You don’t expect a life altering moment to happen at the grocery store.
You expect to buy some honey roasted almonds, maybe, and some lettuce and goat cheese for a salad you’ll be bringing later for dinner with friends. You expect to sigh a little as the prices pile higher and higher at the self-checkout stand — when did grapes become more expensive than a bottle of wine? You expect the fluorescent lights and the elevator music and the Fancy Feast on sale for 66 cents.
What you don’t expect, when you visit the grocery store on a rainy Saturday afternoon in June, is that something might happen in the parking lot, something that will seize your heart and shatter your spirit and leave you sobbing and clinging and waiting for the ambulance to arrive. You never expect life altering moments to arrive when they do, and when they happen you are woefully unprepared, shocked to discover this is happening to you.
I don’t know you, and I don’t know that I will ever see you again, but I wanted to try to let you know somehow that your unscripted humanity impacted me in a way I don’t know that I’ll be able to articulate.
I’m not sure if you saw exactly what happened. Did you see me leaning in to touch my nose to my baby’s nose? He was cooing and smiling, you see, and it was our first shopping trip that hadn’t ended it tears. I was proud and surging with love for this tiny baby that I never thought I’d have.
We weren’t minding the rain: This is Vancouver and we pay for the majesty of our mountains and the blue of our ocean with inconvenient droplets at times. It’s a small price.
My Jeep was only a few steps away when the cart hit the yellow speed bump, and you may be able to relay the next moments better than I.
I remember this, and it’s all in slow motion: The car seat sliding from the cart, sickeningly. I remember a woman’s bloodcurdling scream, the green dots of the car seat fabric spinning, about to hit the pavement. I remember my legs, not fast enough, my lunge to retrieve him, weak and trapped in slow motion and I remember a tormented howl that let loose from my throat and hurt my ears.
That is my baby in that car seat, upside down on the pavement. That is my baby, my baby, my baby.
I couldn’t do anything after that. My legs were yogurt and I could think of nothing but black and my baby’s head, suddenly underneath my chin, warm and tear soaked and I was shaking so hard my teeth knocked into each other.
I remember your face and your eyes as people clustered around me.
Oh my god, the baby.
How old is the baby, what happened, oh my god he fell hard.
He was screaming, alarmingly loudly and I remember you saying that’s good, the cry is good, it’s OK. Your hand was on my back as people asked me questions and relayed their stories. A man in a grey jacket tried to prevent a car from leaving the lot, mistakenly assuming the driver was involved with this scene. A woman with weary eyes touched my arm and said, this happened to my baby too. It’s OK. He will be OK.
You escorted me to the building, out of the rain. You retrieved my purse from the middle of the parking lot where I’d left it with the contents spilling out. You found my keys and worked with bystanders to call 911 and load up my car with groceries. I stood there under the Safeway awning and I cried because I exist to protect my baby from the world and I didn’t, I failed completely and so he is hurt, so badly. I experienced a simultaneous shame and desperate love for my baby and when you asked, I couldn’t even remember my husband’s phone number.
You retrieved my iPhone from the shrapnel of my purse and that’s no easy feat. There are energy bar wrappers in there and socks and loonies covered with mysterious food particles. You somehow extracted the lock code from me and found my husband’s number and passed me the phone so I could tell him: Our baby is hurt and an ambulance is on the way and please get here fast.
“You are not a bad mother,” you kept saying. “Accidents happen to all of us moms.” I am too messed up to thank you for your kindness, to let you know it is saving me right now. You sit beside me as the firemen arrive and look in Jude’s eyes and feel his scalp and undo his tiny onesie to check for bruising and my mind keeps replaying the car seat, over the edge, tumbling down, flipping, trapping my baby.
I clicked the seat in, I heard the click, why did he fall?
I let him fall, I let him fall. His head.
When the ambulance came my husband hadn’t arrived and when I pleaded for them to please wait, Corey will be here in two minutes, they told me: We have to go. We can’t wait around in a situation like this, sorry.
I thought you had demonstrated enough kindness to a total stranger, but you weren’t finished: You stepped into the door to ask if I wanted to give you the Jeep keys so my husband could follow the ambulance to the hospital. When the doors shut and the sirens came on, yours was the last face I’d seen and there was no judgment anywhere on it. You were full of human kindness and compassion and I can’t tell you what you meant to me in those terrifying minutes.
I wanted to tell you that my baby will be OK. That we sat at the hospital in silence for hours, thinking about what could be and what, thank god, is not. I wanted to let you know that I will never again use a car seat in a shopping cart, and that your kindness touched my heart. I wanted to let you know that my baby stopped crying while he was nursing in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, and that he actually smiled at me. And that, because of you, I smiled back.
You have restored my belief in the goodness of my fellow human beings and especially of my fellow mamas. Thank you for lifting me up in one of the darkest moments of my life, and for caring so much for an utter stranger. I’m not sure I’ll ever meet you again, but I know absolutely that I’ll never forget you.