Stranger’s Story

The rubber stamp display took up one whole aisle at Hobby Lobby.  Rows and rows of wooden blocks backed with red rubber for all occasions imaginable.  As I stood there contemplating the serif versus sans-serif alphabet collections I was joined by another shopper.  A small woman in jeans and a black canvas jacket who aligned herself with the inspirational quotes section of the display.

I took a step further down the aisle to avoid unnecessary pleasantries.  I had a lot to do this day and discussing “stamping” with another shopper was not on my list.  She mirrored my step, maintaining our distance and then she sighed heavily from deep down inside.

“OK,” I thought, “this one is clearly trying to engage me in conversation.”  Still, I resisted by saying nothing and squatting down to closely inspect the contents of the lower shelf.  She took another step toward me and touching a delicate floral stamp she spoke.

“Hmmm,” she said.  “There sure are a lot of stamps.”

“Yes. There are,” I replied without making eye contact.

“So, are you a stamper?” she asked taking two slow scissor-steps in my direction.

I did a mental eye roll and gave in.  I faced this small woman and noticed her black coat was worn and that her short choppy brown hair was uncombed.

“Not really,” I said.  “I’m working on a project and need to get an alphabet set.”

And then I did it. There was no turning back.  I completely engaged and asked her a question.

“You must like to stamp then?” I asked.

“Yes, I do,” she said.  “I like to stamp them on that thick paper and then trace over them with a black marker and color them in like a coloring book page.”  She hugged herself and smiled as she thought about her artwork.

“Oh, ok ,” I thought to myself.  “There’s something a little off with this one so just be polite and go about your business. “

She stepped away to touch a stamp with a cartoon deer and then said over her shoulder, “these are nice.”  I nodded with a polite smile and then she turned and walked right up to me face-to-face.

“I’ve been clean and sober for 5 months now, you know.”  She looked at me expectantly and for a beat I didn’t know what to do.

“That’s so great!” I said with a smile.  “Congratulations.  Good for you.”

And then she started to confess…three or four cases of beer a week and the beer lead to drugs.  There was a boyfriend.  “There always is,” I thought. He had anger management issues and she had to get a restraining order…

Then I noticed how her left eye tended to wander up to the ceiling and off to the left as she talked.  I wondered if the boyfriend had practiced his anger management issues on that side of her head a time or two before the restraining order.

She told me the whole story.  Right there in the rubber stamp aisle of Hobby Lobby.  I interjected here and there with a “good for you” and a “well, it sounds like you are on the right track.”   She told me that she figured out the beer caused her to have trouble with the law.  That when she drank beer she got mouthy with the officers.   The last time the cops came to her boyfriend’s place she kept quiet and stayed out of trouble.  She hadn’t been drinking that day.   So, that’s why she wasn’t going to drink a beer today.  I asked her if she was hooked up with a twelve step program and she said, “I go to meetings, sometimes.”

And then she was done.  Her story was told so she smiled at me and shrugged.  So, I held out my hand and said, “It was so nice to meet you.”

“I’m Molly,” she said.

“Good luck to you, Molly,” I replied.  And she walked off.  No rubber stamp, no thick paper, nothing.  She left the store empty handed, her story told.