An Encounter in the Checkout Line

This woman was the last person she wanted to see at a time like this.

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Woman pushing a shopping cart.

I cried most of the seven-hour drive home from the long-term adolescent addiction treatment center where I’d dropped off my 15-year-old son, David. Leaving him was the hardest thing I’d ever had to do.

Back in town, I stopped at the grocery store to pick up something for dinner. I wiped away my tears and put on my bravest face. I hope I don’t run into someone I know, I thought miserably. I didn’t want to speak to anyone. Who would understand what I was going through anyway?

The store was nearly deserted. I grabbed a few items from the shelves, threw them into my cart and quickly headed for the checkout line. Then I heard someone call my name. “Kathy!”

It was an acquaintance of mine, a woman who always seemed to have everything together. The last person I needed to see. “It’s nice to run into you,” she said. “How are you?”

“Fine,” I said, fighting back my tears. “It’s nice to see you too. Sorry, but I’ve got to go.” I put my head down and hurried to the checkout. She’s the perfect mom with perfect kids, I thought. I wish I had her life...

I slept poorly that night. The next morning, I groggily poured my coffee, wondering how I would get through the day. The phone rang. I checked the caller ID. It was the woman I’d run into at the grocery store. She must have noticed something was wrong.

I took a deep breath and picked up the phone, trying to sound cheerful. “Hello?”

“Kathy,” she said, “I know where your son is.”

My heart sank. The town grapevine must be alive and well, I thought.

“I got a call from my son last night,” she said. “He met David yesterday. You see…he’s there too.” She told me that she had been afraid no one else would understand what she was going through. Then she found out from her son why I’d looked so upset in the grocery store, and she knew she wasn’t alone.

We talked for almost an hour that morning, and talked every step of the way, getting through our sons’ recovery together. All because on what was the hardest day of my life, I ran into just the person I needed to see.

This story first appeared in the September 2010 issue of Guideposts magazine.

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