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The Anatomy of a Grocery Bag



Writing is cyclical.


Everything is cyclical if you close your eyes hard enough but for me—for a lot of people—writing is cyclical.


I used to think that writing is cynical, that the only way to get by is to narrow your mind at everything and everyone who dare cross your path, that sometimes you feel heartbreak and the only person to blame is the shadow behind your reflection, that hundreds of airplanes land safely everyday so why can’t I shake the way my stomach drops midway through takeoff? A lot of things feel like my fault.


A lot of things—people, places, verbs, the silence where there should be small talk—feel like my fault. I had a land-locked childhood. When I say that, I mean I saw the ocean and swam in lakes and longed to be a mermaid but how could I stay on the swim team with a paralysing fear of sharks?


Someone in front of me on the plane said the phrase “tort contract” and I heard it, somehow, through Florence Welch wailing about waging Holy Wars and wanting to be medicated, and I thought about how I’ve said the words tort and contract more times this year than I have in my entire life. I thought about how to pack grocery bags.


It’s real-life Tetris, that’s the line I use when people compliment me on my bag packing skills. Or, leaned in conspiratorially, I did a lot of puzzles as a kid, can you tell? A woman once asked me if I bagged in high school and I’ve never been so caught off guard, like—bagging as a career.


I have a lot of baggage surrounding retail jobs, and it’s hard to explain to someone who hasn’t dropped out of college and started working at their hometown Target and moved states and tried to leave and ended up back where they started and goes to school again but this time on purpose, this time with intent, this time with a measly candle at the end of the tunnel illuminating pencil scratches on the water-stained walls promising that someday somehow I will crawl out of this grave into which I’ve dug myself.


All of this to say, I have a deep respect for everyone building a career in the retail landscape. If I have more responsibility than appeasing customers and redoing checklists and running a break chart, I’ll scream-cry-throw-up.


I’m in an airport and on an airplane. I’ve written this a lot of times in a lot of places. Eight hours in the Mobile airport. Hour layover in Houston. The man next to me put on his mask because he saw I was wearing mine. Writing is cyclical: I remember when Lover came out and I found a kind of drug in the lyrics, in the soft reverb-y guitar. I filled an entire notebook that first weekend with things I refuse to say out loud. Things I refuse to drag into the light, things I dug out of my bone marrow with blunt nails at ten a.m. in a Barnes & Noble café.


I lie a lot. To myself, to my friends, to my family—absolutely to my family. I lie a lot and I keep thinking I’m going to delete this line because I’m not sure if my dad will read this. The worst part of being an adult and being creative—stringing your emotions up on the wall for everyone to see—is that it feels a lot like suffocating. It feels a lot like exposing every raw nerve that you’ve protected for so long. It feels a lot like putting your foot through a board you didn’t know was moldy. It feels a lot like someone who’s known you since birth reading those emotions you’ve strung up on the wall and thinking, this is strange, this doesn’t sound like them at all, who is this person behind the screen?


Writing is cyclical: Don’t we all start because we don’t know who we are? Or because we do, and we’re ashamed, and we’re looking for someone better to be. Or because we don’t know what else to do. How to stay alive without stringing our emotions up on the wall, under the twinkle lights and mood lighting. We fill our prose with em dashes and metaphors that are analogies and forget that our dad might read this. Forget that he might not. Forget that our flight is on its last boarding call—and we can’t miss it.

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