The kid and I were both wearing a black t-shirt that afternoon at about 1:36 p.m. CST, when I was gliding down the escalator to the first floor and he was walking up the cement stairs outside. It was twenty days until Christmas and I was feeling the pressure to get some shopping done. I had been totally distracted in the week leading up to that day. I leaned against the escalator railing, gripping my red shopping bag. It had a gift inside for Marcia, my mother-in-law, a glass platter decorated with red poinsettias.
Marcia babysat while I shopped. In the late morning I’d dropped the kids off at her house.
“Is everything OK?” she had asked, because she could tell that it wasn’t. My eyes were puffy with dark circles underneath. I hadn’t spoken to my mom in over a week, since the confrontation with my uncle, and I was depressed. I chose my clothes according to my mood.
That day I wore Chris’ Tool shirt. I never liked the band but it was one of the kid’s favorites. Of course I didn’t know that yet. I loved the shirt because it had a stretched out picture of Jesus with the word “TOOL” plastered across his face. I wore that t-shirt, black yoga pants, combat boots, and a dark coat— puffy with a fuzzy, faux-fur collar.
The kid was wearing a black hoodie which he left unzipped, exposing the black Jack Daniels t-shirt underneath. He wore glasses and his hair was shaggy.
All accounts agree that the kid was depressed that day. He’d been through a breakup, lost his job, owed money to some drug dealers. He described himself as a piece of shit in the note that he left for his friends.
I had parked in the Von Maur parking lot when I’d first arrived at Westroads. I walked up the cement stairs and in through the department store’s south entrance. I passed by the gold, mirrored elevators to my right, then the piano player on my left. I didn’t stop in cosmetics or the juniors department, I walked straight into the mall. At Old Navy I saw a mother shopping with her young daughter. It reminded me of days spent shopping with my mom, back when she was speaking to me.
I circled the mall then returned to Von Maur to finish my shopping before I went back out to my car. I perused the housewares on the third floor where I found the poinsettia platter for Marcia. I paid for the dish but declined free gift wrapping at customer service. Instead I sifted through the sale racks in the children’s department before taking the escalator down to the second, then first floor.
The kid came in through the south entrance. By then I was off of the escalators, passing under the lush, green garland that draped the entryway. I kept my head down as he opened the door that was furthest to his right.
I exited the store while the kid walked twelve steps into Von Maur. But he turned back to the parking lot. Swinging his arms around and fidgeting with the cuffs of his sleeves, he shuffled outside behind me.
I walked down Von Maur’s cement stairs but paused because I couldn’t remember where I had parked my car. The kid passed by me in his Jack Daniel’s t-shirt.
“Excuse me,” I said, because even when I’m sad I’m polite. But the kid didn’t say anything. He walked around me as I gradually remembered where I parked. My shopping bag grazed my leg as I spun around and walked across the parking lot to my car.