i learned something important this evening, completely out of the blue.

i had a six-and-a-half hour shift at music world, which is normally fairly short. but the mood i was in (not bad, just strange) and the various reasons for which i was in it (amazing concert by hawksley workman last night, thoughts of art and passion and medication, autumn’s here, etc.) made the time go by excrutiatingly slowly. so naturally i was taking things slightly less seriously than professionalism dictates; joking around with my manager and the customers, doing my job just a little half-assedly.

a woman about my mother’s age came in, walked by me unnoticed as my co-workers and i stood watching the two towers on three tv screens, adding our own dialogue to the silent film. when she came to ask for my help, she came from the back of the store.

she was looking for the star wars soundtrack; not the “phantom menace” or whatever, but the original one by john williams. that’s what her little brother liked. she told me she’d looked in section and found only the new one. i said i thought we kept john williams in classical or something, i’d take a look around. of the two classical sections, i checked only the one in which it was most likely to be. i walked her back up to the cash, checked the catalogue and asked her if she wanted to maybe take a look at some cds by john williams that could be ordered, since we apparently had none in stock. before the woman could answer marie-france overheard and said that we probably had john williams in stock, that i had probably just checked the wrong section. she took the woman back to the classical section, and i was glad my responsibility had been passed off.

marie came back alone, and we struck up a conversation about madonna, and flirted with a hot guy buying a stupid rap cd. the cd set off the alarms as the guy was leaving so i hopped around the counter and smilingly escorted him out. as i came back up to the register, i saw the woman holding a cd in her hand, waiting to pay for it, and i said cheerfully “oh great, vous l’avez trouv�!”

she told me she was really happy she had found it, that her little brother loved star wars. she told he he had just died, and they had all been asking themselves what to play at his funeral when someone had suggested it, because he was always such a huge fan. she looked straight ahead at the wall and said again how happy she was to have found it, cause she had looked in several other stores with no luck. i looked at her face – at the bloodshot eyes i hadn’t noticed, at the frizzy hair i had – and from her expression i could almost feel her heart beat faster with relief at having found her brother’s cd, feel how monumental this purchase was for her.

she smiled as she held the cd out to me, pointed out that it wasn’t even just star wars but all kinds of film scores he used to love like e.t. and jaws.

she smiled as she accepted the condolences i offered.

as i escorted her out of the store, i asked if she minded telling me how he died. it looked like she was going to cry, going to break down right there in the store, but instead she leaned in really close to me, looked me in the eyes and whispered “il s’est suicid�.” then she lowered her eyes to the bag in her hands and repeated slightly more loudly, “il s’est suicid�.”

i didn’t cry in front of her, or in front of my boss or marie. but now i just can’t stop, because i can’t stop thinking about how close i came to never knowing any of this. and she would have left the store more disappointed and distraught than i could ever have imagined, and then possibly another store, and another, possibly never finding the cd she needed for a million and a half reasons. and though she would never have resented me for a job she didn’t know i did half-assedly, and i would never have felt bad about not helping her find something so important to her; that still could never, ever ever make it right.

so the moral of the story (in case you hadn’t picked it up already) is this: give everyone you come in contact with your absolute, one hundred percent best, because you never know who really deserves it.

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