The ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
I remember Sophie being the most popular girl in school, dating the most handsome guy in the world, so I thought at the time. I also remembered her bullying me at the lockers and in the gym. She had asked me for a quarter for the soda machine and when I gave it to her, she’d shove me on the shoulder really hard. Today, seeing her at the local convenience store, brought all this back to me. Now, she looks nothing like I remembered. For a 27 year-old, she looked as if she aged to her late-thirties.. Her tall and fragile frame seemed equally marred by a difficult life. Her long hair was now brittle, disheveled and tinged with strings of grey, that framed just at the hairline and crowned her long and worried face. Instead of going to college, Sophie married her high school sweetheart. This relationship yielded three kids in the shortest amount of time.
There they were, all four of them—Sophie and her three kids. They all seemed just a year shy in age of each other. Two of them were in the basket, with one tugging at her long legs as she struggled to put her groceries on the conveyer belt. Several of her packages flew from her basket by what looked like her three-year-old. Unnerved, she lifted the little girl responsible for jettisoning her canned goods from her basket, and ordered the oldest of the three to help her collect the cans from the market floor—including the one can that crept ever closer down the aisle, resting at my feet.
Noticing the impossibility of Sophie minding her five year-old carelessly chasing down the can of Ravioli, I reluctantly reached down, putting the can in her tiny hands. She quickly snatched it from my hand and ran back in the direction towards her mother, who watched as her child ran back to her. She looked at me and smiled–then immediately frowned because she recognized who I was–then again, forced a smile. When her items were all placed on the conveyor belt, and her children all settled, she finally spoke to me, the ringing of groceries scanned by the cashier filling the background.
“Kids,” she said nervously, “You know how it is?”
“Not really,” I said. “I don’t have any.”
“Oh,” She barely parted her lips when she replied, “Must be nice.”
In the distance, I could hear each item being scanned, the voice of the overhead announcements, and the other cash registers ringing—her kids disappeared as I tried to figure out how best to respond to her.
After I paid for my few items, I helped Sophie with her bags and children to her car. We talked a bit about what happened after high school, if I got the chance to go to college, and her failed marriage. She told me that she was fired from her job because her boss considered her ‘unreliable’ for the work. Her youngest got sick often, her ex didn’t help with the kids and only threatens to take them away from her because he thinks she’s an unfit mother. She went on to tell me how she works long hours, just so she can pay the bills and the sitters–and more importantly–so the kids can eat. She told me how hard her life was now, as her youngest daughter looked on at us, focusing on the world surrounding her.
Sophie just took in a deep breath, smiled and said “It’s all just so tiring you know?
I tried to figure out how best to respond. Instead, I could only smile and nod.
Image credit: Herald Sun