One of the true oddities of living in a small town is watching strangers grow up or grow old. Eleven years ago she was a sixteen or seventeen year old girl with an attitude problem and a cute body. I had only lived here a couple of months before I learned to avoid her line when she was running a cash register because she was easily distracted and she was slow. One time she stopped work to look at another customer’s baby photos and I said something to her about it. Terse words were exchanged and I stopped going to that store, the only grocery store in town, for a couple of months.
It was an odd thing seeing her pregnant, first because very young women who are pregnant always look a little out of place, and two, she seemed genuinely freaked out about it. Young, pregnant, and in a small South Georgian town means a woman has topped out as far as a career goes. Less than a year later she was pregnant again, but this time she had already begun to look less like a girl and more like a working drudge. The attitude went the way of the skinny jeans and low cut tops. Bad nutrition and minimum wage combined to ravage a body already burdened by childbirth. From someone who wore a “Miss Hotness” tee shirt to work to someone who wore stains from a burping baby, this girl found that space in time is a very short one.
Miss Hotness brought the babies to work to show them off, as well she should have, too. Babies are adorable no matter the economics, but like cute puppies or cute kittens they grow up. I’ve watched these kids go from infants being held to toddlers being underfoot to full grown kids who seem to shuffle around like diminutive zombies.
The son, who is the oldest, seems to devoid of expression most of the time. The last time I saw him he meandered into the store and stood behind his mother, speaking to her without any regard whatsoever to the customers. She had to stop long enough to shoo him away, but he stood a couple of feet away, waiting… I’ve never seen this kid dressed in anything but rags. I know they’re poor but to feign homelessness isn’t a fashion statement. His sister, the younger sibling, and she dresses better, but then again that isn’t a very high bar. At seven or eight she’s a full blown prosti-tot, wearing skin tight clothing and pierced earrings that are the size of golf balls. She’s a clone of her mother, with the same face and eyes, and it’s hard to believe she might have a child of her own in a few years. Neither kid has ever spoken to me or acknowledged my existence or the existence of any other customer as far as I can tell. We’re all just background noise to those children. We are there but not there. We’re not of their world at all and we get in the way of whatever they are trying to get done, slowly as they’re doing it.
I have these thoughts as I am leaving the store, with the dressed down son and the dressed up daughter standing idly behind their mother, who is trying to do the same job she had when they were conceived. I have no idea why they are there, but I have seen them walking down the road, a tiresome threesome, each walking more slowly than the next, going nowhere at all with no haste, and why should they? This is not their world. Theirs is a world of long lines and little hope, of big dreams and little rest, and of a certain past and a dead end future.
Tsk! Tsk! I say, and I wonder why they never noticed there are much more successful people right in front of them, and those people are moving at a pace that…
It does occur to me at that point I have seen these three, together or alone, walking down the road, and not once have I ever offered any of them a ride. I’ve known this woman for over a decade and I don’t know her last name. I don’t know the names of the kids. I’m as oblivious to their lives as they are to mine. They must see me as someone who whizzes by without any regard to how hot, or how cold, or how hungry they might be. They must view the world of steady income and working transportation with more than a little envy as well as some sort of question as to how this is done and what sort of people do it. Is the price paid for this a disregard to those in need?
I have never considered this before.
It’s not that I have a commission to step in and offer these people anything at all, but at the same time, if I am to sit here and wonder aloud why they are stuck in their plight might it now be asked of me what I have done to make things better?
There was this time a couple of years ago I watched Miss Hotness scanning items over the register, adding some items, subtracting others, and what she was doing was trying to get the total amount close to what she had. But what she was guying was pure junk; high sugar cereal, candy, sugar laced fruit drinks, and not a single thing was worth eating. I remember nearly asking her to toss that stuff aside and I would buy her family some veggies and something with some nutritional value to it. But I wondered if she would have any idea what the hell I was doing or why?
Will I stay here long enough to see a third generation of young girls wearing tight clothes make it all the way to their Freshman years in High School before becoming drop out minimum wage mom? Will I do anything to stop this?