Strolling the aisles of Foodland, mindlessly tossing whatever strikes my fancy into the cart, I look up from the PopChips rack to see someone very familiar. Actually, I don’t really see him, his face, I mean. I see the back of his head. But when you have seen someone’s back of the head the first thing every morning for seven years, that back of the head facing away from you toward that louvered window in your bedroom, that back of head that spoke volumes about the state of your relationship told by the stiffness of the neck that holds it, that’s a back of head that you will always recognize.
Fixing my mouth into a semblance of a smile, I tug at my top to cover my “much larger than the last time I saw him” behind. I wish I had worn something a little more flattering than these baggy jeans and holey sweater. But probably a sexy cocktail dress would have looked a little out of place in the grocery aisles. I push out my boobs and follow them, marching closer to the man I used to love.
He turns around just before I reach him. He doesn’t have time to catch the surprise on his face and shove it away. A slow smile hides his discomfort for a split second. The smile turns down a bit before he can censor that too. A veritable parade of mouthed emotions.
“Well, hello, Suze.” He reaches out to embrace me in a sisterly hug, but his basket runs interference. I accept a brief peck on my right cheek.
“Hi, Gene. What are you doing here? I mean, in town, not specifically in Foodland? Will you be here long?” I tend to be very precise when nervous.
“Briefly. Both in town and in this store.” Gene, when nervous, is very literal.
“Oh.” I wait for further information, aware that awkward is starting to pop into the atmosphere like an old friend.
“ My mom is moving into a condo and she has a bunch of my old stuff she’s been storing. I’m here to collect it. Just staying for a couple of days.”
I think, “I have a bunch of your stuff I’m storing, too. And have been carrying around in my head for years. Will you come pick that up too?”
“Are you here with….?” Why did I ask that?
“No, we haven’t been together since…well, not for quite awhile. How is Sam? Are you guys married now?” He looks mildly curious, strikes just the right note.
“We’re still together but not married. You know, once burned…”
His faint tongue click – Jesus, I remember that sound – stops me there. “Drop it,” that sound means. And I do.
“Well, tell your mom hi for me. Good luck with her move. I’m kind of in a rush…”
“Yeah. Well. Yeah. Good to see you. Take care.”
He swings himself and his jaunty little food basket into the next aisle. I go hide behind the produce island piled high with tropical fruit. Whew. I hear myself breathing hard. The produce clerk gives me a quizzical look, like she thinks I may be pocketing mangoes or something. I leave my cart sitting and search for the restrooms.
As I climb the steps, past the stored boxes in the cooler, to the Ladies, my sweater hooks on the guard rail and pulls me backward. It occurs to me that he gave me this sweater, what? Twelve? Fifteen years ago? At any rate, it lasted longer than our relationship. But now it looks a little like that connection did at the end, tattered.
Back down the stairs, I return my groceries to their shelves and bins, leaving some in the cart, then slink out to my car. For the rest of the day, whenever I am alone, then long into the night, I obsess on the encounter. My head TIVO is caught in a loop. I rewrite the scene, saying all the things I wish I had thought of, wished I had said.
Turning on my lamp, I grab for the book on top of my bedside stack, an amusing volume I bought on the recommendation of a friend entitled, “They Have a Word for It.” I open it to a random page and out it jumps.
Razbliuto. Noun. Russian. Def., The feeling one has for someone you used to love but love no more.
Rabliuto. Eugene. Perfect.
Since my fifth grade teacher always made us use our new vocabulary words in a sentence to retain the meaning. I try it now.
“Rabliuto is that stir stick of longing in a cocktail of regrets and remembrances .”
Now I will never forget.