Biting the Bullet

Biting the Bullet

(To read Dear Richardan open letter to a murderer, click here.)

As we crossed into Vermont,  it occurred to me that we could pick up a few things at the Co-op, even though our car was stuffed with luggage.

“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

More on the BFC Tragedy:

Dear Richardan open letter to a murderer

Which Wolf?

Even the Potatoes are Sad

 

 

For more on the BFC Tragedy, click here.

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The last time I saw Richard…

The last time I saw Richard…

by Sweet Soul Sister, at DeviantArt

Although he wasn’t the one to die, I find myself recalling the last time I saw Richard, as if he had.

That night my husband and I  had stopped in at the Co-op to get a bite to eat before a movie at Latchis, and we were delighted to find a wine and cheese tasting going on. We dashed off to the bathroom first, where we waited in a painfully slow line, and then made our way eagerly around the corner toward the brie and crackers.

“What are you pouring Richard?” I asked giddily, looking up to him in his booth above the department. He quietly shook his head.  The tasting had ended; even though I could clearly see wine remaining in the bottles.

Richard explained that he had to stop serving promptly at 6:30 as scheduled, due to liquor control regulations or something to that effect.

That was the last time that I distinctly remember connecting with Richard, a little over a week before the Co-op tragedy; but it’s just as likely that I saw him again, at South Pond, as I often did throughout the summer, with a tennis racket in hand.

What strikes me now is how closely Richard observed rules–those on the court, and those of wine tastings–only to break the cardinal rule so shortly after.

Richard Gagnon never looked like a man who would take a gun into the Co-op to shoot someone. He simply looked like Richard Gagnon, the wine guy, leaning against the frame of his slender office inside our community owned Co-op.

Richard was the guy who taught us about reds and whites, about the shape of a glass and how it enhances or detracts from flavor, about how to keep the wine fresh with a vacuum stopper. During the holidays, Richard pointed us to the bottles that would make the best gifts and offered us free wrap to adorn them.

Years ago, the Co-op suffered another loss–when Henry, the beloved cheese guy, passed away.  The cheese department was never the same without him, but we embraced his passion for Vermont cheeses, and were soothed in our loss until we grew accustomed to it.

Now I can’t imagine shopping for wine where Richard used to be. It’s as if it’s all been tainted. The grapes  soured. The vines withered.

I think back to the last time I saw Richard and look for something different in his eyes.

Maybe he was a bit quieter.

Maybe not.

What I do know is that I can’t get his face out of my mind. I return, again and again, to the last time I saw Richard.  Now I even see him 300 miles away as I pass the shelves of wine accessories in a department store. I flinch when I hear the manager called over the loud speaker; and I mistakenly refer to an old friend as Richard.

My mind insists on reworking this tragedy, but there is no bending of the rule that Richard broke. (If only he would have poured me a glass of wine.)

Kelly Salasin, August 12, 2011

Note: This is the 3rd piece that I’ve written on the Co-op tragedy, click below to read:

Even the Potatoes are Sad

Dear Richard,