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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Checkout (06/09/11)

TITLE: Gauntlet
By Anita van der Elst


Hallie inhales deeply, tilts her head to the right, then the left. Letting out a long breath, she opens her journal. In a trembling but resolute voice she begins reading aloud.

I’m almost finished. Just a couple items left on the list. I peek around the end of the aisle. My heart pounds and its beats feel like hiccups. Every checkout counter has four or five people standing in line. And I know a score or more are meandering, who will get in line behind me. Cotton balls are filling my mouth. I can’t do this! Every eye will be on me. Watching me as I unload my cart. Tapping their toes, rolling their eyes at how I’m holding them up, making them wait. I try to go as fast as I can but invariably my fingers fumble, I drop cans and packages, my hands are too small, can’t pick up more than one at a time.

I’m tempted to leave the shopping cart where it stands—never mind that my shelves are empty at home—and run. It wouldn’t be the first time. I don’t think my heart can bear this racing pulse. I go through this every time—the unbearable scrutiny, the impatience and irritation roiling in my wake as I approach the register. The checker will ask, “Paper or plastic?” I’ve brought my own reusable canvas bags but because I’m so flustered, I’ll forget. I cringe at the thought of facing the disapproval of my neighbors who consider not recycling a sin.

Then there’s the question, “Will that be cash, check or credit?” New jolt of adrenalin, do I have my checkbook with me? I hide behind the stack of toilet paper on the end cap of Aisle 9 and rummage madly through my purse. It’s happened before, while waves of heat engulf my body, my head floats somewhere near the ceiling and my hands quiver. Making everybody wait in the checkout line while I dig for it with no success. Leaving the groceries all bagged to go but unpaid for, me stuttering promises to be right back. Feeling the eyes boring holes in my back as I retreat from the store, almost running a red light rushing home, fearing the ice cream will be melted and the meat spoiled before I get back.

Nausea threatens at the thought of writing out the check. What if I put the amount where the date goes, and the date where the amount goes? I’ve done it plenty of times. The checker will act like she understands but she’ll be laughing with her co-workers later.
And the other shoppers? Their disdain settles on me like stink from my farmer dad’s manure spreader. I can hear their thoughts. “What is wrong with you? Can’t you do anything right? What a clumsy cow you are. Hurry up, stupid! You’re going to make me late again. I wish you’d never been born.”

I wish I could just disappear.

Hallie pauses in her reading and glances up, meeting the kind eyes of her therapist.

“Who said those words to you, Hallie? Where did you hear them spoken?” Sarah asks.

“Farmer dad. Everywhere,” Hallie whispers.

“It’s called emotional transference,” Sarah reminds her.

For as long as Hallie can remember, the mundane task of grocery shopping is more to be dreaded than a visit to the dentist. The steadily lowering level in the milk carton in the fridge triggers panic attacks. Her pantry can look like a ghost town yet she will still resist the need to go to the market. Because every time it means she runs a gauntlet, the one that began in her childhood, and the humiliation of failing to meet Dad’s unreasonable demands.

Hallie squares her shoulders and picks up where she’d left off in her reading.

I’m starting to see that Dad is no longer the one standing in line with me, either at the grocery store or in my life. The lies he told me are not to be recycled but trashed. As a single father, his judgments of his daughter, his only child, were as ruinous as locusts in a field of grain. I’m holding on to a promise God has made me to redeem the years that the locusts have eaten. No more empty shelves and no more shame for me.

Scripture reference: Joel 2:25-27

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Member Comments
Member Date
Robyn Burke06/16/11
Your intense description of anxiety attacks and phobia are completely convincing. I felt my throat constricting with poor Hallie as she reads from her journal.

The shift at the end of her introspect felt a little abrupt--rushed. I am guessing the word limit and desire for a hopeful/happy ending is to blame.

Really good writing!!
Laury Hubrich 06/16/11
I felt like I was standing in line with Hallie, too. So sad that memories of the past can hold us back from today. So very sad. Excellent writing. I love the title - it fits very well.
Charla Diehl 06/17/11
At first I thought the MC was experiencing the start of memory loss which caused her to be anxious. As the story unfolded I learned the cause of her anxiety. I feel sad for anyone who can't get past the wounds inflicted on them during their childhood years.
Bonnie Bowden 06/18/11
You've done an excellent job of capturing the torturing thoughts that go along with panic and anxiety. The title is very fitting, because each time the anxiety starts up, the person needs to remember to stay in the situation until the anxiety passes.
Janice Fitzpatrick06/23/11
Wow! I hope this speaks to many who have suffered extremely painful childhoods. I so could relate to Hallie. There's a class at churches now, I hope that will end up being given all over the continent, that is entitled Bridging the Gap. It is so healing and encouraging to be a part of such a course that helps one to understand where the abuse and pain came from, and how to heal and forgive and not be bound by the past but free to be whole again. It's sad to think how many of us have been scared by our past as children and if we don't overcome our own hurts we may very well transfer those hurts to our own children. Great job on writing this heartfelt piece, that was raw and full of emotion and hope. God bless you.:)