Sunday, June 7, 2009

conversations at work

photo by EJP Photo

We were in the middle of a rush when Ericka approached me.

"I'm so sorry!" she said, in the way that only a teenager can, "I have an older lady, like eighty, who needs a bra fitting but I can't do it. Can you?"

Nodding, I asked where she was.

"Room 9, but she might be looking around first."

Dropping the clothes I was carrying over the roll rack by the fitting rooms, I went back to check it out. She was there, and she looked very familiar. One of my regular customers, from my old store.

I smiled. "Well hello!"

She looked a little surprised, but I could tell she recognized me. "How long have you been working here?" she asked, slowly hanging up her raincoat. I noticed that her hair was still red and curly, but she had more gray at the temples.

"Just over a year. I sell insurance too, but this supplements my income. Also, I quit smoking and gained weight, so I appreciate the discount on work clothes. I understand you need to get fitted?"

We set about doing the measurements and ten minutes later, she was trying on some of my suggestions. She spoke quietly.

"I thought I was a D," she began.

"I think you are still," I agreed, "but we're going to use a bigger band size..."

I could tell she was thinking about weight gain because many of my customers do, and most of the time they say why. I wasn't ready, though.

"I have not been able to stop eating since my husband died."

I stopped and looked into her eyes. The two bras I was holding in my hand were forgotten. "I'm so sorry. When?"

She sat down on the bench along the mirrors and I did too, neither of us seemed to realize she was sitting there in a beige bra and a floral summer skirt.

"October 7th. We were married for 56 years. He was such a wonderful man. He was so good to me." Her eyes welled up.

"My husband died on October 2nd in 2002, but we were only married 9 years." My eyes welled up too. "You're going to make me cry! So, you have been through many of the firsts already? Thanksgiving, Christmas..."

She nodded. "His birthday was in March. Our wedding anniversary was in May. It's just so awful without him here. His chair looks so empty all the time."

I remembered The Empty Chair vividly.

"How are you now?" she asked.

"I got remarried, two years ago. I'm very happy now, but there's still a scar from actually losing him. I don't think you ever get over it. Actually, I still have his bathrobe, I still wear it..."

"Me too! But that's all. My oldest daughter, the one in Edmonton. She came in and boxed everything up, but she missed the bathrobe, hanging on the back of the bathroom door. My husband, he had all these lovely suits, that he would wear to the Lodge. One of them had a gold pen in the pocket. I want it, but it's gone. He loved that pen."

I could hear more people moving around outside the fitting rooms, and the buzzer for the front door was going off every few minutes. "You know, I know some widows that have made a little quilt, or a pillow out of their husband's things. That way, you get to have a piece of him with you when you sleep at night."

Her face lit up in a smile, and I went back to my work.

Two hours later, I was listening to Audioslave on the way home.

On a cobweb afternoon
In a room full of emptiness
By a freeway
I confess
I was lost in the pages
Of a book, full of death
Reading how we'll die alone
And if we're good we'll lay to rest
Anywhere we want to go

...and I just start sobbing these old, hot tears, the ones I remember from years ago. The kind of tears that feel like a bloodletting, a release.

When I got home and started telling Bill the story, I realized I had not even asked her name.


  1. What a beautiful and heart touching story you shared with us. The idea of the blanket is wonderful and I'll remember that for my future......
    Although you didn't know her name, I have no doubt just talking to her brought special connection in her day, as it did yours. Thinking of you...

  2. I have thought about how I will feel when Jim is gone. I think that I have settled things in my mind. I feel that it is going to happen this year. I have accepted it as much as I can.

  3. In Indra's net we are all connected. You remind me of this.

  4. Thank you Rebecca Anne. She's been on my mind today.

    Roz, I am so sorry. I think of you and your family so much. I hope you get to do the things you'd like to do with Jim.

  5. Breath-e: Thank you. I had to look it up because I hadn't read Buddhist ideals for eight or nine years. Thanks for stopping by!

  6. I can't relate to this, but I liked the story, Kate.

  7. Sad. I can only imagine the sense of loss. Im sure you helped that lady just by sitting and talking.

  8. Every just wants to be heard and you helped her more than you will ever know.
    Because of that I have given you my Atta Girl award on my page. Please come by and pick up a copy of the badge to place on your site.
    You deserve it. ATTA GIRL!!!

  9. Oh man. You got me right in the throat with this one. A lump I mean. You are a good person Kate.

  10. It's neat how we can help one another out by experiences we may have had. It seems that the most interesting and memorable people that you meet you sometimes forget to ask their name. Weird huh!

  11. Kate, there are times when I wish you didn't write so well. I'm glad you got a good cry out of it today though. Sorry for your loss. {hugs}

  12. I'm so glad I "met" you! You are truly a special person.

  13. Thanks everybody! She knows what days I work so that she can come visit me again.

  14. I think it truly awesome that you took the time to pour out your heart to that lady and also to listen to her grief. There are not a great deal of people that do that in life - I can only imagine the great release that must have been for her.
    Kudos to you!

  15. God love your heart! I always feel a kinship and comfort when I read your blog. You have a gift with writing and emotional support.

  16. What an amazing post. Even though you were upset on the way home, I bet it feels great to know that you helped her, doesn't it?

  17. Oh my... what a touching story. Thank you for sharing it with us. I am sure that woman was so grateful for you that day- as well as many more to come.