It was almost the end of my shift when one of my coworkers walked in. I expected her to go in the back to talk to a manager but she came to my till instead. While she’s a coworker, she’s someone I don’t know well as we work opposite shifts. The most we ever work together is a half hour and, even then, most of that time is spent with her outside finishing up chores.
She ordered soup while I tried not to stare at her face. Her skin was red and puffy from her eyes down with scabby, eczema-like patches across her nose and upper lip. She commented that it was hard for her to swallow. I eyed the reddish mask and patches across her nose.
“Do you have lupus?” I asked bluntly. The mask wasn’t like what I’d read about but she seemed open to talking and I figured pretending I hadn’t noticed anything different would be worse than asking what was wrong.
“I have cancer,” she said. She looked like she wanted to say more but picked up her dish instead and headed to a nearby table.
I glanced around. It was early afternoon and we had no other customers plus there was one other person at cash so I followed her over to the table. She talked briefly about her cancer, explaining the radiation was working and her face was a lot less puffy now than it had been.
“Put down your spoon,” I said once she was finished speaking. “I’m going to give you a hug.” I smiled at her look of alarm. “I hug everyone,” I assured her. I gave her a quick hug and felt her relax against me like it was the first hug she’d had in a while.
“Do you have family nearby?” I asked worriedly. My worry increased as she shook her head. “How about friends?” I continued.
She looked away. “I have the people here,” she said quietly.
I work the day shift which means I routinely spend time with about ten other people. She worked nights, which meant she ordinarily worked with one.
She coughed then explained rapidly that there’s a medication she can’t afford that had to do with mucus. I suggested talking to her doctor to see if he had samples. My mind raced as I tried to think of something I could do to help.
My evening supervisor peeked out from the back room when I walked back. “Is she still there?” she asked nervously. She looked like she expected my sick, tired coworker to jump down from the ceiling like some sort of ninja spider. “I can’t handle seeing her,” she continued then disappeared back into her office.
I went to my till and my younger supervisor took a deep breath. “I’m going to talk to [coworker] now,” she said solemnly.
I watched as she walked over and sat down for a casual conversation.
I’ve already talked to the store owner. My next move is to talk to the store manager to see if we can fund raise to help her. After all, it’s Christmas in another month and we’re all she has. Talk about difficult times.
A friend of mine had a psychotic break at the beginning of last week and attempted suicide. I just found out this morning that another friend has been contemplating suicide, saying the only thing keeping him alive is the love of his husband. Meanwhile the day to day life goes by as normal. A former neighbour just had her 90th birthday party. We went grocery shopping and Jeremy’s chocolate almond milk was 50 cents off. Jeremy’s washing the dishes while grumbling that it’s not fair and I never make anything for dinner that zie likes. I’m thinking about making zir favourite hot and sour soup tonight instead of the curry I planned; saving that for when Emma and Mark come over on Tuesday. No matter what happens, no matter whose heart is breaking, life somehow ends up going on like usual.
Today I found myself incongruously thinking of a neighbour I had when Emma was a baby. We lived in a fairly run down and rather transient neighbourhood. We only lived there for a year and a half and by the time we moved we were considered one of the old timers on the block. Some of the neighbouring apartments might as well have had revolving doors considering how quickly the tenants moved.
It was a lovely sunny afternoon and I’d noticed a new tenant had moved in behind us. She had a baby around the same age as Emma so I wandered over to introduce myself. This was 20 years ago and I’ve long since forgotten her name. I have not forgotten the baby’s name though.
“This is Dakota,” she said cheerfully once we’d settled down in her living room. I looked from her to the baby and then back again.
“Did you name him after the state or the tribe?” I asked. She jolted with surprise and stared at me wide eyed.
“You know I’m Native Canadian?” she asked. Her astonishment was obvious. As for me, I was definitely surprised.
“Umm… well… yes. You look Native,” I stammered.
“I was adopted and raised by a white family,” she explained. “I only just found out I’m Native recently and none of my friends believe me.”
“Are they blind?” I blurted. I have never been known for tact. It made her smile though.
She moved a month later, which is likely why I can’t remember her name. I didn’t know her for very long. But I don’t think I’ll ever forget her reaction when I proved I had honestly seen her.
Take the time this week to notice the people around you. Take the time to see them for who they really are. Be honest and open. And if you don’t know what to do, opt for kindness.