Every Friday when I was younger, my mom would take my sister and I to the local Target near our house in suburban Colorado. We would run a few errands, then, when the shopping was finished, we would sit in a booth in the food court and eat soft pretzels and drink Icees. It was our routine, and despite its simplicity, it was something that my sister and I looked forward to every week. We would sit with our mom in the booth sometimes for 30 minutes, sometimes for hours, talking and laughing. On Fridays, my mom would have a certain glow about her when she pickedup me and my sister daycare.
We eagerly anticipated the time we were able to spend together. It was the ease, the natural contentment and the sheltered feeling of childhood that made those trips to Target remain dear to me.
When my sister and I entered middle school and our lives became more cluttered, the trips to Target with Mom naturally ended. But the fond memories of the those excursions remained. Target was a good place. It was a place accompanied by corresponding connections to innocence and feelings of warmth, memories of smiling and happiness.
However, once August following my senior year of high school hit, these memories faded. It was summer, and my parents and I began fighting nonstop. My mom and I often found ourselves going weeks without speaking. My parents said they had noticed a “change in me,” and on a daily basis they reminded me that my behavior did not reflect the daughter they once knew or raised. To them, the abrupt change was sudden and drastic. Every night, I would hear my parents sitting in their room, talking about how they should address the situation and how they should punish my misbehavior. I’d hear one of them say, “I just don’t know why she’s acting like this. It’s not her.” With every word, I heard pain in their voices; they wanted me to be the way that I was before that summer, before the month of June.
I knew what had changed. Or, rather, I knew what had happened to cause the change of character that troubled my parents so deeply.
That June following graduation, my innocence was shattered and my understanding of the nature of people and their intentions was drastically altered. Prior to that summer, I didn’t realize the extent of an individual’s capacity to hurt or to take advantage of another. Before that summer, I thought of myself as strong, perhaps even invincible. However, it only took minutes for me to learn that even a strong individual can become weak in the arms of someone with evil intentions.
It was a sunny day halfway through the month of August, just before going off to college, when my mom offered to take me to the store to buy decorations for my dorm room. We went to Target.
After entering through the large sliding glass doors, I walked quickly in front of my mom and made a point of responding to her questions with terse, one word answers, as we had been in a rather epic blowup that morning. We resembled mere acquaintances more than we did a mother and daughter shopping for dorm decorations.
We passed, aisle-by-aisle, peering down one, then moving on to the next. We made it to the school supplies section when I turned the corner only to see the very reason, the very thing that had changed me. The thing that caused me a great deal of pain, the thing that stripped me of my innocence, and the thing that made me feel so closed off from my loved ones and the rest of the world for those summer months.
He was stacking crayons. The name on his employee nametag represented a high school acquaintance of mine who had become an enemy, the person who showed me that people are inherently unpredictable and that they have the capacity to hurt—and that they can and will act on it. We made eye contact. I stopped, but my mom continued to wander down the aisle, politely saying hello to the well over six-foot male. My mom summoned me, but I didn’t want to move. I couldn’t move.
“I think the notebooks are over here,” I managed to say to my mom with some miraculous degree of composure. As I turned around and quickly wandered into the next aisle where there were young children with their parents looking for school supplies, my breathing quickened, and I started to cry.
My mom met me in the aisle, where she was obviously flustered by the sudden inundation of tears. She asked sharply why I was crying, but I couldn’t respond. People were staring at me, but slowly dispersed into the other aisles. My mom was growing increasingly agitated. She tapped me and asked what was wrong, but I couldn’t tell her. I couldn’t explain what had happened, or why I was so devastated by the sight of that man who, to her, was just one of many Target employees.
I never wanted to see that person again. I never wanted to think about that night in June again. I never wanted to feel vulnerable or scared in the way that I had felt that night again. But I did, and it all happened in a Target in suburban Colorado.
After taking minutes to collect myself, I asked my mom if we could leave. I told her that I was anxious about leaving for school, and that I was feeling overwhelmed. My mom’s face and tone became warmer as she told me she understood, and that everything was going to be all right. She didn’t know the truth, because I didn’t have the strength to tell her then.
Upon exiting the store, I thought back to my childhood and how that one particular Target was the source of such simple memories—memories of time spent with the ones I loved. It was one of several memories from a time when there was no actual hardship or worry.
I left Target that day in late summer feeling overwhelmed with sadness. I was sad that the positive memories from my childhood and home had been dissolved by darker memories of hurt and helplessness. Everything had changed. I so desperately wish my 18-year-old self had left with merely a soft pretzel and Icee in my hand, unaffected by the image of the man stacking crayons. I wish he had been just another person and I wish that trip to Target had been just another positive memory of home and warmth and innocence.