But you didn't.
So now you're back, pawing through the heaps of staplers, car oil, extension cords, and other ephemera, hoping to find that clock. You're vaguely aware of another shopper at the next clearance table.
"Well, look at that cute red hair poking out from under that hat!" she says.
You turn to face her. You know she's referring to you, as you fit the bill: you're the only other person in that section of the store, you're wearing a baseball cap, and you've got auburn hair. But you don't know her, and you're not feeling even remotely cute. You've been canning all day, and your hair is a frizzy mess; that's why you're wearing a hat.
"Oh, and the rest of you is cute, too! You're just the cutest thing ever!"
You want to duck your head and back away, but instead you smile and say, "Thank you," and go back to pawing through the clearance items. Where is that alarm clock?
But she carries on. "You know my friends ask me if I'm in a time warp, because I'm 59, and they say I haven't changed a bit." She nods.
You're surprised, just as she expected you to be. She doesn't look 59.
"I'm closing in on forty." You offer up a small tidbit to this chatty soul.
Her eyebrows raise. "Well, you just keep on doing whatever you're doing, because you're beautiful! You're just beautiful!"
You take off down the first aid aisle, hoping for a giant ace bandage to swallow you up, feeling both pleased and mortified at the same time.
As you drive home, you recall a similar experience twenty years ago, when you were nineteen. You were at AAA on Delaware Ave., tracking down a youth hostel card because you were heading to Europe with your sister for a month. It was a sunny day, and you were wearing plaid leggings with a v-neck sweater and your black leather ankle boots that you purchased with your own money even though they were outrageously expensive.
Your mom had been sick that past year--the ER staff didn't think she would live--and over the course of six months or so, you had withered away to 104 pounds. You knew your family was worried about you, but the fact was, you simply didn't have time for feasting. School, work, dance company, and hospital were on your plate each day, leaving little room for milk and honey.
But you weren't thinking about that then; you were thinking Scotland, England, Belgium, Austria, Italy, France. Your mom was better, and you were coming up for a desperately needed gulp of air. You just required a youth hostel card. Your outrageously expensive boots walked you into AAA.
Two fifty-something women sat on chairs by the big plate glass windows. "Doesn't she look great?" one said, as you slid past them.
You smiled to yourself as you completed the necessary paperwork, and left AAA feeling like a rockstar.
While details of childhood, high school, and college have faded and become fuzzy, you remember this moment with clarity. You wonder why. When you studied mythology in eighth grade, you always wanted to be like Athena, goddess of wisdom, war, and handicrafts, never like flaky Aphrodite, whose name sounded like a classification of insect or mineral. Beauty wasn't your thing.
But Doesn't she look great? became engraved on your memory. The words come up every once in a while, on days when you feel like a big fat frumpy failure. Doesn't she look great? And the sunny day, the plaid leggings, the v-neck sweater, and those boots (Oh, those boots!) all come back to you. On those days, you think, once upon a time, someone thought I looked great.
It shouldn't matter, this sort of skin-deep approval. Your face is simply your face. You were born with it. You see out of those eyes, rarely registering even a reflection off a window. You don't consider yourself beautiful; in fact, sometimes you think you're downright ugly. Ultimately, it doesn't matter what you look like. You just are and that is that. Shouldn't you feel more pleased when someone says you ARE great, rather than you LOOK great? Sure you should, but no one says that sort of thing. Instead, they say what they see.
Maybe that's why those words have become inked in your memory; those words have morphed into a generic approval. You're doing okay, girlie. Keep it up. And that's enough. That's all that you really needed to hear.