Let me set the scene for you: It was the week before Christmas and the stomach flu had ripped through my house, sending all three kids into can't-be-trusted-without-a-bucket territory and me, pregnant with No. 4, into a full-blown Christmas panic. Because this was the kind of stomach flu that they kept passing back and forth to each other, someone had been sick in my house for at least two straight weeks. This meant that no Christmas prep could get done, including shopping (because what babysitter is going to volunteer to step into that nightmare?!). When the last Saturday before Christmas arrived, I was truly desperate. My husband, also down for the count, felt like he might be able to hold down the fort while I ran to the mall in search of the last three things on the Christmas list.
I was like a warrior, moving with the speed and accuracy of someone with considerable and advanced military training. I hunted down and checked out with the ivory size-3T tights for Christmas Eve service in four minutes flat. Despite being on the opposite of the mall, I canvased the first floor like a player in the Hunger Games. Every second counted. I found and bought the meat thermometer that I needed and rounded the corner to the last stop on the list: L'Occitane.
Now, I realize this sounds like a strange necessity, but, for my husband and me, this is a thing. You see, in college when I studied abroad in France, I had the opportunity to go on a tour of the L'Occitane factory and I didn't take it. It was the day before my final papers were due and I opted to not go on the tour and finish my work. I don't have many regrets in life, but this is one of them. I turned my papers in on time, but I missed out on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and, because all of the students in the program were in the same situation, only one student showed up for the tour. The result was that our delightful, charming French professor took our absence as a personal slight and I still feel guilty about it.
When we became parents, we discovered — as many new parents do — that our personal hygiene wasn't what it used to be. (Oh, to take daily showers again!) It became a joke between us that we should only give each other soap for gifts. And, because we are both goofballs and have a sense of humor, we totally did it. For Mother's Day? Soap! For my birthday? Soap! In our Christmas stockings? Soap! And there's one soap that's preferred and I bet you can guess which one it is.
So, there I was, rounding the corner to L'Occitane on the Saturday before Christmas, having left my husband with our pitiful children, and feeling confident that I could get home in under an hour from when I left. I was on target and feeling pretty fierce. I had retrieved two of my three items in a total of fifteen minutes. I should be on my way home in another fifteen, easy! Then I opened the door to the store.
To say that it was crowded was an understatement. The store was packed. It was wall-to-wall people, all moving together, like a teeming, squirming amoeba. It took my eyes a minute to adjust before I realized that these (probably) four million people were all in a single line, snaking around the store in a long, seemingly unending quest to get to the two registers. I got in line, seeing that I would really only get to do my shopping by grabbing the long-sought-after fancy-pants soap as I passed it on my way to the two harried-looking workers scanning soap with Olympic speed.
Now, if you've ever been in a tiny, crowded store, you know that the idea of personal space goes out the window and that you can hear every word of every conversation all around you. So, there I stood behind two socially awkward men, who felt the need to pick up and feel just about every single item we passed and who also did not believe in deodorant, and in front of two teenage girls discussing ad nauseam what they think their moms might or might not want in the world of soap and/or bubble bath. Holding my two bars of soap, moving at a snail's pace, I made my way to the front of the store. It was a solid thirty minutes to that point. I wished desperately for some kind of "FastPass" option.
Suddenly, from behind me came some commotion. "Excuse me! I just need to ... Yep ... If I could just ... That's it right there." A woman, about my age, came literally pushing her way through the store to get to her targeted soap, which happened to be next to me. I handed it to her and she thanked me for it and I chalked it up to holiday crazy.
But then — THEN! — it was almost my turn. I was the next one to be called. I waited patiently in my sock monkey stocking cap and puffy coat to hear the most magical word in the holiday shopping experience: Next! And then I heard it, like a choir of angels! "Next customer please!" I took a step forward, but a man who was twice (or, if I'm being honest, possibly four times) my size stepped in front of me and put his items on the counter. I looked around. Surely this wasn't happening, right? Then I heard the voice. The same voice from the initial, "Excuse me!" Except this time it was, "Here, babe! Use this! Here's my card!" And, holding her credit card high in her hand, the (literally) pushy woman again rammed her way through the store until she could reach his giant, gorilla-sized arm outstretched right in front of me and put her shiny credit card into his massive hand.
That was it for me. I snapped.
"NOOOOO!!!" I shouted in a voice that I can only describe as coming from the bottom of your very soul. It was the kind of sound that you would use if you found out that your oldest child had been yelling obscenities on the playground because he thought they were Spanish bad words and could get away with it. It was the kind of sound that you would use if you discovered that your middle child had gotten into the Sharpies and had colored all over your upholstered chairs. It was the kind of sound that you would use if your baby grabbed your favorite heirloom necklace from around your neck, gave it a yank, and sent the pieces flying across Target. Not that I have personal experience with any of those things.
Back in L'Occitane, that's the voice erupted from the pit of my stomach like a wild dragon unleashed from a Targaryan pit. "THERE IS A LINE!!! AND I AM STANDING IN IT!!!" The whole store froze, the only sound was the accordion-heavy French Christmas music playing over the sound system. "YOU CAN FIND YOUR WAY TO THE BACK OF THE LINE LIKE EVERYONE ELSE!!!" He looked stunned. The workers looked nervous. Then, from behind me, a teenage voice chirped, "Um, its cool. It's not that big of a deal." I wheeled around so quickly that I'm surprised I didn't give myself whiplash.
"Excuse me?! It is NOT cool! And you don't get to decide what is a big deal for me. Because let me tell you, the fact that I am even in this store right now is a big deal. Do you have multiple children projectile vomiting all over your house right now?! Because, guess what?! I DO!"
At this point, I might have blacked out a little bit, but I'm pretty sure I said something like, "And I know this is going to come as a shock to you because you're — What? Sixteen years old? — but I have lived my whole life being pushed around and passed over because I am a generally nice, small-ish woman. Stuff just like this! And guess what? I matter. And so do you! And this is exactly the kind of thing that perpetuates rape culture! So, you know what? It IS a big deal. And it should be a big deal to YOU too. It is because of people standing up for YOU that you get to say it's not a big deal. So, you know what? You're welcome. Don't take it for granted."
Then, turning back to the giant man in the black coat, who now looked even more visibly uncomfortable, "So, as I was saying, the back of the line is over there. I suggest you find your way to it. I. AM. NEXT." He sheepishly picked up his things and walked toward the door. I put my two bars of soap on the counter, smiled sweetly, and said, "Just these. Thanks."
I finished checking out and made it home in just under an hour.
Moral of the story: Don't be the jerk that cuts in front of people in line at Christmas. And, if you cut me off, watch out, because that sock monkey hat may look cute, but underneath lies a lion. And I bet I'm not the only lion hiding in plain sight.