Every Breath I Take


There's a conspiracy going on. I’m sure of it. Something besides 80s music is being piped into stores across the country. Something sinister. I can smell the fumes - they smell like the color of money. You’ve breathed them; they are no respecter of patrons. You go to the store with your list on your smart phone or written in your handy-dandy notebook. But when you walk through those doors, your brain chemistry is altered.

It was an ordinary day. Nothing significant had happened that required more concentration than usual, so it was an easy day. It was time to go to the store for a few items. The main thing I needed was bottled water, the first item on my list. Toothpaste was second. We still had a little toothpaste left, but it took two of us using a pair of pliers to squeeze out a pea-sized drop onto a toothbrush.

Once inside Walmart, I decided to pick up a few extra things and stock up for the week. Bananas, coconut milk, watermelon, a birthday gift for a friend. I even remembered food for my son, Cowboy, to take on his field trip two days later - chips, cookies, hot dogs, and mayo for his hot dogs. 

I loaded up the car, drove home, put away the groceries, and finally ate a late breakfast as I stood in the kitchen making a phone call. It was a short day for getting things done; I had to pick up Cowboy early from school to take him to speech therapy.

Sometimes it takes hours for the in-store chemical to wear off; the effects may even last days. But because my visit to Walmart had been brief, it was out of my system within five minutes of returning home. The fog had lifted; I could think clearly, and I quickly noticed only two water bottles on the counter, not 24.

“Oh my gosh, I forgot the water,” I said out loud to nobody. This quickly led to “and the toothpaste.”

I consider asking my husband, Flash, if he could stop by Walmart on his way home from work. But it’s risky to send Flash on such a mission. He goes off-list and comes back with much more. And he calls me at least twice from the store with questions, so it’s faster if I go. We could force a couple more drops of toothpaste out, and we could drink water the old-fashioned way. After the long drive home from Cowboy’s therapy, I would be too tired to go shopping again.

I proudly delivered the mayo, chips, cookies, and hot dogs for Cowboy’s field trip to his teacher that afternoon, a day early.

That evening, I decided to fix a chicken pasta dish that calls for mayo.

At our house, mayo is oxygen. It's one of the few condiments Cowboy eats, due to dietary restrictions. I opened the fridge, pulled out the mayo, and the jar was empty. Why do empty containers live in the fridge? Is it a premeditated joke played on the One Who Does Most of the Shopping? I guess somebody thought the millimeter-thick layer on the bottom of the jar would come in handy.

The pasta was almost done. The chicken was ready. I had to have mayo. Irony laughed at me as I remembered delivering a new jar of it to Cowboy’s school just hours before.

As Flash came in from a long day at work, he watched a blurry wife running out the door, hollering, “I forgot the mayo, and I need it for the chicken salad for tonight, and the pasta will be done in 10 minutes, and there are burgers thawed if you don’t want to wait, and I'll be right back.”

“Okay. Can you pick up some lunches and breakfast food for me please?”

Slowly I turned.

It’s not that I hate my husband. He meant no harm. But he added more items into my brain, and I was on the verge of my oh-my-gosh-I’m-so-tired-and-I-just-want-to-get-home-and-now-it-will-take-longer-and-I’m-on-my-second-trip-today tirade. I added mayo, lunches, and breakfasts to my original list of toothpaste and water.

Evening Walmart differs from Morning Walmart; evening is rush hour indoors. I yielded at every corner to avoid a collision. I didn’t text while pushing the cart. I looked both ways to make sure nobody was coming through the intersections at breakneck speed. This would be my last trip for the week; I could feel it in my bones. I had everything on the list, and I was determined to get home before morning.

Mayo, check!

Toothpaste, check!

Water, check!

My adrenaline was pumping, and I knew I would overcome the “forgetfulness" fumes swirling around my nostrils. I had held my breath eight times so far.

Lunches and breakfasts, check!

I. Was. Finished.

Hmmm, I thought as the wheels in my head turned; voices were telling me there was more to buy. Fun things. They were telling me to go off-list

I was oblivious to the fact that my prefrontal cortex was soaking in a hot tub of “gotta have” fumes, which are always mixed in with “forgetfulness" fumes. My brain was saturated. The night manager must have cranked up the dosage of the fumes before the evening crowd hit the store.

The familiar conversation with myself began. I gotta get some new summer tops.  It’s been a while since I bought some. It’s always fun to have new clothes when we go on vacation. I won’t show them to Flash; I’ll surprise him with some new outfits that he’ll find attractive on me. The Rationalization Phase of the toxins had kicked in. I had forgotten about home, about tucking my beloved Cowboy in for the night. I’d forgotten my promise of “I’ll be right back.”

In a moment of lucidity, I contemplated going home to take wardrobe inventory before buying more shirts. But clear thinking gave way to shirt gluttony. I "shook it off" and continued on.

I am Queen of Trying on 25 Items in Only 6 Minutes. I narrowed it down to three blouses, then decided to buy all three. My phone beeped. Then, it rang. A sure sign of a suspicious husband.

“Where are you?”

“I’m finishing up and about to check out,” I answered Flash without giving away details of my exact location before hanging up.

The conspiracy had been a success. By forgetting at least one necessary item earlier in the day, I was destined to return for that item. And, in doing so, I picked up more than just the forgotten sundries. This had all been planned to boost the economy in a mighty way. Store owners are relying on the very air we breathe in their establishments to guarantee we are repeat customers at least three times a week, 52 weeks of the year, for decades.

I got home and happily unloaded groceries again; my endorphins were having a party, celebrating the new stuff I bought for myself. It was a cerebral Spring Break. I hung up my new blouses next to my 15 other summer blouses. Of course, in two days I would already have worn two of them; no saving them for the trip. That was a mind game well played.

I went to the kitchen to make something to eat. Since the guys would have starved waiting for chicken salad, they had already eaten hamburgers. As I opened the pantry, I glanced at the coconut oil - the coconut oil that Cowboy uses daily, due to his special diet. 

The bottle had one drop of oil left in the bottom.

As I thought back on my boomerang shopping that day, I realized my forgetfulness wasn't my fault. "Senior moments" weren't to blame. This wasn't about age, or stress, or multitasking run amok, or the fact that I was shopping at the speed of light so I could indulge in newly bought cookies when I got home.

This was about conspiracy on a grand scale.

I turned, startled, when I heard a sinister laugh behind me. It was the Spirit of Commerce mocking me, knowing that I, his minion, would make yet another donation to the economy the following morning.