“No one ever told me that grief felt so much like fear.”
“Something wrong, lady? Don’t you want your change back?”
I stared at the crumpled dollar bill in the cashier’s hand, sudden repulsion bubbling up in the pit of my stomach. It had only been a little over six months since the loss of my second son, and just recently finding out that I was once again pregnant, I cringed at the sight of the soiled money in his hands. I didn’t want to touch it.
“It’s just that, well…” I felt like an idiot…”that dollar bill in your hands. It looks soiled.”
“Yeah, you know. Dirty.”
The young man behind the grocery store counter didn’t hide the fact that he rolled his eyes. “O-kaaaay,” he sighed, reopening his cash register door. “How ’bout I find you a different one?”
But…are your hands clean? I thought, feeling a trickle of sweat rolling down my spine. How do I know that they won’t make me sick?
The walls started closing in on me, images grew distorted, my head dizzy, my lungs breathless. I recognized that what I was feeling was an impending panic attack. But, of course I was panicking! There was a possibility of toxins hovering everywhere around me in that store–around my baby! My eyes fell on my own grocery cart full of food, mostly fruits and vegetables ready to be taken home. What about the number of people who had touched that food? Had their hands been clean? Had they used the restroom without washing up?
The cashier was staring at me now with an odd expression on his face…I’m sure he thought I was nuts, and was expecting me to throw a psycho fit. In his hand he held out a new, seemingly clean, dollar bill.
“Thank you,” I said, “really, but…um…keep the change.”
What killed my son…my mind wailed as I fled the store…what did I touch or eat that led to my infection? Food? Money? The door knob to a bathroom? The pen I used at the doctor’s office…
…or was it my cell phone? The television remote control? The toy’s in Julian’s preschool class? The mailbox handle? WHAT!
The world had lost its innocence for me. Everywhere I looked, every thought I had, led me back to the belief that something “out there” had killed my son.
…and that same thing could now kill you…I thought, touching my stomach.
I sat for a long time in my car that day before leaving the grocery store parking lot. I sat…and I sat…the entire time using a hand sanitizer wipe on my hands, rubbing…until each and every finger was red, and raw.
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