It’s OK

by Vella Karman
It's OK by Vella Karman - Old Converse sneakers

Smack dab in the middle of a store is always the worst place to panic, and yet I always do. I lean over the grocery cart and study the contents, mentally checking off my ingredients list: the cheapest greens, check; minced garlic, check; a plethora of everyday essentials, check. The metal handle pushes into my ribs as I hunch over the cart. The blue plastic on the metal handle and baby seat shine brightly under the fluorescent lighting. We’re wasting time. I glance from the flecked white tiles passing under the carts squeaking wheels to the shelves stocked with everything. Everything. Five types of strawberry ice cream syrup on an endcap, twelve types of pancake syrup as we pass an aisle, meat in the middle coolers, signs overhead.

A mom passes us with a cart full of boxes and cans and red laundry detergent in the corner of the cart. A toddler sits in the baby seat, laughing.

An elementary school age boy follows her. “Moooom, I want the car,” he whines. “I want the red one. Pleeeeease?”

My eyes dart from the crowded shelves to the crowded walkway to our crowded cart. It’s ok, it’s ok, it’s ok. I stare at Quin’s pink converse. She’s leading the way, and it’s the only reason I’m not frozen in place. My heart races, every single sound and sight is rushing in at me, and my brain is glitching. I’m panicking. This is not good. I follow the converse, staggering as if entering a wind tunnel. Breathe. I try to take a deep breath, but my lungs have lost contact with my brain. How do I inhale again? Nose? Mouth? I grip the sides of the cart, leaning so the handle presses deeper into my ribcage.

The pink converse swing into an aisle. I look up at Quin. She tucks a curl behind her shoulder and makes eye contact. “Do we need canned beans or the dry ones?”

“Ummm…” I straighten, my tone bright and high. “Dried.”

“Really? But they take so much longer.”

I nod. “That’s what my mom uses.”

“But they’re all beans, won’t they cook the same?”

“No.” I scan the shelves for generic dried beans, wheeling the cart along the shelves. I need the right ingredients to make it the way my mom does. She says anyone who is frugal or a good cook uses the real thing.

“But after you soak them, they’re the exact same thing. Canned beans are just already soaked.”

“Yeah, but they taste better if you soak them yourself.” I can’t find the right brand of beans in the mess. I look for the GreatValue label. Red, orange, green–nope. Circle, strip, square–nope. I scan the shelves from top to bottom, checking each bag. Everything I look at is wrong. There’s too many. I squeeze my eyes shut for a moment and when I open them, I see GreatValue logos by my ankle. Oh good. Now we can leave. I crouch and reach for the cannellini beans. Should I get one pound or five? I pause, my hand suspended mid-reach. The bigger bag costs less per ounce, but we won’t use it up. Ugh. It’s ok. Don’t be indecisive, just make a choice and get out of here. I take the one pound bag. I grab another bag, this one of kidney beans, and stand with the bags clutched to my chest.

Quin stands on the other end of the cart, gripping the metal sides with her fingertips. Her painted nails show a glaring purple under this lighting. “I thought you wanted to try new things.”

“I do…but dried beans are cheaper.” I prop the bean bags against a cereal box.

Quin rolls her eyes. “By like two cents.”

I notice cans of green beans over Quin’s shoulder. We need green beans. I forgot to add them to the list. You always forget. The green beans are across the aisle. I need to walk over and grab them. My heart beats faster and I glance around. A family speeds down the aisle, two adults and two kids. I’ll wait until they pass. Their speedwalk brings them to me and past in seconds. The mom holds a box of taquitos, a
blue circle label on an orange cardboard box. The dad holds dish soap and a package of toilet paper. The daughter hugs two bottles of Mug rootbeer to her chest. The bubbles fizz to the top of the bottle as it jostles from her stride. The son holds a box of Saltines with a picture of the crackers printed on the box and tiny labels in the corner.

