I knew he worked there. I had caught a glimpse of him at a register a few weeks ago, but he hadn’t seen me. I wasn’t certain where the last time I saw him was. We had been coworkers at a fast food restaurant, he had once been a date to a high school dance, we played DDR together a few times, and we both went to the same community college. We were never close enough to call ourselves friends. I suppose we were more like casual acquaintances. I do remember that the last time we had spoke, I was most definitely able-bodied.
And so, a few weeks ago, I made sure that I didn’t go through his check out line. I still can’t quite put my finger on why I didn’t. He works at the only grocery store in the area that carries things like white rice flour and xantham gum. It’s not like I could avoid him.
And I couldn’t.
I want to say that I wasn’t trying to avoid him. But if I’m being honest, I think I was. I wish I could say why.
But as it wasn’t a particularly large grocery store, I was on my way out the other day. I had stopped to fix my gloves and then turned my head to the right where I saw him walking my way. I didn’t expect him to recognize me. I really didn’t. In the years since I had seen him, I had dyed and changed my usual hair style, I had lost a fair amount of weight, and there was the whole disabled thing.
I have seen people before that I knew once, look curiously as if they thought they knew me, and then continue on their way. And I waited for him to do the same. I can’t tell you if I wanted him to do that or not.
But then there was the spark of recognition, followed by confusion. I had forgotten how very expressive his face was.
“Hey,” I said.
“Hey,” he said, and then gestured his hand at me with a confused frown on his face.
I gave him an extremely watered-down story and then asked him how he was.
I could tell in an instant he was miserable.
“Oh you know,” he said. “Working all the time.”
“Same old, same old?” I asked.
He looked awkward as he agreed. He then looked at my chair again. “I guess I can’t complain, I’m still standing.”
“Well, standing’s really overrated, anyway,” I said.
He gave a sort of half smile as if he wanted to laugh but just wasn’t feeling up to it. We ended up making our goodbyes.
The thing that bothers me most about our conversation, is not anything he specifically said, but how he seemed to feel that he couldn’t complain about his life because I was disabled. This is something I seem to come across with strangers a lot, where casual talk ends with ‘well at least I’m not disabled’ which often gets under my skin and gets me more than a bit ticked off.
Perhaps it’s because I knew him before. Perhaps it’s because I knew he was never a stranger to complaining about his jobs. I’m not irritated with him. I disappointed that he doesn’t think he has a right to complain about his life. I believe in venting, complaining, and whining. I think it’s healthy to get everything all out in the open. I believe that even if someone has it worse than you (or if you only think they have it worse than you), then you shouldn’t allow that to keep you from being unsatisfied with your life. I think that if you shove everything away that bothers you just because someone else may have it worse, then you’re just setting yourself up to being even more miserable in the future.
It is okay to be miserable. There will always be good days and bad days. There will be days that just suck. There will days that will just be wonderful. I don’t want to be the reason why people won’t complain about their day.
He grudgingly went back to work.
I left feeling unsettled.