It was raining. I was maybe five years old, but probably not older than six, because I was only six after we’d moved north from Lostant and the Wal-Mart that we were at was definitely the one in Lasalle, that big old one like before they switched to the red, white, and blue branding that defined Wal-Mart up until recently when they switched to soft brown and bright yellow for that ridiculous sun-shaped logo that says nothing about Wal-mart, its low prices, its amazing supply chains, its under-paid and under-protected elderly workers, or its history, but then again, I suppose that any company with a one hundred year history and that kind of name recognition need only change the shape of its logo and that is that, but of course, that’s open to interpretation and I’m not so sure that the colors from back in the day (when I was four or five but not six) were all that bad, and that’s from a two-decades-old memory, you know, like I can’t just drag up a perfect mental picture of that time since I was devoting most of my brain to imagination space for fantastic tales of knights in shining armor and trying to figure out what it meant to be a little human being, which is part of why this story is important, and which I will address shortly, after I reiterate that it was raining.
We were ready to check out, so Dad went out to get our Malibu station wagon of which I remember little except its color: white and rust. I was with Mom and, at the age I probably was, my little brother Christopher, who would have been but a wee babe.
At some point I separated myself from my Mom, who I imagine being flustered with having to keep track of a very curious young me, a crying baby Christoper, and a cartload of low-priced commodities for our country estate.
I meandered on tiny legs over to the IN doors, where I installed myself next to what seemed like an endlessly tall shelf of bright pink boxes filled with Barbie dolls. My reasoning went thusly: “People are coming in through these here IN doors. I must open these here doors in order to expedite the entrance process for my fellow humans.”
And so, I became a tiny doorman, pushing with all my might to open the steel and glass portal that allowed one access to low prices, amazing supply chains, and under-paid and under-protected elderly workers. I received many a “thank you” and probably at least one “What a dear young man.”
This process of holding open the door continued for, in my memory, at least fifteen minutes, at which point, I realized that I hadn’t seen my Mommy in some time and began to worry. The bright pink display of Barbie dolls gave me no answers. At one point, while looking outside from my self-assigned post at the doors, I saw my father driving our Malibu wagon back and forth, peering out into the precipitation for something.
That something was me.
Between the low pressure system outside and the dazzling action figures for girls next to me, I started to panic. My stomach hurt; a low, grinding pain.
Luckily, it wasn’t too long before my Mom finally found me. I was relieved. I expected her to say, “You are such a responsible and helpful little boy for opening the door for people.” Instead, what I got was, “Don’t you ever wander off like that again! We had no idea where you were. You could have been kidnapped! We were so scared!”
She walked me out to the parking lot to find my father, hand gripping my upper arm quite tightly. It was still raining. For at least the next fifteen years of my life, the sight of Barbie displays (and all toy sections have that aisle) made my stomach tie itself into stress knots.