He also holds a pack of “Extra Soft” toothbrushes and a head of lettuce. The son wears a blue shirt with the name of a swim team printed across the chest. I notice every droplet of condensation on the lettuce bag. Every thump of their footsteps. Air brushes my face as they speed past. The mom is talking, but her words blur by me. The green bean cans across the aisle. Too many brands. Too many types. Too many
details… I turn back to Quin.

I stare at her mouth, the way her muscles move as she talks. Oh wait, she’s still talking. Huh. I can’t hear her words. Wait, has she been talking this whole time? UGH. I zoned out again. I hug my arms to my chest. She’s probably still arguing for canned beans. I should just waste the money, this meal is an extravagance anyway. But it won’t taste right with canned beans. You’re still not listening to Quin.

I blink, trying to zone in my ears and turn the sounds into words.

Quin shakes her head, earring jangling. “—and we didn’t eat until nine PM that night. I don’t want to do that again.”

We make eye contact. There’s an angry spark in her eyes. So she wants canned beans because they’re quicker?

Quin crosses her arms. “So what are we gonna do?”

I clench my teeth, small shivers running up my spine. “I can take care of soaking the beans.”

“But we don’t have to soak them if we get cans!”

“But it’s cheaper to buy dried beans.” I glance in the direction of the checkout lanes and exits. So close. This is the last thing–can’t I just give in? I fumble for the zipper on my jacket.

Quin raises her eyebrows. “Remember Davis offering you overtime for Wednesday? If you’re so worried about money, work late instead of taking forever to make dinner.”

I stop zipping my jacket and close my eyes. Oh yeah. I need to give Davis an answer.

It’s ok. If I work late, then I’ll make more money than the cheaper beans will save us and Quin will be happy and we can leave.

I open my eyes. “Alright.” I force myself over to the bean cans and grab cannellini and kidney beans. I grit my teeth to quell the panic. “I always wanted to try canned kidney beans. Everybody says they’re a freaky, unnatural red.”

“Wait, freaky red?”

“Yeah.” I show her the picture on the label. It’s a bright reddish brown bean.

“Oh wow. That looks disgusting…let’s get dried kidney beans instead.”

I freeze.

“We’ll still get canned cannellini beans.”

“You were the one who wanted canned beans.” I want to shout, but only a whisper comes out. It’s like the whole world is spinning around me.

“What? It’s gross.”

I continue to stare at her.

“I only tried kidney beans that one time we soaked them, like I told you before. They were alright, but this stuff looks gross.”

I panic. My heart beats in my chest and my breaths come in waves, and my stomach starts to close in on itself. If we get one of each, I can’t work late and I can’t cook it right. I’m trapped here. “You can’t change your mind,” I snap.

“You know what? Fine. Do whatever you want.”

Every word she speaks burns a hole in my brain. It’s loud. It’s grating.

“No. I–I can’t decide.” My voice wavers, straining on the tipping point of a high note like an animal screeching.

Quin “Are you ok?”

“I’m…” My words take an abrupt pause and a cold fear seeps into my brain like melting snow. “…fine.”

Quin looks at me and she knows.

I shake my head. “It’s ok.”

Quin hugs me.

I feel like I’m going to fall over. Like my feet aren’t connected to the ground and my head isn’t connected to my body, like Quin isn’t inches away from me. Am I going to pass out?

Quin holds her hands out and I hand her the cans. She drops them in the cart. “I’m just gonna buy all the beans.”

“But–”

“They’re just beans.” Quin grabs the cart handle and inches it down the aisle. The wheel stops squeaking as she guides it. “Come on.”

I follow her, listening to the quiet rushing of blood in my ears. I watch her converse, still seeing every detail of the bottom shelves out of the corner of my eyes.

We join the shortest grocery line–the person before us is already paying.

Quin places a hand on my shoulder and guides me to the nook between the candy racks and the bagging area. “Just breathe for me, ok?”

I nod and she leaves to unload the cart and chat with the clerk.

I stare at her converse from my nook and take deep breaths. The pink converse are a pretty choice.

