Sometimes I don’t feel like I am making a difference. Don’t get me wrong, I bet all Americans would be lost without Target and the trusty return line, where you can return crap you shouldn’t have bought in the first place or a gift your daughter-in-law did not appreciate during that recent family gathering. But when I help people take care of their retail therapy regrets, I do not feel as if I’m making much of a difference.
I tell myself that maybe today will be different, as I stand behind the counter and notice three people moving toward my line. Yuck.
The first one is an old lady returning the shower curtain because it didn’t match the beige of her bathroom walls. She complains for about 30 seconds on our lack of color selection before seemingly taking the cue of my lack of response and heading out the door.
The next is a man, returning an embarrassing pair of boxers with women kiss lips on them. Apparently the wife didn’t know him well.. Or the mistress. Who really knows at this point?
The next customer is just a…nothingness. Then there is a whip of hair appearing over the side of the counter. She hands me a sheet of paper. It was a bit crusty looking, maybe a cereal spill. She had to reach to the end of her arm’s length to get it on the counter. She looked to be under ten. Maybe. I could never tell about ages.
“What can I help you with?” I asked, wondering what this was as I looked it over. It was a piece of notebook paper with a list called “Things that have caused me pain” in the upper right hand side of the paper it said the date and “RETURN” in huge block letters.
“Mom is returning stuff later. But I wanted to help sissy. Mom gave me slushy money but I found this in sissy’s room and wanted to return it.” The girl told me.
“Well, what were you hoping to return it for?” I asked, knowing this was not going to be something I could give her money back for. Well, maybe…. I looked over the list. It started with “My parents’ divorce = cost me a normal dating relationship because I always worry I’m becoming too much like my Mom and that then I will not be able to move forward with the relationship.” Also listed was “My brother’s drug problem = cost me trust in family.” Then, a few lines later, “My brother’s funeral = cost me emotional balance.” At the end, it said, “RETURN so that I can be a healthy child again. I do not want to be an adult anymore.”
I frowned at this list and then looked at the girl. She had her wallet open and looked ready to transfer money back to her sister.
“I can help you with this. Hold on.” I told my co-worker I was taking a break and walked over to the girl, “Let’s go get that slushy.” I ordered slushies for us and didn’t let her use her mom’s money. She might need it to buy a ticket to anywhere that wasn’t her crazy family. We mixed the blue and red in our slushies because she had never done that before.
“It was in your sister’s journal?” I asked the girl, wondering absently what kind of mom sends their kid off to get a slushy by themselves. We sat down at one of the mostly clean tables in the Target sit down area.
“Yeah, I heard her crying and I snuck in her room when she went to hang out with Lily.” The little girl leaned closer and said sincerely, “I don’t think she knows how to return things. I don’t know what those are but I know the word return from my Mom. She likes to shop for wrong things.”
I looked at the little girl. I grabbed a book from my purse, called “Rising Strong” by Brene Brown. It was the self-help book I was reading and I figured the sister needed it more. I started to write a note and the girl babbled on about her slushy. “Your sister really loves you and wanted to return the list that was making you cry. I gave her this book because I can’t return life experiences. I know it sucks. My little sister is gone, too. – Target return girl.”
I handed the book to the little girl and said, “When you return a journal page (which I had stashed back in the book), you get a book from me.”
I started to stand but the girl asked, “Most people don’t return pages, do they?”
I sat back down and looked at her eyes, which were so much deeper already than they “should” be. But who decided on what “should” be, when every day something happened that “shouldn’t.”
“No, most people do not. But I am glad you did.” I stood up and walked back to the line.
Sure enough, the mom showed up in my line with a few things to return, including the new Nicholas Sparks bestseller, a clearance cup with little balloons printed all over it and three newborn outfits. I wondered if it was from a family dispute or if another child had been lost.
Right as the mom was about to leave with the girl, I said. “You have a very well-behaved girl. If you ever need a babysitter,” I jotted my number on the receipt, “Let me know.”
She thanked me and absently looked at her daughter. Maybe she will call. Maybe she won’t. But today I hope I made a difference.