Sunday, August 2, 2009

Marshmallow Girl




I always begin my Introduction to Sociology classes with a simple question. I write it on the board: What is your story?

They are all interesting, I explain. All of them worthy of laughter and tears. No matter how "ordinary" their lives, there is beauty, and mystery, and peculiarity to each and everyone of us.

Yesterday I went to the grocery store. I am a people watcher. I can't help but notice everyone around me all the time.

An older man, overweight and with an unsightly and bloodied cast on his nose entered the store at the same time as I did. He had two young girls with him, I supposed they were his granddaughters. One (though she was taller than me) was around twelve, and the other maybe ten. They were enormous. I am not a person who thinks being round is wrong... but these children were more than round.

I followed them by accident. Every time I turned a corner they were there. Going through the produce I heard him call the older one "stupid" because there were no cakes in that aisle. And then she yelled back at him that she wasn't because "see the cake is right here!"as she held up the yellow sponge cakes sold next to strawberries.

I watched them interact because I couldn't help myself. The kids pulled each others hair and poked at one another. They whined and received whatever they wanted as the cart filled higher and higher with soda and snacks.

In the sale aisle I was behind them and I watched the older girl take a marshmallow out of an already opened bag. She did it secretly, not knowing I could see. She held her hand behind her and proceeded to drag the marshmallow across the front of the shelves, picking up dust and god knows what else. I kept hoping "put it down, put it down..." but at the end of the aisle, she did what I feared she might. She popped it into her mouth.

Why did she do that? Who were these people? Why was she punishing herself so?

I can't stop thinking about her, that marshmallow girl. I can't help trying to figure out a way to un sad her story. How to write a new one for her.

And isn't that how we get our "people?" my writer friends? Can't you see that this girl will haunt me until I tell it right for her? Until I make a past and a present and a future that explain what that small yet decidedly important action meant?

Life is so interesting, sad, funny, fascinating, and extraordinary when we are looking. The problem is, sometimes we forget to look.

23 comments:

  1. It's perfect.
    How did his nose get smashed or broken? What about any maternal influence? If the older girl already dominates the shopping experience and what gets bought, why steal a single marshmallow?

    Perfect.

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  2. I see the same sad things in the grocery store! At least she didn't put the marshmallow back in the bag and back on the shelf!

    I was a supermarket cashier for 2 years growing up, and I was shocked at the combinations of snacks and junk foods that people bought.

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  3. Ugh, a sad story for certain.

    my daughter is taking her first sociology class this next year (10th grade). I hope her teacher is even a little bit like you.

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  4. Sad... and interesting. I've been making up stories for that girl all morning!

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  5. I worked in a small grocery store for 2 years and Aubrie is right. Espescially when customers would use 50 dollars of their EBT (food stamps) on crap foods like soda and candy bars.
    I'm not sure if it's in place or not, but I heard rumors of a new program to educate EBT users about the best nutritional value for their limited funds. Like a can of green beans versus a Snickers.

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  6. Such a great post; I constantly people watch and (with a bit of guilt) eavesdrop, I love the grocery store and airports for that reason alone. Waiting in the security line is oh-so-much better if you're observing the strange habits of other passengers. For me the snippets of peoples lives offer threads for the best story spinning.

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  7. Oh, wow. That is sad. I love watching people too, but not when they break my heart.

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  8. I feel hollow. That story hurts, and part of me wants to put up a shield and not see, and part of me wants to cry for humanity, and part of me wants to write. As always, you present it raw but achingly lovely. You have lucky students.

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  9. Oh, really sad. One of the reasons I am glad we left NYC is because I saw too many sad things on a daily basis.

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  10. i'm a people watcher also. i also like to try and figure people out. i can't figure my own self out so i might as well figure others out. i hope round man with bloodied nose got it from one of his grandaughters he was calling stupid( although stupid did fit)
    http://randommusingsfrommypov.com

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  11. People watching has been a life long experience. It makes me appreciate my good fortune. And it ain't about dollars.

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  12. Oh, that is so sad. My heart always aches for children living like that, given no sense of self worth. What a miserable existence. :(

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  13. I can picture them so well by your descriptions and I feel really sad for that girl.
    Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the number of stories out there - real life, heartbreaking stories. I know I could never write all or even most of them. I wish they knew they could write it themselves.

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  14. I hope you do find a way to de-sad this story. It's true when they say life is stranger than fiction.

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  15. All! Thanks so much for the comments. I wasn't online today much. Got some crappy news about that exclusive. ~S

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  16. Oh no! I'm sorry you got crappy news. That sucks.
    fyi--Agent Janet Reid did a rant on exclusives on her blog Saturday.
    http://jetreidliterary.blogspot.com/2009/08/exclusives-stink.html

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  17. I'm a people watcher too and I'm always eager to know the story behind what I'm seeing. I guess if we can't know the story we can always make one up!

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  18. *hugs*

    People are amazing and wonderful, and sometimes they make me want to cry.

    *sympathy cookies*

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  19. I am fascinated. I so need you to write that girl's story now cause I have to know why she did that marshmallow thing. That's...I don't know... weird ....sad?
    I am glad to meet another 'people watcher'. I can't help myslef, I find myself doing that all the time. I often notice small details that bug me for days...now this marshmallow girl is bugging me....
    great post :)

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  20. Bummer! So sorry about the crappy news. Hope you're feeling better soon. :)

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  21. wow. great post. today i will remember to look.

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  22. Absolutely fascinating. My curiosity is running in overdrive now...! I hope you do write her story, and I can't wait to read it :)

    Faith @ boughanfire.com

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  23. Um, I wish I hadn't read about that marshmallow so close to bedtime.

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