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Smitten with a Stranger

By , Wauwatosa, WI
Everyone feels attraction towards someone else in their lifetime. It’s virtually impossible not to. But have you ever felt something strongly for someone you didn’t know? Someone that didn’t match the qualifications that you usually have? Someone who hadn’t done anything particularly astounded to capture your attention? I have, and honestly, it’s extremely unsettling yet at the same time exciting.

To start, I recently began working at a grocery store as a utility clerk – bagging people’s groceries, bringing things back to the shelves, cleaning up spills, stuff like that. It is easy and boring. The hours very often times tedious, but they are always speckled with interesting customers and in this case, a male employee who caught my eye. It was probably my third day when I first met him.

I was doing something called “shop-back” which included hauling a cart-load of items that people had decided back at the register they didn’t want back to the shelves. Unfortunately, even though I had gone with my parents to that grocery store since I was little, my expertise to the location of goods were limited to where each major department was (produce, deli, bakery, etc) as well as certain things including chips, soda, pizza, & toilet paper. My cart was filled with odds and ends – teriyaki sauce, canning supplies, organic dips, mini notebooks, specialty beers, and even condoms. I had no idea where any of the stuff went and even with a store directory, I was hopelessly wandering up and down the aisles and occasionally stumbling upon the item I was looking for.

Suddenly, a face popped into my aisle and said something to me. I looked up and saw a guy with a clean-cut typical guy haircut, the shade of brown slightly duller than mine. His eyes weren’t particularly exciting, just brown and normal-looking. The same went for his face, save a very small beard covering the front of his chin. His body was around three inches taller than mine and didn’t display any signs that he was an athlete by any means.
“What?” I replied, not hearing what he had said.
“Are you shop-back?” he asked. You see, that’s what he said, however I heard shop-vac and thus thought he was talking about the vacuum cleaner (what an idiot I am).
“Um…no.” I said hesitantly, wondering why he’d ask such a thing. His face crinkled into confusion and he pointed towards my cart and said again with a puzzled voiced a bit quieter,

“Shop…back…?” In second things became embarrassingly clear.

“Oh! Yeah! I’m sorry; I thought you said something else.” I replied, my face flushing pink as I rolled my cart over to him. He cracked a small and somewhat relieved smile saying,

“That’s ok. I was wondering if you could take this stuff,” he pointed to a cart next to him with a few perishable items. “I have to go clean up a spill.”

“Sure, no problem.” I replied, fumbling awkwardly as I helped him take the items out of his cart to put them into mine – still embarrassed at showing yet another coworker that I had no idea what the heck was going on in this establishment.

“How’s it going so far?” he asked as he unloaded the last few items, obviously referring to the fact that I was new.

“Um, it’s good. I just, don’t really know where any of this goes.” I admitted, forcing out a weak laugh at the end. He smiled back at me and then crinkled his brow a bit and said,

“Well, if you need help I can come take care of this after I clean up the spill.” I couldn’t place the look on his face; it was as if he was concerned for my well-being. That was a new expression coming from the employees at my new work.

“Ok, thank you.” was all I managed to say before he nodded his head and went off to clean up whatever fluid was on the ground. Watching him leave, I compartmentalized him in the “good” category of my mental list of employees. Another feeling came over me but only for no more than half of a second. He cared. He cared about me. But it was gone in a second because reality told me he was only doing his job and he probably thought I was an idiot anyway so who cares? I continued on to my long aisle searching.

The next few days, I saw him several times at work. For some weird reason, I was very intrigued by him. I found myself wanting to know his name, how old he was, his favorite color – I suppose I had started to care about him, but in a different way. The way when you meet a stranger and feel compassion towards them, I can’t really explain it. Not only that, but there was an occasion or two when instead of his usually duty of bringing up carts, he was bagging…next to me. I felt a combination of extreme nervousness, the kind you get when you desperately want someone to like you, mixed with the intense urge to turn to him and talk to him for the rest of my shift.

You see, this is the extremely weird thing. I don’t know this guy at all. All I could find out was that his name was Daniel. That was it. I have not the faintest clue to whether he was 17 or 28. For all I know, he could be gay or have a warrant out for his arrest. We had one conversation which was barely a conversation and I wasn’t even sure if he knew my name. He hadn’t shown particular interest in me, so there was no reason I should show any in him. And besides that, he didn’t fit ANY of the usual qualities I looked for in a guy. Typically, (not always, but usually) I was into tall guys who had some sort of defining feature that topped them off like a cherry on the sundae. The last guy I had liked had a killer jaw line. The one before that had the body of a seasoned track athlete. I liked brown hair, but dark brown hair. It made them seem…mysterious. And another thing was that the guys I had liked had always shown interest in me first.

