“You know how I can tell I’m healing? I’m able to cry again.”
I’ve known I needed to write this for a long time. I never believed I was ready though, because my grief seemed to never end. But I felt it somewhere in my soul, and there, almost as if it had a soul itself, it began to turn and grow.
A few days ago, I knew it was finally time. Time to actually put a body to the soul of the piece I’ve been wrestling with for so long .
I was getting ready to go away for the weekend with a group of friends. We were going to a wedding three hours away in Springfield (Springfield, Missouri. I have to specify because there’s a Springfield in just about every state it seems). We decided months before that we were going to make a weekend of this celebration. We rented an AirBnB, my parents were going to watch my girls, and I actually bought some new clothes for this event. I’m a huge fan of thrifting and second-hand clothes, so when I buy new, it feels pretty extravagant.
Keeping with my nature, I checked out a local thrift store before we left to see if I could find anything that might work for the rehearsal dinner or just for the weekend. I was brave and bought a jumpsuit. It could be edgy, could be classy, could be totally-not-going-to-work, but I wanted to try it out. It was navy blue with these little sleeves that cuffed right below my shoulder. All of the edges were scalloped and I love a good scallop (both the food and the pattern). And for a surprising element, the legs flared at the bottom, giving it that retro-look mixed with a modern neckline and again, those scallops. Like I said, could be amazing, could be a disaster. I also bought mustard yellow heels. Mustard yellow and chartreuse are two of my favorite colors, but I don’t own much of anything to demonstrate this because I pretty much stick with neutral colors. However, I was feeling brave! So I snagged those up, too.
When I got to the register, I asked the cashier if they were taking returns. It was the summer of 2020, and we all know how 2020 was (may she rest in the peace she stole from us), and so many stores still didn’t have fitting rooms open. This thrift store didn’t have their fitting rooms open either and I had planned to do what I had done the entire day I’d been shopping. I would take the clothes home to try on and bring back anything that didn’t work. The cashier said they were accepting returns within 14 days of purchase as long as I had the receipt and the tag still on the items. I don’t shop at this store often because it can be rather pricey for second-hand clothes, but decided I was willing to fork over the extra money if this jumpsuit worked.
When I got to my mom’s house to show her my purchases and pick up my girls, she told me most thrift stores only do returns for store credit. In all my years of thrifting, I’ve never actually returned anything, so I didn’t know this was a common practice.
My heart sank and anxiety began to creep in. I’m a single mama to three little girls. I would have never purchased items I could only return for store credit. I would want to use that money at another store, not a thrift store where I might find something I actually love and want to wear.
After finding out the jumpsuit was totally-not-going-to-work and I couldn’t stand in the shoes longer than five minutes, I returned to the thrift store immediately. My mom was in tow to stay in the car with my girls as I went into the store to plead my case.
It didn’t go very well. I have never been treated so poorly or unkindly by a store’s employees and manager and it completely caught me off guard.
Let me preface this by saying, I am not a cryer.
I used to be, but I haven’t been much of a cryer for about six years, only giving into the occasional cry every several months or so. Even then, I don’t like to cry in front of people. I don’t like people to see me as vulnerable.
But, as I stared at the cashier and the manager’s back, because he walked away from me in the middle of our conversation, the tears sprang to my eyes. The cashier stared back, not even knowing I was revealing to her my soul with each tear that fell. This store employee was seeing a piece of me very few people have ever seen. But she didn’t treasure it. She stared back - cold and unmoving.
And that was that. I grabbed my items and left. I hadn’t really expected to get my money back, but I did expect to be treated with dignity. I had shared I was a single mom and money was tight, but my heart didn’t just fall on deaf ears, it fell on apathetic ears. That almost hurts worse than not even being heard. The customer was not always right in this situation. In fact, this customer was very, very wrong.
When I got back to my van, where my mom was with my girls, I tried to explain what happened as the tears flowed uncontrollably (another uncommon occurrence). My mom took the items inside, and because moms are the best and sometimes know just what to say, she managed to get my money back. It wasn’t getting the money back that made this a defining moment worth writing about though. To be honest, writing about it feels rather silly to me now. The reason I’m even writing about that day is because of what happened to me while my mom was in the store and I was alone in the van, or as alone as I can be with three little girls and “The Sound of Music” playing on the van’s DVD player.
As I wept, I told myself, “Feel this moment, Kendra. Feel the tears.”
I wept not just for my hurt feelings, but for the grief that even brought me to this place. I wept because I’m a single mom and it is hard. I never imagined my life turning out the way it has. I wept for my broken dreams and expectations. I wept because I would have probably been shopping with my sister and she should have been there. I wept because this weekend trip was going to be a fun blessing, but there would still be so much going on at home.
I allowed myself to just be in the moment, to just feel and hurt, and allow it to well into hot, burning tears. The type of tears that pour onto your cheeks, down your face, and make your neck sticky and itchy as they trickle down to the top of your shirt.
When my mom came out to the car, the clothes replaced with cash, I looked at her with awe and said, “You know how I can tell I’m healing? I’m able to cry again.” She’d watched me cry three days earlier, too. A rare sighting.
But maybe not so rare any more.
Grief has shaped me and changed me.
And as my mom held me and encouraged me to take deep breaths until the weeping subdued, I knew it was time. Time to actually sit, and limb-by-limb, piece together these stories, these thoughts, these compositions…