Thoughts from the Pingo Doce Checkout Line (For Toni)

Thoughts from the Pingo Doce Checkout Line (For Toni)

March 7, 2022

There’s a long pause.

“Why do you feel like you have to be perfect?”

I have no desire to fill the void between the silence and my fears.

She continues… “And why won’t you try? Because you feel you won’t be good enough?”

“I don’t know what to say,” I reply, licking wet cheeks, tears tangled with shame and embarrassment and terror and anxiety and many other emotions that don’t belong to me and never did.

how does one let go?

Innocent. There she is, seven years old. I miss her dearly. The little girl is carrying a black and white composition journal; smiling, those big teeth, the confident reflection of a kid who has no idea what the world is and has no desire to ask. Her knees are kissed by pavement, scars displaying a childhood racing on bicycles, trees climbed, and the simple joys of finding oneself, handwritten stories in Lisa Frank journals, complete with stickers,  and watermelon Lip Smacker Chapstick.

when does one let go?

Everything I’ve written lately has been heavy. Too heavy to hold; two emotions I know quite well, and too many emotions to hold in these small hands, in this chest. There is not enough room. I’m not sure what this means or where to place it, I’ll tell her. It does not belong in the space of the internet, so I write it in my journal, at the crack of dawn when it’s just me and God.

My writing is unwrapping Christmas gifts on a snowy morning, over hot chocolate and marshmallows. Something is different when I see my reflection; I’ve never met her before.

My body coils and mourns like there is something begging to let go, ancient coping mechanisms that no longer do the trick, old patterns and beliefs that would absolutely love to be rewritten.

If I want to write a love letter, do I have to know love? I don’t know?

Here’s a pen.

It’s something like a smashed Reese Peanut Butter Cup, to crave intimacy and vulnerability. Gentleness. To let someone approach and stay and to not run run run far away or push them far far far away because, it’s what­­– safer? To lean in and say “yes, that happened to me too, you are not alone”– to hold eye contact, to know that you can pick up the phone and call, reach out, because you are never alone in this world.

But I’ve never known safety… until now.

All these things I cling to desperately, things I’ve outgrown. The fear of not knowing if the person you reach for will reach back. The fear of reaching and not feeling a warm embrace, a hand on top of yours. And what’s worse- not knowing if you actually remember how to reach, to ask, “Hi, I would like just a bit of support today, can you please come sit with me near the ocean?” or never feeling that hand on top of yours, a gentle parenting hack, and convincing yourself that there’s no need to ever stretch your hand outward again. Inconsistency is terrifying like monsters under your bed, Goosebumps Choose Your Own Adventure paperbacks, hyper-independence, the dark, and not knowing how to ask for help.

But what does support look like? You ask your loved ones this all the time, but when they ask you, you’re left speechless.

Better to not need it, right? Better to convince yourself that hey, you handled it last time and the time before and the time before that so no worries.

I’d like a script.

Forgotten phrases you must have neglected, for example, “I am having a hard day, can you please bring me dinner?”, “Can you bring over a kind heart and Cookie Dough ice cream?”, “Do you have the space to listen?”, “Can we go on a walk?”

The world feels even more overwhelming. Year 2 of the pandemic you realize that you need more connection, more laughter, more fun. But how? It is difficult to trust that while you cultivated beautiful friendships in your life, that the people around you are there, on days when your hair is mess and you are sitting in the caverns of depression. There are dishes in your sink, unfolded clothing, an apartment that needs to be cleaned, and I want to remind you that you don’t have to do it alone.

won’t you hold my hand?

In the old house with the long driveway, the paint is peeling off of the walls. It holds memories like a museum. I know the landscape, though. I could close my eyes and tell you where the light switch is in each room. After the green room on the left, there’s the pink room, the color you chose, and the handles of the closet door are Golden Retrievers. More grief inside than you can manage, but it feels like home, familiar, harmless to stay a little bit longer, maybe?

“Just five more minutes.”

But divorce feels like growing pains, high watered jeans, Legos cutting into bare feet, unopened wounds bursting open after hitting the sizzling asphalt on a summer day.

Who has the competence to fathom that one minute is equivalent to years in adulthood, that nostalgia and grief wed when you deny its very existence? And wherever you go, there you are.

But, you have to leave the room to feel the sun.

you are safe. you are safe with me.

Please tell the little girl in the pink room with the Golden Retriever closet door handles, that she is older now, wiser, and that she can do it. Shower her with encouragement, affirmations, community, and sweet potato pie.  

Tell her that to dream a new dream and gift her a journal and colored pencils. Tell her it’s time to collect Legos and Lincoln logs and build a new home, a new fort with telephone games, maybe even a treehouse. One with a garden and lemon tree outside, brightly painted walls, a comfortable place to lay her head and place her clothing in the closets.