And it isn’t just guys that made this whole situation bogus, it was myself. I am not like most girls, I don’t crush on people easily. I don’t blabber on about the hot guy in chem. for hours, or ask my summer fling to homecoming. Me? I’m for the most part introverted. I’m extremely careful with relationships of any kind and never EVER let myself like anyone before I know that they like me. So it’s very unlike my own personality to suddenly be smitten by a near-stranger.

To continue on, these small feelings lingering on the outside of my mind were sealed when I found myself outside in the sweltering August heat and humidity one day at work. It was a Thursday I believe, and the temperature was near 90 degrees and the air was thick with saturation. Since I was one of the only utility clerks on duty, I had to do the rare task of going outside and bringing in carts for roughly an hour. Let me tell you, it is an extreme understatement to say that this task was utterly unbearable. Our work uniform consists of black pants, closed-toe shoes, a white polo with sleeves, and a long heavy black apron. Inside, it’s comfortable. Outside in the weather that was there that day, sweltering hot.

I found out that steering these bulky metal baskets on wheels is harder than I thought. In an attempt to avoid hitting cars as well as get as many seconds inside the partially air-conditioned front lobby where the carts go, I only took around four up at a time. After approximately 30 seconds I was sweating profusely. The heat weakened my entire body and made my limbs feel limp and useless. My lungs felt thick with the New Orleans-like air sucked in with every breath. My feet were already hurting after bagging for three hours straight, and now they complained with every step I took and burned with heat as the black asphalt was even hotter than the air. I was in a sort of hell I suppose. It was awful. I thought about him at one point, as well as a few other cart guys I could remember. How noble they were, how brave and enduring and crazy to take on this heat every day at work. (If it isn’t clear now, I must tell you that at my work they typically make the guy utility clerks do the carts instead of the girls because it’s a more physically-engaging job).

By the last fifteen minutes of my time outside, I found myself praying for mercy. Trudging my legs to the building, shoving the carts in the rows, trudging back outside. I felt like I could collapse at any moment. I had just brought up a load of carts and pushed it into a row. I slowly turned around, cursing the fact that I had to walk back outside, when I saw Daniel. He was coming up from his car, 10 minutes before his shift started in his black pants and white shirt, his apron tucked underneath his arm. He looked fresh, unlike me who was sweaty and disoriented from being outside for so long. He had a smile on his face as he looked at me and probably the most amazing and astonishing thing about what I saw, was that he was bringing up a cart. Daniel, who hadn’t even punched in to work and would have to do what I was doing for HOURS, had brought up a cart with a smile on his face. I couldn’t help but smile back.

“They’re making you do carts today?” he asked, still smiling.

“Yeah, it sucks.” I replied. I wanted to stay and talk to him but I started walking towards the doors after remembering that he’ll probably think I’m disgusting if he stares at me too long, with my super sweaty brow and glistening nose. As I was leaving he said,

“Don’t worry; I’ll be able to save you in ten minutes when I start my shift.” My heart flew off in a beating frenzy. Thank the Lord I was already beet red, he couldn’t see me blush. Why I was blushing, again, that confuses me. All I could muster was a chuckle as I left the building. Meanwhile, I felt like I was flying. It was as if my entire being was soaring with joy not primarily because in ten minutes I’d be done, but because Daniel was here! In ten minutes, Daniel would come and save me from this horrible thing I’ve been through, Daniel was going to make it all better. My feet were light and my mood was lifted, I grabbed chains of carts and pushed them like they weighed nothing. I ignored the heat for the first time and dwelled on the fact that he was here, that he talked to me, that he cared.

I’ll stop again with my story because I didn’t understand it then and don’t now. Why was I so ecstatic? So overwhelmed with feeling for this guy? Why did the sight of his face, the sound of his voice, the feeling of his eyes looking at mine give me so much pleasure? He wasn’t very attractive. At most he had a nice smile. He wasn’t spectacular. I didn’t know anything about him. All he did for me was offered me help and assistance. At a grocery store for goodness sakes, not life. What is it about him?

