someone I was

I was born at the end of the 50s and entered the job market for real (after grad school) in the 80s and though I laughed at the T-shirts that said “The person who dies with the most stuff wins” I confess that I acted as if I believed that motto. Which is to say that while my venue of choice was often the thrift store or bargain outlet I also frequented boutiques and shopped for the “fun” of it, not out of need, but in pursuit of the purchase that could make me, for a moment, feel like the rest of my life was going to be better than I had ever imagined. Looking at, sometimes touching, beautiful things and asking myself if I could afford them seemed like a way of knowing the world. The lockdown or shelter-in-place order drew a line through that: I went to the grocery store when I had to, got what I needed as fast as possible, and got out. I hadn’t been in a boutique in three months when I stepped in yesterday, expecting to feel the old excitement and desire, despite the mask. And while there was something nice about being in a room with strangers, “browsing” (ah that lovely word), in fact it felt precarious, sad, a little dangerous…and stupid. Stupid. “This doesn’t matter,” or “This isn’t living,” I felt something like that. “I don’t need anything here.” I have clothes (enough), I have food (I can get food–that doesn’t feel totally safe yet), I have a place to live: why am I shopping? Why would I shop? In the lockdown, unable to step into the cute little stores (all shut) I donated money to those in deep trouble–and the deep trouble was / is only beginning to reveal itself. Invented needs…–that’s an oxymoron, isn’t it. The person I thought I was didn’t know that. I still feel okay about buying a book, but when I read the sign on the shelf in the pretty little shop I went into, “‘I have enough jewelry’ said nobody ever,” I thought: “I’m saying it right now: ‘I have enough jewelry’.” And I left–glad to get back on the street. In the pandemic I lost the person I was before, the person who didn’t know she had enough, the person who didn’t know what mattered. I’m grateful for that loss.

Laura Mullen

Location: New Orleans

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