(To read Dear Richard—an open letter to a murderer, click here.)
“What if we stopped at the Co-op for a bottle of wine?” I whispered to my husband, and then I sucked in a deep breath at the thought.
“Okay,” he answered quietly.
“It might be good to get it over with,” I explained, “especially all together.”
When we took Exit 1 into Brattleboro, I prepared the boys, checking in to see how they felt about heading into the store after the tragedy. Once down Canal Street, we noted that the new construction had enjoyed a growth spurt since we last saw it in July–adding an entire floor to our soon to be store.It felt good to know that the work on our new space continued, even while the tragedy temporarily closed the Co-op’s doors just a week before.
The parking lot was bustling with activity on this Tuesday evening, and we were lucky to find a spot for our car. I took my time getting out–both searching and avoiding faces.
Once inside, I surprised myself by stepping right toward the wine department where I picked up a new sustainable chardonnay, without looking for Richard. Just as I placed a bottle into my cart, a shopper approached me to thank me for my writing. She had attended the vigil, but was saddened to note that there was no mention of Richard. “What must have he been going through to do what he did?” she asked before heading off with her young son to finishing shopping.
In addition to the bottle of wine which initiated this bold re-entry into the Co-op, I went even deeper into Richard’s department and lingered by the beer cooler to find just the right brew to hold onto summer. It was only then that I glanced up into the office booth where I noted two strangers, and then Tony–who was always there when Richard wasn’t.
My husband and I then ventured down each aisle of the grocery store to jump start our return to a kitchen after two weeks of eating out on vacation. I noted that there were a lot of “connections” going on and I imagined and hoped that the Co-op management loosened up on the caution against socializing during work.
As we rounded the corner past the Red Hen seeded baguettes, my sons’ eyes caught a board filled with pink paper hearts beside the customer service window. We stepped up to this impromptu altar and took in the expressions of love, but felt unable or unready to take part ourselves.
As we finished our shopping, we paused in the Natural Living Department where my son asked the clerk to help him find Emu oil from the scar left behind by the stitches. Before Peggy pointed him in the right direction, she thanked me for my writing and then embraced, before she got back to business.
I continued toward the checkout numbly, and pushed my cart up beside Tom– the cashier who I knew the best from my days on staff. Neither of us said a word about what happened, and I wasn’t sure if I was being considerate or afraid or wise.
Perhaps the Co-op needs to get back to business as normal, I rationalized. But why were there so many unfamiliar faces on the floor? And how is it that I didn’t know Michael Martin, when I know most of the other managers by name.
Overall, it felt good to return to the Co-op and to fill my cart and to restock their registers; but it came at a cost. By the time we arrived home in Marlboro, 20 minutes away, I was still shaky. It had taken all my self-control not to weep as I stood in the wine department or passed the back office space. Thankfully, my sunglasses were still on.
At home the guys set to unpacking the car while I began packing a picnic for South Pond. If I hurried, we’d catch the sun before it dropped behind the mountain, and I needed that. Although I’d been the one who offered to put away the groceries, I noticed my husband beside me pitching in. He had already emptied the car while I had hardly made a dent in what I had offered to do. The trip to the Co-op left me unable to focus.
We were hungry by the time we got to the pond, but I had grown too nauseous to eat. I had also forgotten the glasses and the plates and the napkins, and most important of all–the wine opener. Friends frequently remark on my ability to pack in a dinner, and tonight they would have found my forgetfulness even more remarkable.
While my husband took a dip in the cool August waters, I began slicing our first harvest of tomatoes and cukes and peppers. I used the same small cutting board to cut the Red Hen and then the fresh mozzarella. I tore the basil into tiny pieces and then doused them with olive oil for dipping.
“It’s weird to be sitting here near the tennis courts,” said my husband, as he joined me at the table. It was this time of day that Richard and his wife would leave the pond with rackets in hand.
As we shared a simple meal, the water sparkled one last time, and a large plane flew overhead–dramatically punctuating the harbinger of summer’s waning–as the sun disappeared behind the hillside.
It had been a mistake to go the Co-op on our first night back, but it had felt right to do so.
Kelly Salasin, August 17, 2011
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