Anyways, when 6:00 did finally role around and I was a few feet away from the doors with four carts, Daniel came out of the sliding doors and again – with a smile on his face – exclaimed,

“I’m here to save you!” I did a little fist pump and happily said,

“Yesss!” smiling back at him as I brought in the carts. Before I left the lobby, I passed him and told him,

“Thanks have fun.” Not turning back to see if he had heard me. For once, my desire for the cool atmosphere of the grocery and the need to change out of my sweaty uniform and go home overcame my inner urge to talk to him more. I cleaned up pretty well, my body returning back to normal as I punched out, grabbed my stuff from the employee break room, and changed into shorts and a t-shirt in the bathroom. I looked very different with short light-wash jean shorts and a tight, flattering blue tank top on and flip flops. My bag with uniform was slung across my body messenger style as I walked past the cashiers towards the door. I saw him coming into the lobby as I entered. I felt energized, and nervous. I used my peripherals at first and discreetly watched as he looked up and saw me, recognized me, and in a puzzled way took in my new attire. It was odd, actually. When he saw me he looked almost surprised, not necessarily in a good or bad way. It was neutral. I smiled and him and said goodbye and he mumbled a goodbye back as he was pushing in a load of carts.

I guess I would’ve liked a better goodbye. Part of me wished he would’ve looked at me in the way that some guys do, with that dang, she’s got something going on look that I get sometimes. I wished he would’ve blushed seeing so much skin, or saw me and stopped to talk. All I got was goodbye. But even so, the fact that he was there, the fact that I walked past him and he saw me and we acknowledged each other was so overwhelmingly wonderful in itself that I was ok. I don’t understand why, but that’s what I felt. Today I felt that again.

I was assigned to do “The List”. This included getting a large plastic bin on wheels that I carted around and picked up all the trash in. He was bringing up carts today and I found that I had to start outside. I had never done the list before, and thus didn’t really know what to expect. I was too distracted by the fact that as I approached the front doors, Daniel was too with a load of eight or ten carts. I didn’t even notice that large garbage can outside next to one of the poles. But guess who did?

“I can help you with that one.” He said, pushing in his carts and motioning towards that garbage can that I had obliviously ignored. I looked at it and dumbly said,

“Ok, thanks.” He walked over and all of my senses sharpened, my heart nearly stopped beating, and I felt like a million butterflies had been released in my stomach. I had never been this close to him, as I stood next to the trash can; his arm was less than a foot away from mine. I had to puncture through my dizzying thoughts and focus on what he was saying.

“Have you done the list yet?” he asked.

“No, I haven’t.” I replied.

“Oh, ok. Well, it’s pretty simple. You know what to do right?”

“Yeah, Jan told me all about it.”

“Ok. This one’s kind of hard though because it’s heavy and weird.”

“Ok”

“First you dump this thing out inside like this, and then you take the cover off and grab the plastic off each of the corners like this. I don’t know why they make you put the plastic on the corners, it doesn’t really make sense. And I guess you know the rest.” As he explained, he pulled the bag out and I stood watching, wondering how heavy it was and trying not to dwell on the fact that he was lifting it for me. I grabbed another plastic bag and started to put it in the garbage. Of course, this story wouldn’t be complete without a wonderful mistake from me and that’s exactly what happened. I neglected to put the bag’s plastic on the four corners he had specifically told me to use. He stopped me and said,

“Hold on, put them on these corners,”

“Oh, ok I see”

“I know, it’s weird, I don’t know why they have those” he said. I chuckled,

“Yeah, it is weird.” I finished, and put the top back on the can. There was a second where we both just stood there and then I said,

“Well, thank you for helping.”

“Oh, you’re welcome.” He replied walking back to his carts. He smiled. “Have fun doing the list.”

“I will.” I said, as I walked into the building to begin. That moment made my day. That whole interaction with him, despite a slight awkwardness, made my day. I saw him only a few times later on that day and was only given a brief look of him when I left. He was about 100 feet away bringing up a long row of carts as I left, my phone in one hand and my car keys swinging in the other. I’d like to hope that he watched me as I left, I know he saw me. The entire time I walked to my car I fought the urge to turn and call out his name. Tell him that I thought he was absolutely wonderful and kind and I think that I was in love with him.

Please know that I am exaggerating a tad. I don’t love Daniel. All I know is that he makes me feel something, something in my stomach and my heart and every pore of my skin at the same time. I don’t know how or why I feel this way. It makes absolutely zero sense. Sure, he’s nice and polite. But 70% of all the people I ever meet are typically nice and polite. I just don’t get it. I don’t understand how I could ever feel this much for someone in such a short period of time with so little reason.

I’ve thought through the options about this, and found that it’s quite simple. At first I thought about repressing these feelings, but then realized, why? What do I have to lose? It’s weird yeah, but hey it’s not like my love life it blossoming – or even sprouting – anywhere else so I might as well try. And another thing. If my body is so tuned and focused and wildly reactive to this person without me even telling it to, shouldn’t that mean something? Is that some form of chemistry maybe? The parts of me that I can’t control obviously know something that I don’t know. I intend to find out what it is.





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