Who knew that going to Whole Foods with my wife of twenty-five years, on a rainy Saturday afternoon in Florida, would bring me back to the summer of ’87 on Long Island? It happened right there in the bulk section among the garbanzos and Forbidden Rice. Yep, Forbidden Rice, which kind of made sense considering the direction of my thoughts at that moment.
There she was—the catalyst for my memory. I hadn’t thought about her in years, but there she stood. It was her honey-colored hair that first caught my attention. I couldn’t help but do a double take and stared for a moment . . . at her hair, amongst other things. But mostly her hair. Her wavy, golden locks fell just past her shoulders. A carbon copy. It was uncanny.
She wore a pair of blue shorts, white Keds, a white t-shirt, and a beige cardigan sweater. Her legs were sun-kissed and athletically toned too. From ten yards, away, I could feel the glow of the sun radiating off her body, through her clothing, even on this rainy day. And her body language was just so similar, her movements, the way she carried herself.
The only thing missing from the scenario was a piece of fruit that she would hold up to her nose for a whiff of the yummy freshness (more on that later). My wife and I hit the dairy section next, stocking up on yogurt for a couple of weeks. After that, we made our way through the middle sections of the store. My mind continued to wander as we meandered, and . . .
Man, there she is again, down the ethnic food aisle. Damn, is she following me? I’m old enough to be her father . . . er, really cool uncle.What did she just pick up? Why is she furrowing her brow? What gluten-free, locally grown ethnic food from the exotic land of Or-land-o has her stumped?
I wonder what she smells like. Is that too creepy? Yeah, it’s too creepy.But still, I wonder if she smells like rain. After all, it is raining. Why is she shopping here today? Surely she has better things to do on this rainy summer afternoon in Florida.
Let’s just avoid that aisle, shall we?
I manipulated the shopping cart, and my wife, to keep moving to the next aisle, feigning interest in an item, any item really, stocked there. Ah, pasta sauces. It was an aisle full of non-ethnic pasta, sauces, soups, and other canned goods, including Italian food and spices. I guess Italian is not ethnic. Who knew? As we walked up the aisle, the blonde came down from the other side.
Shit, did our eyes just meet? Did she just look at me?Am I sparking some distant memory for her too? Did she just smile at me? Focus, man. Focus. You’re here for pasta, not for the blonde. You’re married, for Christ’s sake!
My wife placed a jar of spaghetti sauce in the cart and then flipped around to the other side of the aisle to examine the latest in pasta design: the hollow spaghetti noodle.
She held up the box and asked, “Should we try it? It’s gluten-free, and no GMO.”
“Sure, why not? Let’s throw caution to the wind,” I teased.
Throwing the box in the cart, my wife snorted at my wit, which made me snort too. Then I held my breath because . . .
Man, she’s right here, practically in my lap. Okay, not that close, but across the aisle, looking at the sauces. Wow, I can smell her from here. She smells like, I don’t know, the sunshine, the beach . . . and sex? Is “sex” even a scent? Do they bottle that scent?
“Hey, babe,” my wife said, touching my arm as she scanned the shelves for other meal possibilities. “Why don’t you go pick out a bottle of wine to go with dinner?”
Jolted out of my aromatherapy moment, I nodded. “Sure thing. I’ll go see what they have.”
“I plan on putting center cuts in with the sauce, so pick out something nice, okay?”
“Yep, sure thing. Center cuts in the sauce over hollow spaghetti and get something nice. Got it.”
I hurried off, maybe a little too quickly, but I was seriously needing a breather. I homed in on the vino aisle and tried to focus on my task. I found a nice cab-merlot blend. Blackberry flavor profile, grown by some guy named Javier on his family-owned vineyard in Napa. Good for Javier. Living the American Dream. Pleased with my selection, I headed down the aisle to find my wife, and oh . . .
There she is again at the premade salad section. I swear she’s following me.
I tried my damnedest to be cool and nonchalant, which I was sure I was. Well, fairly sure anyway. But crazy thoughts kept shooting randomly through my head.
She looks like a tennis player, but she’s not built like Serena or Venus. She’s more like Anna Kournikova or Caroline Wozniacki. I bet she plays tennis, and I bet she’s good too. She’s probably real competitive and hates losing, but does so with grace. She probably bounces on the balls of her feet, going back and forth while waiting for the serve.
Just keep walking, champ.
“Did you pick a good one?” Ah, the wife.
I held up the bottle and smiled. “Hmm, oh yeah, I think you’ll like it.”
She took it and read the label, nodding. “Looks like a great choice,” she said as she read.
Her eyes were on the bottle but mine . . . well, mine had wandered again. To the gluten-free baked goods section. Where my blond doppelganger was selecting a loaf of Italian bread.
I wonder if she’s having pasta for dinner too. No, I picture her more of a free-range salmon and wild rice kind of girl, with a sprig of rosemary. She’ll probably serve it with a glass of chardonnay, mirroring her wavy, golden hair, and skin tone.
I bet for dessert she’ll serve a mix of fresh berries topped with real whipped cream. She and her young lover will have dessert outside next to a fire pit, even though it’s summertime. The fire pit will crackle and pop, while various berries burst in her perfect mouth. They’ll sit there staring into each other’s eyes, smiling and sipping wine as the fire crackles in the background.
My wife and I were now at the checkout line. I didn’t remember moving in that direction.
“That’ll be $114.73,” the cashier said, and my wife stepped aside so I could run the card.
“What the hell did we buy?” I said to my wife under my breath. “We just came for yogurt and some people-watching, to get out of the rain.”
“And that’s what we did,” she said, popping my shoulder playfully. “And then some.”
Boy, she can say that again.
As I lay in bed, the clock helpfully pointing out it was way too early for anyone to be awake at 4:17 a.m., I realized my recurring shoulder pain and my evil, aging bladder were not going to let me return to dreamland anytime soon.
I flipped on the bathroom light and got down to business. As I washed my hands and popped a few Advil, I got to thinking about my grocery store adventure . . .
I wonder if that blonde is getting any sleep. I bet she is. She probably has some dog curled up against her too. She probably has one arm under her pillow, while the other rests at her side, as she’s curled in the fetal position. When she rolls over, I bet her wavy, blond hair slightly covers her face. You can still make out her nose and mouth, but her hair is partially blocking her blond eyebrows and blue eyes. I bet when she rolls over and wakes up, her smile lights up the room as she stretches her gorgeous body.
Almost thirty years ago, she lit up my world when she smiled at me—my blonde, not the one from Whole Foods. There she had stood, shopping for some fresh fruit at a local market. That was where it all started, back in the summer of 1987.