T and Sympathy / by Courtney Mehlhaff

I was at Target the other day, just picking up a few odds and ends and hoping I could get out of the store for less than $50.

When I was ready to check out, a cashier in her early 20s waved me over to her lane. As I placed my items on the counter, she asked how I was. I replied that I was fine (because that's what you say, regardless of how you're actually feeling) and then asked how she was doing.

"I've had better days," she said.

It was kind of refreshing to hear a different response, so I asked if it was just feeling like a Monday.

"Not really. My girlfriend just broke up with me."

Oh no, I thought. She really is being honest. And she really does look upset. And the fact that she's sharing this information with a random customer means she's truly having a tough time. It's the kind of scenario that strikes fear in the heart of any introvert, but I was already in too deep.

"That sucks," I said.

"Yeah," she continued, bagging my things in the slowest, saddest way imaginable. "The worst part is that she said being with me made her realize how much she missed her ex. So now they're back together."

That bitch, I thought, but settled for something more innocuous. "Oh, man. That's the worst."


When she handed me the receipt, there were tears in her eyes. I thought about every embarrassing time I've tried not to cry at work and failed. And I heard myself say something kind of hokey but something I've found to be true nonetheless.

"Well, I know it doesn't feel like it now, but that hole in your heart is just making room for someone better."

That prompted a small, sniffly smile.

"Hang in there, okay?"

She nodded, and I took my toothpaste and decongestant and gum and left. I felt a little silly, but maybe I brought her a tiny bit of comfort. Sometimes the transaction isn't over until you've been forced into a rare moment of spontaneous stranger engagement.