Going to Target by Sallie Reynolds
In the midst of the pandemic’s third surge and near the end of my area’s worst fire season in history, my husband had another heart attack. His pulse shot up to 140 per minute and plummeted to 40. In the ER, he “failed” his stress test, even though his heart had righted itself on its own. The cure, that is, his hope for renewed energy to make his days active and calm, is a pacemaker. This is an electrical devise implanted under the skin of his chest that corrects the electrical impulses of his heart to the extent that it cannot drop below a pulse of 60. This will, in theory, allow drugs to control the wild beating at the top. Such is one of the miracles of modern medicine. He says, “I am not ready to leave this life, yet,” and faces this procedure with a good, pardon the pun, heart, though a bit leery of the long trip from home to Sacramento for the procedure.
I am the designated driver on this deal, and I too have been sheltering in our house for months. This has had consequences. We have to think twice, thrice, four times before going to the grocery store or to pick up meds. We wear masks and choose hours we hope the stores will be emptiest. Meanwhile, the generator has crapped out twice, the car has needed tires and other attention, the water tank on our well acted up, the lights in the kitchen went out. We had two fire scares, with no electricity and reduced ways to get news of the approaching flames. Stress city.
So, suddenly, I’m faced with a 60-mile drive to the heart clinic and a 5-hour wait, a 60-mile drive home. I’m not permitted in the clinic. They don’t let family members accompany patients unless they need various kinds of non-medical help. What will I do?
Then I remember Target! That store we used to sneer at, wishing it were a “real” emporium such as Macy’s, Nordstrom’s, Nieman-Marcus. But yes, Target! With the cheery red bulls’ eyes, real ceilings, friendly sales help. A Starbucks! And a whole palette of towels and sheets and aisles of face cremes, makeup, hair softeners, thickeners, colorers.
I mentioned this on the phone to my daughter and to several friends, expecting them to say, “Oh get a grip.” They all said, “Oh, TARGET. I miss that store.” So, I’m now armed with an expanded shopping list.
Wait. All this means that I have to—drive. On the highway. To the clinic. Well, okay, I’ve done that, it’s an hour and some each way, but it’s a rat-route, I can handle it. But Target? I’m going to have to get my smart phone to tell me how to get to one near the clinic. I’ve only had the phone a month. Well, three. I’ll have to drive streets I don’t know. By myself. I feel the way I did at 16 with a new license and no moxie and less sense.
Expecting scorn, I confess my hesitation to a friend and my daughter, expecting to be jollied out of myself. But they, one 70 the other 50, tough babes both, fall silent a minute. And then say, “Yeah, that’s a problem.” And I find I’ve uncovered a human dilemma. What happens to us when we are confined, for a long time, to a single place? When we go nowhere beyond a certain route – house, grocery store, post-office, etc., all within a few familiar miles? The rest of the world is now a vast and dangerous plain, unknown and threatening.
So, Reader, I chickened out. I did not go to the Target “three minutes,” according to Google Maps, from the clinic. I went to the one I knew, 25 minutes away. Yes, that was half-way back home. But I knew the aisles, the departments, the restroom. So beautifully familiar. Nine months after my last visit, I’d walk in and feel – at home. And when I left, I wouldn’t take the wrong exit and wind up lost. So, I went.
Target is the only store I’ve been to since the lock-down that really truly won’t let you in without a mask. There’s a masked woman at a desk at the entrance, and I watched her stop a would-be shopper, give her a paper mask, all very gently and politely. Another employee apparently spends the day wiping down cart handles and so on, and I was inclined to cheer (though the restroom still has only an air hand-dryer, spraying our viruses all around the room).
I pressed on to the linen department. Oh, how I longed for those golds, reds, aquamarines to enliven our bathroom and bed. But alas, this year’s colors are muted, the shelves nearly bare. I bought a couple of towels anyhow and a pale blue sheet and pillow cases of mauve.
Then I moved on to the cosmetics aisles, and here I fared better. The bottles were beautiful, the shelves bursting with goodies. I was looking for a face cream my daughter wanted and found it, and bought a body lotion, scentless, that is curing my crocodile arms. And wonder! A hair thickener in a gorgeous pump bottle, promising to smell good, fluff my curls, cure my frizz. The Emperor’s New Clothes wouldn’t have pleased me more. The young man, masked, at the check-out station was friendly and said of the lotion, “This is great stuff!” And I hadn’t panicked. Overall, a success.
In the parking lot, where I opened my sinful treat of honey mustard potato chips, I watched Bluebirds feeding on Mountain Ash berries. It took several minutes to identify the birds. They fluttered near the clustered fruit like hummingbirds, snagged a bite, flew off to enjoy it. Some were better at the new moves, the hovering and snatching, than others. It was like watching a Medieval Joust at a Renaissance Fair. Their little red breasts flashed, and their winter slate blue wings whirred. I ate all the chips and watched them bobbing for berries. It struck me that they were new at this type of foraging. New, awkward, but learning. I think we humans are in a like state. We will be living with this new virus for a long time, getting used to its dangers, and finding that we have to get what we need and want in new ways.
When I got back to the clinic, my husband was ready to go home and I made the drive with much reduced anxiety. Two days later, we returned for his check-up, same 120-mile round trip, but a breeze now. We had to go to a new pharmacy, but that was now a walk in the park.
Yes, we have been, we are, “stuck.” Yes, we get frozen with anxiety and become fearful of venturing out. Like everyone, we’ve grown into the walls, the rugs, the very air of our house. But unstuckness can happen with just a bit of practice. If you don’t believe me, watch the birds.
So, make the trip. Drive in traffic (check your side mirrors first, please – I almost got creamed by forgetting that, which before Covid, I swear I never did). Go to a new store. Go for a drive in the country. Go to an empty park and just breathe, alone, unmasked (but with mask handy in case of intruders). Do all of these things.
Like the Bluebirds in the Target Parking Lot, you’ll be feeding on new experiences, stretching new wings.
The Singing Bone, story, Prairie Schooner, Winter 1981/82
What the Meek Inherit at the End, story, Prairie Schooner, Winter 1983
Cusie, Prairie Schooner, story, Spring 1986 - https://www.jstor.org/stable/40636266?seq=1
Belonging, story, Confrontation, Spring and Fall 1987
Apprentices, story, Prairie Schooner, Spring 1989
Listed in Best American Short Stories, 1985, 1987
Listed in Pushcart Prizes, 1985
Dames in Toyland, interview series, women in audio and recording, The Absolute Sound, 1985 - 90
Living with Lions, Sierra Heritage, Oct. 1994
Living with Lions, Special Mtn Lion Issue, Outdoor California 1994
Touching an Alien Mind, Ginny Rorby Blog, June 2020
Rapture, novel, Feral Press, Inc. 2009 - now available only on Kindle
Virginia Primitive, novel, Outskirts Press, 2014
Belonging, interconnected stories, out of print
Raptors: A Teacher’s Handbook – 2018
Long Island University, CW Post, 1986 - 88. Freshman Composition, creative writing, Women in Literature
Long Island Jewish Geriatric Hospital, 1986 – 88. Writing Our Lives for Our Grandchildren
The Woman’s Salon, NYC. Writing workshops 1981-82
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