When I walked through the front doors of Stein Mart last Saturday afternoon I was relieved to see only one person standing in front of the customer service counter. I had a return. As I approached the counter, I stood behind a lady I’ll call “Mrs. Smith.”
Mrs. Smith was searching her oversized handbag for her wallet where she swore her receipt had been since the day she’d purchased those pants for her husband back before Christmas. She was explaining how the pants were a gift to him, but they didn’t fit and he didn’t particularly like the color and now here she was, being a good wife, returning them for him. Mrs. Smith continued on about how her husband, Dan, had not filled up her gas tank last night so she had been driving all day on fumes, which made her a nervous wreck what with not knowing whether she would even make it here or there.
Not only was there no gas, but she had picked up the dry cleaning and they were out of their usual dry cleaning bags and she did not like these new bags they gave to her and she hadn’t had time to check the dry cleaning but she was sure that these new bags had wrinkled her newly dry cleaned clothes and she would have to be sure to call the dry cleaners and tell them about it as soon as she got home, if the car even made it.
Oh, and she missed pilates class because she was concerned that she wouldn’t make it all the way up there, what with not enough gas in the tank.
All this while she was still searching the handbag for the receipt that the clerk and I both realized was never going to actually be produced. To top it all off, Mrs. Smith was now — still looking for the receipt — explaining to the clerk that she didn’t know what she would do about dinner because she doubted there was anything in the house and without gas she wasn’t going to make it to the store.
Finally, Mrs. Smith declared defeat.
Through no fault of her own, she did not have the receipt for Dan’s pants. Mrs. Smith now claimed that some total stranger must have taken the receipt, because everyone in her family knows not to ever get into her handbag for any reason or perhaps the receipt had actually come alive and jumped out of her handbag, free to live wherever lost receipts go to live. Mrs. Smith decided that she would return Dan’s pants without the receipt and suffer the consequences because this was just how the day had gone and it should rightfully end in full-on financial disaster due to that never-to-be-seen again receipt. She turned to me, completely exasperated, and asked, “Have you just ever had one of those days?”
I learned long ago that people who tell you their own troubles rarely want to hear about yours. I wanted to tell Mrs. Smith that actually, I’ve had one of those years. I wanted to tell her about how I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis last year. That after two MRIs, a spinal tap and a bout with blindness, I got the news that would change my life and everyone close to me forever. I wanted Mrs. Smith to know that my day would end by taking four Advil right before my husband gave me a shot in the ass at bedtime because the only medications for MS come in self-injectable form and I can’t reach around that far. I wanted to tell her that this great medicine is supposed to keep me from going blind again and will hopefully keep me out of a wheelchair, but there are no guarantees.
I thought maybe she should know that some days I wake up and my tongue is numb, or I can't feel my right leg. I can't go hot tubbing anymore because if my core body temperature gets too hot I can go blind again. “Thank God,” I would tell her, “I was never really into hot tubbing because if I were, like, a world champion hot tubber, this Multiple Sclerosis could really have been devastating.”
She should know that this disease doesn’t discriminate, that anyone could be diagnosed with it at any time. No one knows what causes it and there is no cure for it. And finally, to really make a lasting impact, I wanted to tell Mrs. Smith that, after I returned the cute top I had purchased because it didn’t really fit due to some bloating from recent surgery, I was going to have to go to the gas station and pump my own gas. I think that last part she would have really understood. Instead, I just gave her that empathetic smile that said yes, Mrs. Smith, I’ve had one of those days.
Mia Lee Bauman is the mother of two teen-age daughters, a legal assistant by day and improvisational comedian by night.
The annual MS Walk fund-raiser will be held this Saturday, March 19, at White River State Park in from of the NCAA Hall of Fame. Check-in begins at 8 a.m. For more information and to register call 1-800-FIGHT MS or go to www.nationalmssociety.org/ini.