The Meltdown

The Meltdown

For most of April, I’ve worked closing or midday shifts. My circadian rhythm isn’t set for early mornings. But today I had an opening shift. I was struggling to stay awake when should have been in top form. We are busiest in the AM on weekdays and the mood is not fun. The stresses of modern pandemic life make people anxious as they rush around. Conversations are nowhere to be found. People aren’t rude for the most part, just quick and to the point.

My early morning haze was shattered soon after a thin, unassuming-looking woman with frail eyes stepped into to my line. She obeyed the signage asking to practice social distancing and stayed back from the customer ahead. When it was her turn to check out, I asked how her day was going. I received a negligible response. That’s pretty normal. Not every customer is interested in small talk or friendly greetings. Some just want to go through the line. No harm, no foul.

The Meltdown

As I started putting the groceries in bags, I knew something was wrong when she put her hand on her hip in disapproval and said, “I want them double bagged.”

“I’m sorry, Mam, we aren’t supposed to double bag.”

That was not the answer she wanted to hear and before I could back off my answer a hurricane of emotion hit my shores.

Her pupils shrank. The whites of her eyes doubled in size. She reached past the plexiglass divider and ripped the bagged groceries from the cashier stand and slammed them into the cart. Then she bent over the counter to take the items I hadn’t put in a bag yet, looked me in the eye and said, “It’s not you.” Then she threw the groceries at her basket, only to watch them spill onto the floor. She picked up one item and stormed towards the exit.

I stared in shock at the surreal primetime news clip transpiring before me. She turned around when she reached the final cashier stand. And with the look of a rabid dog in her eyes, she said something I couldn’t make out then licked her hand, threw it dramatically into the air and smacked it down on the counter. She was out the door before I could blink.

The Meltdown

Once I snapped out of my trance, I looked around to see if anyone else had witnessed the incident. A few other cashiers had seen the wild lady do her thing but for the most part no one noticed. That makes sense given the store is loud and busy and we only have every other register open to keep social distancing in check. I turned off my light and walked over to explain what happened to my manager. I pointed to the spot where the saliva gleamed in the fluorescent light. She asked if I could grab a spray bottle of disinfectant while she talked to the police officer about what happened.

I sprayed down the counter with disinfectant and couldn’t help but have a good nervous laugh about the whole thing. I’ve been in customer service in some capacity my whole life and people freak out on me from time to time, but her actions took things to a new level. She weaponized fear because she’s scared and that’s a bad combo.

Maybe what I witnessed was simply her melting down after of a month in quarantine. That doesn’t justify her behavior, but you can’t ignore that conditions are perfect for one to scream at strangers. It’s those little things that we ignore over time that make people snap. The words, “It’s not you” she uttered before committing a possible act of bio-terrorism were telling and true, because I’m not the virus breaking down society. It’s not my fault. I’m just going to work, wearing my protective shit, trying to keep it together and avoid a breakdown.

The Meltdown

But the type of behavior she displayed only makes things worse for others. That woman’s actions told me that everything in her life – mental, physical, emotional, etc. – were under duress and the last straw was my denial of double-bagging her groceries. In my exhausted state, I was an easy target for her frustrations and I didn’t pick up on her aggressive mannerisms. But she was going to lose her shit on someone at some point. I guess a grocery store clerk is as good a person as any. I could’ve let it ruin my day. But it made for an interesting story and I feel that’s my consultation.

Most people don’t have a healthy outlet to release all the pain this pandemic has caused. It’s my hope we all find some peace so we don’t act like the lady in my story. Scenarios like mine are happening all over the country and the world. Life is changing fast and there is no way out for most people. Sanity is a precious resource and it’s in low supply. Talking and writing about the hilarity and tragedy of our world in an honest way is the best option when dealing with this all. In many ways, it’s all we have left.

7 thoughts on “The Meltdown

  1. Great personal story. I think that many if not most of us are at the edge of our breaking point. We’re sick and tired of being cooped up. Initially, we were horrified about “the virus” but now we are down right petrified about our unknown future. It’s as if our freedoms are silently slipping away. To me that’s what desturbes me the most. More than likely, I will not have a meltdown in the grocery line. It will probably happen as the result of some dumb, little, insignificant nothing that will throw me into Crazy Ville. All I can say is, “It’s not you.”

  2. I can relate to this from both sides. Great story. I can understand the crazy lady I feel like doing the same thing when people give me dirty looks for not wearing a mask or gloves outside of the house, but it’s my choice. Then at work I have to wear a mask and have crazy people that wipe off all there cups with wipes but then dont think about the food they eat from the bag they didnt wipe down. I just laugh and go on with my day. If u are that scared I think why not just stay home. Let the rest of us chance it and still go on with our day like normal.

  3. I find your stories interesting and cause me to step back and look at my behavior outside my safe zones.
    I live where the number of Covid19 cases is low and yet when I go to the grocery store instead of enjoying the outing I too feel I need to grab ‘n go instead of inspecting the item.
    I feel like some sort of criminal paying with cash. I touched a gas pump with my bare hands and froze on the spot for a minute or so. This is so insane and I don’t want to live like this!
    I’m sorry you had to be the target of this woman’s frustration but glad that you didn’t take it personally.

  4. Last week, at the grocery, there was a woman 6 ft ahead of me being snarky w/the checkout person. I relayed the story to my children explaining that often fear comes out as anger. I was polite w/the cashier hoping that would cancel out her previous customer!

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