The Belle of Blowing Rock: “A Ghost In Walmart”

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A Blowing Rock News Special Feature. June 12, 2017. BLOWING ROCK, NC — A ghost can sometimes be in physical form. I think we all have at least one ghost–a person from our past that, if seen, accelerates our every emotion from zero to sixty in one heartbeat.

Last week, on the quick 10-minute drive from Blowing Rock to Boone, I could tell from afar that the message on my favorite church marquee had changed. I slowed the car in preparation for the newly erected message. As I slightly veered out of my lane, I laughed out loud as I read, “Walmart Isn’t The Only Saving Place.”

A trip to Walmart is one I try to avoid or at least delay as much as possible. Ironically, I was on my way to Walmart on this day.

I was excited to avoid the crowds and eager to get a coveted parking spot. No such luck.

One reason for my Walmart aversion is that in the mid-nineties, I was a sales rep for several gift product lines out of NYC. I sold an array of tchotchkes (inexpensive souvenirs, trinkets or ornaments) to large and small gift shops all over the Southeast. After two years in my position, the orders grew smaller and my heart grew heavier as once chipper discussions began to revolve around the ominous “Big W” coming to this town or that.

I remained positive, claiming it would never happen, but, inevitably, it did. I ended up losing accounts, familiar faces, working relationships, and then, eventually, my job. Walmart has always reminded me of the sweet smiles of those once small-town shop owners and the hardships they endured.

That night, I arrived at Walmart around 7:30 pm, excited to avoid the crowds and eager to get a coveted parking spot. No such luck. Everyone in the High Country was there — reason #2 that I avoid Walmart.

After finding an unlucky parking spot, I forged ahead into the store, fiercely focusing on my list, just to ensure that everyone knew I was serious and had no time for small talk. It never fails (makeup or not), I always see at least two people I know (reason #3).

My list was long because there is only a certain amount of time one can go without deodorant and laundry detergent. As I stood in the toothpaste aisle asking the important question; “Plaque control or spend the extra buck for the ultra-whitening (in the sparkling red box),” I felt someone entering my “zone.”  The sound of their flip flops dragging on the linoleum irritated me quickly.

I glanced over my shoulder to see a man approaching–rough to his core. I glanced down at his feet; soot covered, and noticed his toenails, a few months shy of a trim. I moved back to his face again; he was familiar.

I compared his horoscope to mine — praying that the stars would match us.

I blankly stared back at the wall of toothpaste. There, in the dental hygiene aisle at Walmart stood my “ghost,” Mike Scott. “Mike Scott!” my mind yelled. I was certain that everyone heard.

From 10th grade to 12th grade, two of the most critical years of my young, not-quite-adult life, I put every ounce of my energy into Mike Scott’s existence. I memorized his middle name, his senior class schedule, and compared his horoscope sign to mine — praying that the stars would match us.

In high school, I would prance by him and his friends in front of the smokers’ area, desperately trying to catch his eye as he pulled long and hard on his Marlboro Red.

He never turned his head.

Back then, he had thick, straight black hair and would swing his head in a way that his hair would perfectly feather. Now, 33 years later, his thick black mane was sparse and half gray, his face sunken and scarred. He looked distracted and “altered” in such a way that was more than just the years. Drugs, perhaps?

I Googled his name years ago and read a long list of charges against him from the Watauga County Sheriff’s Department. I thought how strange it was that we ended up in the same county, 300 miles away from our high school. Apparently, he continued to play the role of a “bad boy” and until that moment, I never thought of him.

This was it: the moment that every insecure, rejected high school girl dreams about.

I grabbed a box of toothpaste and pretended to read the blur of the print, trying to organize the blur of my thoughts. I wanted to call every high school girlfriend I ever had, but I stood, paralyzed by his memory.

This was it; the moment that every insecure, rejected high school girl dreams about. The moment that I could approach him, stand tall and pretty, and give him a degrading once-over glare, showing him that now I was fabulous and worthy. My reaction betrayed me. He must’ve felt my eyes on him because he glanced back at me with a furrowed brow, and for a split second, I thought he recognized me.

I moved quickly to the next aisle, full of shiny items and colorful stacked boxes. He followed me. I darted into the next aisle and then to the next, and to the next. Smiley-faced signs and racks upon racks of tchotchkes became my disguise. I peered around the corner of the Easter holiday aisle, on a covert mission to disappear. I watched him walk out of the store. I deserted my cart and followed, watching him pull out of the lot in an old beat up truck with an offensively loud muffler. I could breathe, almost normal. I walked back into the store, grabbed my cart and headed back to the dental hygiene aisle realizing that among the chatter, the hustle  and bustle, the bright, in your face commercialism that is Walmart, I felt safe.

I know that God has a plan for each of us. That night, driving home through a wave of nostalgia, I thanked God that Mike Scott was not in my plan, then or now.

I passed the lighted marquee of Middle Fork Baptist Church that preached, “Walmart Isn’t The Only Saving Place” — and smiled, broadly.

The disdain I once harbored for Walmart had now vanished. For on that cold, wet and foggy night, truly, Walmart was my saving place… Amen.

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