Today found me returning to Trader Joe’s for the first time in two years. Literally two years. The last time I walked their aisles was March 9, 2020.
I used to go weekly.
Later that day in 2020 – while standing in our cul-de-sac as my kids played – I received an email that the far away coronavirus we heard about had infiltrated our school district and school was closing for two weeks.
As all the moms texted like chickens without heads, we wondered what would come.
March 10, 2020 – not knowing what to do – I took my two older kids (my youngest’s nursery school was still open) to the New York Botanical Garden’s Orchid Show. I finally got tickets after years of wanting to go, because now all three of my kids were in school full time. Oh, the foreshadowing irony…
What Happened Next
Three days passed.
Then the shit hit the fan.
You were there, I won’t get into it. We can fast forward two years of masks, vaccines, debates, death, testing, long term complications, loss, anguish, ups, downs, fights, hugs, tears, judgement, and a lot of wine.
And here I am, March 9th, 2022 at the same Trader Joe’s.
It’s not that we haven’t gotten food from Trader Joe’s in two years, or that I haven’t been to a store in two years. It’s just that my husband – who formerly commuted to Manhattan and now commutes to our kitchen – has done the shopping.
Returning To Trader Joe’s
He began going because I was too scared to go, and he is a gallant knight.
Then, I believe it became a reasonable escape for him to leave our loony bin for a bit.
Ultimately, I believe it became part of the rote responsibilities which he absorbed.
It’s not that I couldn’t or wouldn’t go. It’s just that I didn’t go.
So I Walked In.
It was crazy that after two full years my body simply returned to auto pilot.
I walked through the seemingly same aisles that I walked pre-pandemic when life was normal. I looked at all the food that I used to purchase and picked things up like I was there last week.
In front of me it was the same with the same employees who I chatted with countless times about life.
I looked for the frozen mini tacos that I used to quickly make before running my three kids – alone – to whatever pre-pandemic activity they did in 2020. They were not there.
I saw the fish sticks and smiled.
I thought of a time that these pre-cooked simple meals saved my sanity. My mind wandered to what life was like before.
These humble meals have since been usurped by the beautiful lavish dinners my husband cooks every night (which I appreciate), but it made me miss fish sticks. It made me think I used to do it all alone, and now I don’t.
Suddenly, I found myself sobbing by the “Everything But The Elote” seasoning.
Nothing there had changed.
But everything had changed.
If you know me, you know how much I love Trader Joe’s and that it’s one of my happy places. I don’t know if I was crying at the normalcy of it or the loss of everything else.
Or the feeling that two full years passed, and it didn’t feel like a second had gone by.
I’m quite positive one of the reasons it felt normal was the multitude of maskless people (New York lifted the indoor mask mandate) in front of me. However, many were still in masks.
I don’t know if this made it an easier pill to swallow or a validation of a time portal.
Returning to Trader Joe’s Post Pandemic: It Was The Same But Different
Like many others, my phone has gotten me through the last two years by experiencing life through a screen. Some of my favorite Instagram accounts are Trader Joe’s fan sites.
Funny enough I made genuine human connections with some of these people and had nice memories flood through as I passed items we discussed, sometimes more than grown adults should discuss food.
My thoughts then turned to how many nameless, faceless connections I’ve made in the last two years through social media united by the common love of food or Legos.
My shopping was done and it was time to leave. This was a deep shopping trip.
Returning to Trader Joe’s Auto Pilot
As I did hundreds of times, I told the cashier I brought my own bags and would pack as she beeped. We moved into our choreographed dance that was dark for the last 730 days. Somehow my Tetris-like packing had not falterer.
The theater is back.
Tomorrow is the two-year anniversary of receiving that email while cluelessly standing outside with my kids.
It has been a crazy two years. While I don’t want to debate personal beliefs, I feel that I can say that with confidence, and you can agree.
But this was an unexpected reaction. This reaction was filled with all the stress of the last two years, all the tears, all the fights, all the saying “no” to my kids, and everything else we have endured. I also acknowledge that many had an astronomically harder time and lost much more than me.
I know that many people have moved “back to normal” (I fucking hate that phrase) at a faster rate than me – and I’m OK with that – but I was not prepared for today.
I was not expecting such an emotional reaction to grocery shopping.
Maybe it hit me so hard because the store was the same, but I was different. Similarly, to when you come home after your first semester of college and see your home life through your new adult eyes and it feels kinda weird.
I don’t know.
But there was solace in the normalcy of Trader Joe’s. Nevertheless, I noticed one remarkable change. The sample café and coffee station – once a favorite spot – was now a contactless wine display.
Laughing to myself I said – now that is one hilarious metaphor.
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