its cargo. I grit my teeth and shove it along, nearly knocking into an elderly woman who is blocking the way. She reminds me of my grandmother, my sweet Grammy, and I smile to myself despite my current frustration.
Just as I reach aisle 7, my cell phone rings. The dentist office is calling. “Can you come early? We’ve had a cancellation.” I promise to do my best, even though I can feel my heart rate increasing just thinking about the logistics.
Halfway down the aisle, there are no baked beans in sight. Damn! They must’ve moved them again. I push the cart a little further to check out the store signage, but it’s not helpful. Shocking. All I want is one lousy can of baked beans. Is that too much to ask? I am jumping through hoops for everyone else, and it is the one damn thing I really like. One fucking can of baked beans. This shouldn’t be so hard.
Next to me, a mom with two young boys strolls past with her cart. The baby is sitting in the front of the cart while she coos at him, and he flashes her a big toothless grin that dislodges the pacifier in his mouth. His older brother, about Odie’s age with a mop of curly dark hair, is perched in the cargo area of the cart happily counting on his fingers with groceries scattered all around him. Thin, pretty mama has not one wrinkle on her perfect, stress-free face. She even has a personalized purse with a photo of her cherubs wearing complementary “Big Bro” and “Little Bro” shirts. Way to make me feel worse.
The only thing I really want right now, even more than finding a friggin’ can of baked beans, is to get the hell out of here. I am really starting to lose it. I don’t want to go the checkout line and wait while they ring everything up and load the bags, just so I can lug them all home and unpack them. I don’t want to rush over to the school to get Rissa and then rush her over to the dentist, apologizing for being late even though I will technically be early for her actual appointment. I don’t want to make turkey burgers with special sauce for Callie. I don’t want to help Rissa with her science project. I don’t want to buy juice boxes for Friday Fun Day. Just for today, I don’t want to do any of it.
So I don’t.
Just for today, I stop. I let go of my cart. I squeeze past the Sunset Village seniors and their motorized carts. I retreat back down aisle 7 where there are definitely no baked beans. I walk right out the front door until I reach my car.
Then I unlock the door, get in, and drive away.