Stranded at a CVS - Summer 2020

Leigh Camp

Copyright 2021 by Leigh Camp

Woman looking in her locked car.

I locked my keys in my car sometime during the summer of 2020. I couldn't remember the last time I'd done that, but the second the door clicked shut, I remembered the "oh crap" feeling that comes with it.

I don't even know why I bothered to look in the window. I knew in my gut what I'd done. But I looked anyway.

There they were resting in the passenger's seat. Mocking me. And beside them was my phone. That little detail my gut hadn't bothered to mention.

"Well, hell," I thought. "That just takes the frigging cake."

I'd been distracted all morning. Earlier I'd tried to focus on work, but it felt like the world was burning and thinking about anything other than that fact seemed somehow disrespectful. And to top it off, despite my best efforts to just get the things done that I needed to get done to keep getting paid, one of our main programs was down. That happens sometimes. Things are down. And other people whose job it is to fix those things are furiously working to but they won't be up until they're up, and that can take, oh, two to three hours on a good day. All day on a bad one.

So, I decided to leave my apartment for the first time in three days to get some more nicotine lozenges and a coffee from Starbucks. Nicotine lozenges because I was nearly out and they were part of I what I like to tell my friends is my 1,000 steps to quit smoking, and Starbucks because I get it so rarely that whenever I do it feels like a really big treat, and I wanted a treat.

I went to CVS first. I didn't know it at the time, but that was a mistake.

I fumbled in my purse for my mask. At that time, they were hard to come by, but I was lucky enough to have two.

One looked like a medical mask and was a gift to my father in a care package from a Chinese student he once taught she'd shipped a pack all the way over with some homemade hand sanitizer and some savory Chinese snacks and wished him well in this mess, bless her, and then he'd gifted one to me.

The other was a handmade one from my mother's neighbor that was in a pretty paisley pattern. I liked to wear the handmade one for quick trips, because it was the cuter of the two, but it was also a little tight on my ears. So I saved the medical one for grocery trips or anything I thought would take a while.

I took my time adjusting the paisley mask and carefully placing my hair over my ears so it wasn't noticeable that the straps made them stick out a little. And then I opened my door and locked it with my hand instead of with the key and opened the door and shut it and click, game over.

For next to no reason at all, rising panic filled my chest.

I have Triple AAA. I knew deep down this would end up fine. Even if I missed a meeting or two, at the end of this, I would have a working car and a job and probably nicotine lozenges and coffee to boot.

And even if the person I talked to in CVS wouldn't let me use their phone because of the pandemic, the odds were that somebody would eventually take the risk to help me.

It didn't occur to me then but it occurs to me now, in reflecting about it, that my certainty that some stranger would help me with this problem is a reflection of how privileged I am.

I'm a white woman in my early thirties. People see me and see someone mostly harmless. I count on that in my interactions. I can usually get people to listen to me, people to help me. Their initial thoughts of me are not of fear. So, when I move in the world, I move in the certainty that when I speak to strangers, they will be mostly kind. And that is a mighty lucky thing.

But it doesn't protect me from my own senseless neurosis, and so still the panic rose. By the time I walked into the CVS I was breathing heavily and probably looked slightly manic to the cashier's eyes, a woman in her late fifties with a thin bun and a no-nonsense look.

So, it made sense that when I started out by saying, halfway from the front doors while walking up to the counter, "Excuse me ma'am," she cut me off and said firmly (though not unkindly), "Stand behind the glass!" and motioned to the partition that would protect us from the virus.

I moved to the spot she'd motioned toward. "Of course," I told her. "So sorry. It's just...I was coming to buy nicotine lozenges...and I've locked my keys and my cell phone in my car. Do you have a phone I can use?"

And her face melted into kindness.

"I locked my keys in my trunk the other day, it was awful. Sure you can."

And her saying that strangely made me hope against hope that somehow my trunk was still open and so I said to her, erratically, "You know, I'm going to just go check all the doors to be sure."

So, I left and checked and of course everything was locked, so I was back in, and she had the phone behind the partition and was struggling with it a bit. "It's taped down," she finally said. "It's stuck."

"Oh. Well...would you mind dialing for me?"

"I can."

And I read off the numbers. When she was done dialing she handed me the receiver beneath the glass and I was intensely aware of what a breach in protocol that must be. My hands might be contaminated. Anyone's hands might be contaminated. The nature of this wretched virus is you might have it and spread it and never know you have it.

And there could be worse things about it than that, sure. It would be worse if it targeted children. It would be devastating.

But that fact doesn't take away from the reality that it's double-damned awful that everyone has to walk around wondering if a handshake, a hug, a touch on the shoulder, an accidental brush of the arm they initiate them might be the kiss of death.

So, it felt like a big thing, this woman was doing, giving me the receiver of a phone beneath the glass. I was sure she would sanitize the hell out of it afterward. But I was also just really happy she was willing to do it at all.

Triple AAA was there in less than an hour and, as predicted, my trip eventually ended in success I made it home with my nicotine lozenges and my coffee.

And as I showered off the potential Rona germs I might have picked up during my excursion, I tried to shift my focus from potential exposure to the kindness of that woman behind the glass, and the man who showed up and opened my car door, and the smiles that must have surely been playing beneath their masks as they went about the comforting, normal task of helping a stranger.

And that gave me hope that more comforting, normal tasks must be on the horizon.

Still there, if just out of sight. 

Leigh Camp is a writer based in Austin, Texas, where she lives with her pup Thibodeaux, who is the goodest boy and was hands down her best impulse-quarantine-purchase of 2020. You can read more of her writing her blog,

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