Where she feels safe and secure.

you are safe. you are safe with me.

Tell her that it’s okay to be held closely, to have beautiful opportunities to heal within community, to laugh with a close friend every Wednesday afternoon. That yes, it is perfectly OK, to watch the sunset with a lover, to pay attention when mirrors are placed directly in front of you, over red wine and red lipstick.

I would like to take the old mirror down from the wall and smash it into dust, but that is unforgiving. Did it not give me what I needed at the time? I remind myself that like pigeons, mirrors need love too. Thank it. Say cheerio if you will.

Tell her that she will meet people who will change her life. Over olives and bread, dogs at our feet, he will tell you that life must be lived with abundance instead of lack.

Truth or dare?

To find your way back home, you must dream a new dream.

She’d say– “Would you please tell my heart to evict me? I’d love to see the new appliances, the new life you built,” she’d say, “The new skyline, the soft heart, with the new pieces of you.”

Do you dare?

When you look into those brown eyes, you discover galaxies, new planets, a habit to consider the full moon as a calendar and a way to follow your heart.

And with those little brown eyes sparking back at me, a younger me, she puts her lips together and asks, “Well… what do you do when there are new planets growing in your chest? When you don’t have a name for them yet? When you don’t know how to accept help- to say- yes, please I need help moving into my new apartment even though it’s on the same street- yes, yes, please, yes, this transition is a bit more difficult than I thought.”

won’t you hold my hand?

I will tell her to reach, again, try again, try again, and again and again. Certain skills need to be learned and I heard it gets easier. Since you truly desire deeper relationships, you have to be vulnerable. And to be in community, you have to show up.

please come as you are.

And somewhere, in the deepest parts of you, while waiting in the supermarket checkout line, with sand in your shoes and sweaty palms, you will find it in your heart to ask, how does one let go and will you hold my hand while I figure this out?

I think we are all scared of vulnerability, of intimacy. Of someone seeing us right up close with a magnifying glass and saying oh shit, look at these little pieces, these little smithereens right here, these little pieces that were so beautiful from afar, presented as so whole and clear and resolved, that are now so chaotic, so messy, so… oh my goodness what the fuck is this?

Is it the human experience? But how do you dream a new dream when you don’t know how? When no one taught you because they didn’t learn either? There is the grief of time, pain felt that you wished you learned from books, of a protector that you are yearning to drop… but the embarrassment of not knowing how is overwhelming. What is there to do when there is no roadmap of the new life you demand? The life you taste on your tongue that is sweeter than pasteles de nata on a sunny morning, but you are scared, so scared.

After cycling class and brunch with numerous coffees and bacon, my friend tells me to choose a big life, the life where I do not have to hide.

Imagine that.

When I get home that afternoon to my love my sunlight my joy, I watch the little girl, with her little hands, write the following–

“I want a world where I can hold grief and grace and know that it’s okay that I don’t know how to reach, but to remember that I can learn. To remember that my best is more than good enough, that my worth and value lie in my hands only, and I must move through the world as such. It is never too late to change, grow, release old patterns, make new decisions, create a new story, a fairytale that breathes life on not only me, but on the next generation. And while I was conditioned to think and care for everyone but myself, I can relearn that my needs are just as important.

A world where healing is possible, right now, over um galão and sunlight, where I am vulnerable, and soft, and tender, and sweet.

I want a world where I am the softest version of myself, where the years and walls of conditioned, societal hardness tumble around me, and I feel gentle in the most abundant way. I dare to turn my apartment into a garden, where I am learning, and being soft with myself as I go. The sun loves my skin and I will let it take care of me.”

But, you have to go outside to feel the sun on your skin.

won’t you hold my hand?

you are safe. you are safe with me.

There are so many mirrors. And I realize, that I intentionally positioned the mirrors in my home, with steadiness and control, but how do I grow if I never invite anyone inside?

And so, I leave you with this–

“Why is it that you dared to go all the way out and say, storytelling, myth, belief in magic, these are also important?” He asks the young woman at the table, afro abundant, and dreamlike.

“Well it’s truth and it’s not fact, I know but it is truth, and that’s where truth lies, in our myths, in our songs, that’s where the seeds are. It’s not possible to constantly hone on the crisis. You have to have the love, and you have to have the magic, that’s also life, and I regard it even though it may sound as though I’m dealing in fantasy. I don’t think so, I find it all terribly realistic because I regard my responsibilities as a Black writer, as someone who must bare witness…”

She lingers– “Someone must record the way it used to be. The way it ought to be, I leave to the sociologists. But I want to make sure that a little piece of the world that I knew, a little piece that I knew doesn’t get forgotten.”

for Toni and my little one, beloved.


Toni Morrison Interview (1977)


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