Big Blue Bookstore's Biggest Brat: A Lesson On Perspective & Gratitude
While our Braves might be champions in the world of major league baseball, ya girl here can be a champion-caliber brat sometimes. It's likely no surprise to anyone reading this blog who knows me personally, but some of you may be shocked to read that I'm not always, well, ✨pleasant.✨
Everyone has their days where they wake up "on the wrong side of the bed," as my mother would so lovingly put it during my edgier mornings, which is why I’m not afraid to admit this character flaw- I share it with literally everyone on the planet! You can’t name one person who hasn’t been in a bad mood at least once in their lifetime. (Don’t even try to sit here and tell me about your grandmother; you didn’t know her when she was a teenager!)
Let’s take a trip back in time to 2011. I’m a student at Auburn University working a part-time job at one of the collegiate bookstores. If you have any familiarity with the town of Auburn or was one a student there yourself, you’ll likely remember it. Big Blue Bookstore lived on South College in the shopping complex with Winn Dixie and the best Chinese food restaurant in Lee County (at the time), Panda (NOT to be confused with Panda Express).
Here’s a picture of me (left) 10 years and 35 pounds ago.
I was a 21 year-old who was drinking too much, sleeping too little, and living with not only two of the very best friends a girl could ask for, but also undiagnosed anxiety. Life was mostly great, but I was, you know, waking up on the wrong side of the bed most mornings.😇
The bookstore aspect of Big Blue Bookstore wasn’t nearly as exciting as it sounds for someone who loves to read because the only books we carried were textbooks to Auburn University and Southern Union Community College students. The rest of the space housed all kinds of AU paraphernalia. I’m talking paintings, clothes upon clothes upon clothes, kitchen utensils, freaking orange and blue FLIP. FLOP. CAR. DECALS. Why on earth was that ever a thing???
BBB also housed a small USPS counter in the middle of the store, which I had the pleasure of manning for a year or so. I was not a USPS employee, and no one working there was. We just had a specific USPS system set up on the computer there. It was an easy gig. I mostly taught freshmen how to address an envelope (I’m dead serious) and shipped out packages of “packages” from the Love Stuff located next door. (Listen, I can’t even begin to tell you how many dildos I shipped that year, and more than once a few packages would vibrate if I chucked them into the outgoing bin too forcefully. I also have a really hilarious story about an encounter with a woman in overalls, but this trip down Memory Lane is already taking up too much of your time, so I’m going to get to the point. Just ask me about it at your next appointment!)
A few days a week, I would open the store and work half a day before attending my afternoon classes. Usually mornings were incredibly slow at the USPS counter, so I often got paid to do my homework. One particular morning, I was rushing to finish a paper that was due later that day and people had the absolute AUDACITY to need to mail things before noon. Can you believe that? After a handful of interruptions, I clearly had no patience left for the man approaching the counter. My eyes all but rolled out of my head as I took the manilla envelope from him to begin inputting the information into the system for postage. To his detriment, the poor soul had filled out the envelope incorrectly and his handwriting was completely illegible. I told him in my sharpest tone he would need to start over, and then I basically threw a new envelope at him. Truthfully, I don’t know if I was actually that rude about it, but it is DEFINITELY how rude I felt on the inside. Seriously, just picture a cartoony storm cloud over my head.
I return to my paper as he starts to address the new envelope. He stops, and shakily takes out the large packet of papers that was in the original one he had. A few more customers come up to the counter, and I begin helping them. They leave. He’s still standing to the side, quietly looking at his papers and new envelope. His hand is shaking. I hear a sniffle. And another.
This tall, grown-as-can-be man in his late 30s/early 40s with giant hands was softly crying. I grabbed a paper towel (I had no tissues behind the desk) and handed it to him discreetly. On the outside, he very much looked like the type of person who did not make a habit of expressing emotions in public, save for anger or happiness at sporting events. Plus, does anyone enjoy crying in front of strangers?
His voice was whisper soft as he wiped his eyes, looked at me and said, “These are my divorce papers. I, I don’t-, I can’t...my hands...can you please help me?”
The storm cloud over my head disappeared as my heart split in two. I took the pen from his hand and filled out the envelope while quietly telling him how sorry I was he was going through this. A line formed behind him. His embarrassment at being emotional was only making him more emotional, so I told him we were just going to talk for a few minutes. I pretended like I was working out shipping details for him and no one seemed to notice the walking, breathing, shattered heart in front of them.
I got a text later that day from a coworker saying he came back with a gift for me. He had written a card that I still have saved in a box thanking me for my “extreme kindness” with a $5 bill and a necklace bought at a local gift shop. The necklace hung from my rearview mirror in my 2004 Ford Explorer for years until the clasp broke. Every time I would notice it swinging around, I would wonder how he could ever think I was being extremely kind when I was actually being an entitled brat.
I don’t know if that man remembers me. I don’t remember his name or even really what his face looked like. His voice and trembling hands haunt me, though. They flash in my mind as shame-tinged memories when I’m feeling particularly impatient with someone for no reason and serve as a reminder to put myself in their shoes.
When you have trouble changing your attitude, change your perspective. You never know what someone else is going through. Whether they’re smiling, raising their voice, or quietly weeping over seemingly innocuous paperwork, there’s no telling what’s going on in their personal life.
Wherever you go, go with patience and kindness.
Thanks for reading!
Mary Kathleen is Functionize’s Manager of Client Success & Creative Design. She lives in Atlanta with husband Brian and their three furry children: Cotton (pup), Burlap (pup), and Knuckles (kitty). She is the owner of Velvet & Vine Boutique.