To The Lady Who Burned My Ear

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I immediately recognize a (practically complete) stranger with platinum blond hair, raspy voice and pink lipstick asking the grocery clerk as she’s checking my items.

Hey, how are you doing, Yvonne?” she asks the clerk with her voice that has seen its years with cigarettes and probably alcohol.

I’m doing well. How about you?” the clerk replies.

Doing fine, doing fine. Hey, gotta ask you a question: any way to stock up the big bottles of SKY in the back? You seem to be out.”

SKY Vodka? Oh sure, no prob. Let me get someone to help you there,” the clerk obliges.

And suddenly I think I understand, or I’m assuming maybe, why this blond lady burnt my ear while blow-drying my hair three months ago at my neighborhood Supercuts; why maybe she didn’t think anything of it and didn’t apologize at the time; why she thought she was being funny while awkwardly telling what she believed to be the punch-line of a joke and when I responded “What?” as in trying to clarify what the punch-line was, she took offense and asked me, “What’s the matter, you don’t like jokes?

Maybe I’m completely wrong thinking she’s in the 12-step program (and not doing so well, obviously, given the request for vodka at the grocery store in the middle of the day). Maybe someone is just a little off, a little socially awkward, having a hard time connecting and reading people in social situations. Maybe she was just having a bad day that day she burnt my ear and copped a bit of an attitude when her joke didn’t deliver the way she intended. Maybe alcohol abuse has nothing to do with it.

But if I’m not totally off base, if she is a functioning alcoholic who perhaps tried to recover but then failed and now seeking refuge behind the bottle again, seeing her that afternoon at the grocery store, I knew immediately where I knew her from, and she didn’t recognize me when we made eye contact since we were both interacting with the same grocery clerk, and what dawned on me was empathy and sympathy.  In that moment I recalled the frustration and annoyance, and not to mention the momentary physical pain I felt on my ear when she burnt me with the hair dryer, that I had toward her seemingly unprofessional way of carrying herself. Three months ago sitting in the chair at Supercuts I felt anger and annoyance at her slight slurring of speech, the mishandling of a hot equipment that hurt me, a customer, and her unnecessarily offended attitude. I couldn’t wait to get out of the salon because she was also taking a long time to blow-dry my long but low-maintenance hair which takes my regular hairdresser half hour to blow-dry but was taking her over 50 minutes and I was now running to a friend’s wedding in Glendale which is 30 miles away.

I remembered the afternoon three months ago so clearly and saw how different I now feel about her, a stranger who may or may not be a functioning alcoholic. Sure, she’s working (at Supercuts) and out and about at the grocery store, suggesting a certain level of ability to function independently and interact well enough with others. But I knew then what I know now that she still has some way to go; the distance that she needs to cover that hopefully, one day, won’t be blurred by any substance, a clearer, more healthy way to function to recognize her effects and impressions on others.

If I’m right, I hope she enjoys that SKY vodka today; thoroughly enjoys it. Empties it even, if she feels like it. But that tomorrow or the day after, I hope she’s back on Day 1 again and can hold on to sobriety for a long time to come.

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