May 24, 2016

She stood ahead of me at the convenience store counter, 6:30 a.m., and ten minutes went by as she tried to remember what it was she wanted. Cigarettes—no. Lottery tickets—no. Little Debbie snacks—no. How much is a pint of cherry whiskey—no. She stood on tiptoes and tapped the various lottery options with her right index finger.

She was thirty going on seventy, but her body was that of a little girl. She wore sandals and Capri pants, and she obsessively scratched the backs of calves with the shoes, and blood trails and scabs ran down.

She kept looking back at me, but I don’t think she saw me. She wasn’t being rude; she was sick. All I wanted to buy was my newspaper and a coffee. But I waited. And I watched.

The meth mom trembled and tore at her straw-colored blond hair. She clenched her buttocks over and over. She shook her hands rapidly, as though she had no feeling in her hands. Her face was chiseled, drawn, taut, and her eyes fluttered. Her skin was the color of porcelain.

She talked about her babies, at home with Grandma. Oh, right, she needed four sodas—babies, her, grandma. She looked back towards the soda machine, chewing on her cheeks as if she were making a momentous decision. Maybe she was afraid she’d lose her place in line. I was the line.

The clerk is a gentle woman. She takes in strays. Three kids live with her who are not her blood in addition to her own four. She judges not. And she listened to the meth mom with fill attention.

Finally, the woman bought three kinds of lottery tickets, a can of chewing tobacco and some beef jerky. She turned to me and said, “Sorry.” She ran, not walked to her car.

I paid for my sundries. The clerk looked at me and shook her head. The store is the preferred location for all-day drunks, meth addicts, heroin users and an occasional person in a suit who wants coffee on the go.

The store is the neo-Harry Hope’s Bar, from Eugene O’Neil’s masterpiece “The Iceman Cometh.” I am the Jason Robards character, Hickey, without the sell and the pitch and the promise of better days.

I walked outside. The meth woman was in her car, windows closed, cigarette lit, loud music banging, and she pounded the dashboard with her bony hands.

I don’t mind the addicts. I do mind the massive if inadvertent child abuse. Many houses and trailers of my valley are filled with misery. The schools are filled with brain-addled children. The sum total of dreams of a future in these places could fit in a sinkhole.

Within that greater sink hole, “Sorryland,” where hamburger joint uniforms outnumber street clothes, where long haul truckers ride high and high, where no one votes, gives a fuck about nature, where plastic bags hang from trees like Christmas ornaments, and where, if our soldiers could see this they would not fight for such a land.

The meth mom fired up her car and pulled away, burning rubber and nearly hitting my vehicle. She ran the stop sign and trusted God not to pulverize her on the highway.

She probably shouted “sorry” all the way home.

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