“How do you meet people here?” the baby-faced cashier asked, deftly punching keys on her register.
After spending a Kohl’s gift card on much-needed, post-quarantine clothes, the cashier and I had struck up a conversation about moving to Bend, Oregon – a common topic in a town full of transplants.
“I got really lucky,” I explained. “I had a few friends here who introduced me to a bunch of people as soon as I got here.”
“Wow, that is lucky,” she replied wistfully.
“But there are a bunch of great groups you can join!” I offered, rattling off some examples of how I’d met other people. “There are some really nice running groups here, even if you’re not a runner. Everyone hangs out afterwards for beer.”
“I guess I’ll have to wait a year then,” she laughed.
Realizing that she wasn’t yet legal drinking age, my heart melted. She could have been me at 20. Pale, tall, overweight, hopelessly sweet. I bet someone once told her she was “made for retail,” too.
“It was so nice meeting you,” I smiled as I gathered my bag and headed into the high desert heat.
I thought about that cashier all night long. Her kindness and sincerity, loneliness, and what I imagined to be sky-high dreams. How she let me do most of the talking and showed genuine interest in and compassion for a complete stranger. When I was just a little younger than her, also working in retail, an older coworker -and soon to be best friend- took me under her wing and showed me the world’s wonders. A late bloomer, I was in my late teens and early 20s before I really started living.
Now, at 39, I so badly wanted to tell that sweet young woman at Kohl’s about the untold adventures she would surely have. The heartbreaks and “sex, drugs and rock and roll” and monotony and horrible jobs and great jobs and moves and upsizing and downsizing and new friends and lost friends and weight loss and weight gain and lessons learned and mistakes made and death and birth and epiphanies and ice cream pints and crying yourself to sleep.
I would tell her it gets better.
Even when it doesn’t.
I would tell her suddenly you’ll be almost 40 and still wonder (and care) if people like you and if your dream of your soulmate just came from a Disney movie and if this is -dear god- as good as your ass is ever gonna look and if that freckle got bigger overnight and is actually deadly skin cancer and if you go broke how bad would it really be to live in your parents’ basement and speaking of what on earth are you going to do when your parents are gone and at least you have your dog but oh f*ck he’s 11 and you’ve gotta come up with a plan and you’ve checked all the boxes and gotten all the credentials and kissed all the right butts only to find out.
There is no plan.
I would tell her, “20 years ago, I doubted my sexiness, humor, intellect, and power even more than I do today. You’ll come to cling to the version of yourself who realizes that anyone worth knowing and anything worth doing embraces all of you – even the older, slightly saggier you.”
Nope. I wouldn’t go back to 20. …Would you?