Monday, July 11, 2016

Triggered

I have a terrific fondness for a certain retail chain that sells colorful, eclectic wares. Things from all over the world, the store implies, although I suspect the majority of it is straight out of China. Most of what they sell is expensive and unnecessary, and once I get it home, I find it has lost its magical glow, so I rarely buy anything. I go there semi-regularly, though, and either window shop, or buy something small and edible.

However, for the last few years, I approach my favorite dealer of useless crap with a great deal of trepidation. Connie* might be there.

Connie is a woman with a lovely speaking voice and a sweet manner who works at the shop. I want nothing to do with Connie.

"Why?" you may ask yourself. "Why would you feel the need to avoid a nice lady like Connie? Are you a bitter old curmudgeon who hates everyone?"

It's possible.

I don't want to see Connie ever again, and here's why.

Connie likes to approach me and ask me if I've remembered my coupons.

Once upon a time, I told myself it wasn't personal. She asks everyone that. It's her job. But here's the thing - it is personal. She will see me across a crowded store and walk past everyone else, just to make sure I, Erin, have remembered to bring my coupons. I have never, and will never, remember any such thing. I could tell you my trips there are usually spontaneous, that this is why I don't remember. It's the truth, but not the whole truth. The whole truth is, even if I'd left the house expressly to go there, I would still have forgotten my coupons.

It bothers me because she seems too invested in my answer. She'll steer me over to the store's laptop so that I can go through a long, multi-step process that usually involves recovering my password, checking the email on my phone, and changing it, with Connie hovering over me all the while. I do it to appease her, not because I care about saving money. Because she needs me to save 5% on my $1.50 bottle of coffee-flavored soda. I may, in the end, save 7.5 cents, but I'd have gladly paid double for the privilege of not being asked about my coupons. Triple, if it meant not having to talk to Connie at all. Quadruple, if it meant not having to see her.

Does she think this is our thing, a little private joke we share? Does she think I find it as amusing as she does?

"Look, there's that woman I see from time to time! Yay, we get to do our little routine, the one where I remind her of what an irresponsible, careless loser she is, she stares at me like a deer in the headlights, and we both just laugh and laugh!"

Does she find it amusing? She doesn't seem to. Either she is a master of deadpan delivery, or she really is that desperate for me to save 5%. It doesn't matter. I don't care if it's a joke or not, I just don't want to be asked about coupons.

I've considered the likelihood that it's part of her job, but other employees don't do it. They may ask if I have coupons when I'm checking out, but if I say no, they seem to accept my answer. I don't feel like I've let them down.

There's something about Connie that makes me feel like I've forgotten my homework. Again.

I suspect Connie has problems of her own. I sense she may have a compulsion of some sort, that she knows she's upsetting me and isn't happy about it, but can't stop herself. It seems likely I'm not the only customer who is bothered by her. I have no intention of complaining to her employer about her asking a benign question that just happens to trigger my deepest insecurities, but a part of me secretly hopes someone else will. Maybe a few someones. Maybe enough someones that she'll be asked not to work there anymore.

When I didn't see her for a while, I thought she may have moved on to more satisfying work. If I hope she found a better job, I can still be a good person, right?

I'd almost let my guard down when one day, while I was perusing the chocolate, she came up behind me.

"Are you shopping with your coupons today?"

Her voice felt like a gentle but greatly unwelcome hand on the back of my shoulder, and I instinctively tried to shrug it off. Unfortunately, this doesn't work when the person in question isn't physically touching you.

No, I didn't remember my coupons. I also chronically neglected to do my homework in school, or didn't to turn it in. I didn't forget - I'm not lucky enough to be able to escape the reality that I'm failing at something for even a minute - I was just too overwhelmed to do it, or thought it wasn't good enough to claim. I didn't know where to start. There has never been a time in my life when I haven't been constantly nagged by someone, or multiple someones, and I know I deserve it. I also know it doesn't help. I can't keep my paperwork straight. I can't sort my mail. Bills go unpaid even though I have the money, because neither my husband or I can get it together. When someone hands me a calendar or asks about scheduling something, I am literally paralyzed by how overwhelming it is. Like, I cannot speak. I have fines at the library so steep I might as well have just bought the books. My kids miss out on things because I get so behind on my email. I schedule them for their yearly checkups months too late. I'm terrified of my voicemail. No, I didn't [insert whatever you want me to do here]. I let down people I genuinely care about and neglect things that are important to me all the time. I am a major disappointment to all, yourself included. I could tell you that if I can't get it together to make my own family happy, I certainly don't care about you, but it would be a lie. I want to do what you want more than you can possibly imagine. I just can't do it. 

So no, I didn't remember my fucking coupons. If your emails weren't going straight to my "promotions" folder, I'd have to unsubscribe, because every such email I get ensures that I won't get to two that actually matter. It's all I can do to be punctual most of the time. That's it. If I had any more brain power, I'd use it on one of the things I just told you about. I simply don't have the will to give a FUCK about coupons, okay?

None of that is her problem, and I know better than to take it out on her. I may be a flake, but I'm not an asshole. Still, I had to let her know she was stepping on my toes, so I came up with an answer. The rudest, coldest one I could think of while still maintaining a shred of human decency. Something that would hopefully make it clear I was done playing games.

"No."

I was careful to speak with a definitive period at the end, not apologetic ellipses. I couldn't pretend to feel guilty anymore. I tried to sound firm, but not mean.

"You could save at least ten percent."

I hate you. 

I know it's not Connie's fault. There's no way she could know how deep all this runs for me. Perhaps something in me triggers something in her, or in you, and I have no way of knowing that.

I suppose I'd better find a new favorite store not to shop at.



*I can't promise Connie isn't her real name, but if it is, it's purely coincidental.