“Unable to process transaction at this time.”
The message on the Trader Joe’s pin pad stared me in the face. “Try again,” said the cashier behind her required face mask. I did. And again. And yet again. And then the manager came. And we tried again. And still the same message “unable to process transaction at this time.”
Mumbling from behind my own mask I said “I just checked my bank account there are plenty of funds.” The cashier offered that this message meant it wasn’t a case of insufficient funds and I should call my bank and use another card in the meantime. Paralyzed I stood at the register and tried not to cry.
When my debit card was declined,I was pushed me to the edge
“I didn’t bring another card today….I don’t know what to do….” I said. The cashiers told me they would store my purchases in the cooler and when I figured it out, I could go to guest services and pay for everything and not to worry. I nodded and moved over to a corner near a brilliant display of spring flowers and called my bank, only to be told that wait times exceeded 60 minutes.
Unsure about spending an hour standing in Trader Joe’s hoping to get through to my bank, I texted my wife to come rescue me and stood huddled in the flower corner inhaling the sweet smell of lilies through my mask for an excruciating thirty minutes until she arrived. After the transaction was settled and my two little bags of groceries were in hand, we exited past the line of masked people waiting at appropriate six-foot intervals to enter the store. After putting the groceries in her car, I got into my Jeep to head home.
Then I started to cry
And after merging onto the highway, I started to cry. Correction. I started to scream.
This was it. This was the tipping point. Up until now, through every surreal turn of these times, I had played my role. I was the cheerleader at work, the cheerleader at home, the voice of optimism, voice of hope, voice of “it’s going to be fine we will get through this,” at everything from Zoom meetings to family dinners to late night texts with friends.
I hadn’t complained, I hadn’t vented. I hadn’t shamed people on social media for going to a store, I hadn’t pointed fingers at people who weren’t social distancing in an exactly perfect way. I did my best, I ordered things on line, walked in my neighborhood, saw only my family, wore my mask, carried my hand sanitizer and wipes. And through it all I was steady, I was calm. I was making people laugh and checking in on everyone.
Except in the process, I’d forgotten to check in with me – and it took a frozen debit card to unleash six weeks’ worth of tears and frustrations – pushing me over an edge I hadn’t even realized I’d been walking on.
I sobbed, shouted and cried my way through the 10-minute drive home, calling out until my voice was hoarse for my mother, who died twelve years ago. “It’s NOT FAIR MOMMY!” I found myself shouting through my tears. “It’s not FAIR! I’m doing everything right, I’m being responsible, I’m being safe, I’m holding everything together for everyone, couldn’t I have this ONE morning for things to go right?”
And even as I carried on I knew it was such a stupid thing to have been so excited over a routine trip to Trader Joe’s. But I had relished the thought of being out ‘in the world’ putting things in a real shopping cart instead of a virtual one, and had eagerly volunteered to get the few things my family couldn’t get on our last online grocery order. I had been so happy as I approached the checkout counter, thinking how they would smile at the treats I had thrown in for them along with the “must haves”on our list. I was so calm and happy — only to be stopped in my tracks, my joy turning to embarrassment, turning to an anxious dread that my bank account had been hacked.
What would have been a first-world irritation “before,” had morphed into a crisis so big my anxiety had decided the only way out was to cry, and scream, and shout into an empty void that had once held my mother, as if invoking her name, calling for ‘mommy,’ (a word that I hadn’t used since I was a little girl), could make her appear and she would fold me into her ample lap and tell me everything was going to be ok. That she would do for me, what I was doing for my own daughter, wife, co-workers, and friends.
But all that answered me was silence.
My daughter pulled me back from the edge
I arrived home and had pulled myself together. I dried my tears and swallowed my screams and pretended I was ok as I settled in for ninety minutes of hold music with my bank. And while I was waiting, something remarkable happened. My daughter texted me from her room that it would be ok, not to worry, the bank would work things out. Then she came down to my makeshift basement ‘office’ to check on me where I sat worriedly hunched over with my phone on speaker and my bank’s website on my computer. She thanked me for going to the store, for getting her treats, and said she was sorry I had to deal with this, and that it would all work itself out, don’t worry, don’t be sad, momma. It will be ok.
Eventually the issue was resolved, (an almost comical series of events too long to chronicle here had led to my card being locked by the bank, but the alerts had gone to a phone number I no longer had). I hung up the phone and closed the laptop, and took a deep breath, ready to face the world again as the panicked scenarios of a drained bank account slowly abated. Outside the morning’s early spring snow had vanished, and with it so had my dark and gloomy mood.
I was myself again. But I had learned a few things.
I’d learned that when you try to make everything ok for everyone else without adding yourself to that list it catches up to you. That a good old-fashioned cry does make you feel better. That we never stop calling for our moms. And that just when you think no one has heard you or noticed you, the answer appears in the form of a 20 year-old in pajama shorts and a sweatshirt telling you that it will all be ok – reversing the roles you are used to playing and in the process reminding you that you’re part of a generations-long line of strong, tall brunettes who get things done and don’t make a fuss about it.
I’d been to the edge. She pulled me back. I think my mom heard me after all.
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The Storm We Face Is Scary, But Together We Will Weather It