“How Are You Today?”

“How are you today?”

I ask as I deftly take her cigarettes off the display and put them on the counter. She’s in so often that I know what she wants, and she doesn’t feel the need to ask me any more.

It’s something I ask all my regulars. Not everyone. But I know her, not her name, but her face, her smile. I know that she just got twists in her hair two weeks ago and she fiddles with them while we talk. I know she likes Newport 100s and Hershey’s with almonds if we have them in the display at the counter. We both love red lipstick, and look forward to mornings when we can sleep in and not have to see each other at 7 am. I know her, and she knows me. She’s one of my regulars, and so I always ask her.

“How are you today?”

She looks at me for a moment, her eyes narrowing slightly, her hand reaching for her hair. After a second, she says it.

“What does a panic attack feel like?”

She doesn’t know that I have panic attacks, or that I have a grad degree in social work. She doesn’t know about my 12 psych hospitalizations, my 7 daily psych meds, my endless work with my shrink. I’m just the girl with the red hair at the store.

“Sometimes it feels like you’re dying. Like your heart is exploding. Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it feels like all the life is draining from you, like your whole body is going numb. Sometimes it’s something totally different. But if you think you’re having one, you probably are.”

She fiddles with her hair. I worry that I’ve overreached, but then she speaks.

“I’ve felt that way for the last week.”

It’s a week and two days since the election. Neither of us acknowledge that. No need. No need for me to do anything but ring up her cigarettes and say goodbye. But that wasn’t going to happen.

“I know. Trust me, I know.”

God, I know. I know the draining of all feeling. The hole in my being, the fear, the anger, the unbelievable feeling of WHY and HOW and WHAT NOW. I say it again.

“I know.”

She looks into my eyes and I into hers. A beat passes. She hands me her money and I hand her the cigarettes. Our hands touch for the briefest of moments. Our eyes locked, I manage a half-smile and say

“I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Not a question. A statement. Tomorrow will come, I’ll be here. I promise I’ll be here. Promise me you’ll be here too. Promise me with the $8.68 and pack of Newports as collateral. Promise me.

“Yeah, I’ll see you tomorrow.” She manages a half-smile too, and we separate. She glances back quickly, then leaves the store. I turn to the wall of cigarettes and busy my hands unnecessarily straightening the packs. She promised me, I tell myself, and I promised her. We have collateral on it.

“How are you today?”

If I don’t say it to you, it’s because I don’t think you need it. I don’t say it to just anyone. But if you and I see each other a lot, some every damn day, if I know that you like Marlboro Light Menthol 100s, two packs, and a Vitamin Water, purple, every morning. If you come in when I work late nights when the store is quiet to do your weekly run, if we are both yawning at 7 am sharp and you skitter in for cigs and a bottled coffee, if I KNOW you, and you recognize the girl with the red hair is working today, if you look me in the eyes and say hi, if you look like there’s a lot on your mind, if you usually smile but not today, if I can feel you needing me to say it. I will. And I’ll mean it.

“How are you today?”

If you remember my face, that’s nice. If you remember what I asked and meant, even better. If you don’t remember either of those things but feel the slightest bit better after I ask you and you don’t even know why? That’s the best. Maybe you don’t notice at all.

But I’m going to keep asking.



“How Are You Today?” — 3 Comments

  1. That one girl, at that moment, may be exactly why you are there! Sometimes, everything comes together. And this was perfect. Me? I’m . . . Okay. How are YOU?!

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