She finishes checking out and we head for the doors. Her shoes pause when we come to the exit. “Zip up your coat, ok?”

I zip my coat up to my neck. I tuck my chin inside the fuzzy fabric. The snippets of conversation as people pass by still filter in, but my head is clearing.

We cross the parking lot and Quin angles the cart by the trunk of her car. I stop and she looks up.

She walks to the passenger door, opens it, and looks at me.

I climb into the car. It smells like the lavender air freshener hanging from her mirror.

Quin shuts the door and I sigh. No noise. No lights. No aisles of groceries. I close my eyes and lean into the seat.

The trunk pops open and Quin loads the groceries. The rustling bags and her quiet presence, the lavender and the natural light…these inputs allow my heartbeat to slow and my mind to stop spinning.

Quin opens the driver’s side door and climbs in. She starts the car and cranks up the heat and then looks at me.

I smile.

She smiles back and hands me a small bag of M&Ms.

“Where’d you get these?”

“When we checked out.”

I never noticed. I peel open a corner of the bag. “Thank you.” My voice still comes out small.

I pour a stream of M&Ms into my hand and offer her some.

Quin grabs a few. “It’s ok?”

I pop an M&M in my mouth and nod. “It’s ok.”

Vella Karman

Vella Karman loves God, people, and stories. Her writing has been read in more than 20 countries so far and she aspires to write raw, impactful stories that spread light and belonging across the world. She’s currently an apprentice at The Company, where she laughs with friends, studies her passions, and tries not to fall down any wooden staircases. Read more from Vella at VellaKarman.com or look up her Instagram to connect!

Vella Karman

Vella Karman loves God, people, and stories. Her writing has been read in more than 20 countries so far and she aspires to write raw, impactful stories that spread light and belonging across the world. She’s currently an apprentice at The Company, where she laughs with friends, studies her passions, and tries not to fall down any wooden staircases. Read more from Vella at VellaKarman.com or look up her Instagram to connect!

2 Comments

  1. Elda Brimberg

    I can relate to this story. Anyone who has had panic attacks—and I have had plenty—understands the well described physical and mental impact of an attack. A panic attack detaches one from reality and mental acuity in many ways: it imparts fear of total loss of control and can lead to isolation as reluctance to go out overcomes the need for socialization. Ordinary chores like grocery shopping can bring on an attack as described in this story. I learned about biofeedback and can now control most situations when I feel a panic attack lurking. But not always!

    • Vella Karman

      Hi Elda,

      I’m so glad to hear that my story resonated with you. It’s very close to my heart. I’m even happier to hear that you’re finding ways to manage your own struggles with panic attacks!

Done already? Looking for something a little longer?

The Librarian’s Ruse by Thirzah is now available! This YA fantasy adventure novella will leave you holding your breath for more.

Buy now on Amazon, or ask for it from your local bookshop.

The Librarian's Ruse by Thirzah

Don’t go. You’ll also like:

Holes Deep Enough for Our Sins

Holes Deep Enough for Our Sins

Grandpappy Moses always says, "Intentions ain't worth the infected hair on a pig's rump." I’m not sure what it means, but I get enough to realize saying "we never meant to" won’t help us a whit. Standin’ at the edge of the ravine in silence so unnatural and complete,...

A J’mandrian Tale

A J’mandrian Tale

Normally, rooting through someone else’s belongings was absolutely not something I would do, but tonight, I was making an exception. “It’s okay, horse,” I whispered as I groped through the horse’s saddlebag. My fingers met the cool metal surface of several tools but...

The Propheticon Speaks

The Propheticon Speaks

Optimist Primary’s footsteps echoed down the metal passageway. He hobbled along as fast as his aged servos could carry him while maintaining the dignity of his office. An unadorned length of pipe served as a walking staff, its end clanking with every other pace. At...

Never miss another story!

Join our free mailing list and we'll let you know when we publish new stories, essays, and poetry.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This