For years, the only people I spoke with, outside of my family, were people working in grocery stores.
For years, my only forays out into the world were on shopping errands. These were carefully thought out, carefully timed. Was I having a bad day? Better not go out. Was I having a decent day? Goody, I could dare to spend half an hour's energy buying food and laundry soap.
Alan would make sure I had his cell phone in case I couldn't manage under my own steam, in case I ran out of steam. He was prepared to come and rescue me if I needed it. So we would both take a deep breath, and off I would go.
Many of those years, it took all I had to navigate through the store, leaning heavily on the cart to keep my balance and to keep me on my feet. I didn't make small talk in the aisles. My clock was ticking and my wick was burning, and I was always aware that if I'd estimated wrong, I would burn out and be a crawling mess by the time I got back home.
So I strove to be an efficiency expert, in a most inefficient set of circumstances.
At the checkout, the clerks would say hello, ask how I was. I knew it was part of their job, but it was a taste of normalcy and it helped me. I would answer in kind and no more, because my grip was tight on my energy bag, and didn't dare let any more of it out at a time than absolutely necessary. Because, hey, I still had to be able to get back home.
Those trips cost me, often putting me back in bed when I got home. But I found it worth the price. I found that I needed contact with the outside world. I needed to see other people and be seen by them.
It helped me to know that though I might be just this side of non-functional, and though I maybe had only been dressed for 10 minutes (at 4 in the afternoon), the people in the regular world looked at me and saw a regular person. And that would help get me through till the next time I could make the trip.
And so I offer up my thanks and appreciation to every grocery store clerk, every librarian and every bank teller who has a courteous word for their customers. You have been anchors for me over these years of illness, and I am grateful.