A note from my time in retail on 3/5/2011
For the most part, what I do at Nordstrom is a frou-frou kind of way to make a living. I help people – women – try on overpriced and stylish clothing so they can have something new to wear. Sometimes so they can feel better about themselves, and sometimes so they can hate themselves even more. In the grand scheme of things, this duty I call my job is rather lame. True, I’m doing my part of assist the retail economy, but let’s be honest – it’s just shopping. This is not the work of the Peace Corps or the Red Cross. I’m not adopting orphans or negotiating any peace treaties.
Today was different.
I met Kate for the time a couple of months ago. At first, she seemed to me like any other shopper looking through T-shirts. I said hello and she immediately asked me to find as many x-small shirts as I could. All of them. I’m ashamed now to say that I had dollar signs in my eyes at first. I work exclusively on commission – it’s a natural reflex. Soon, I realized that she wasn’t going to try on – just buy – and she was desperate. Kate only told me that she was sick. That’s all I knew. She was very thin, but I didn’t learn just how thin until our next visit. That time, I sent her on her way much like everyone else – bag in hand and dollars in my pocket.
I confess that I didn’t think about Kate much after that day. But something was different about her, and that’s why I remembered her today when I spotted her sorting through T-shirts again, looking lost. I approached her with smile and a friendly hello. I said I remembered her. She told me that her regular shopper wasn’t there and asked if I could help her. She had so much worry in her eyes. She briefly and guardedly explained how she MUST get some pants that fit. They MUST be long enough, and skinny enough, and have some bulk to hide her thinness. Kate told me that she was ill and that she had lost a lot of weight. She teared up right there next to the T-shirts explaining this to me. We walked around together. She picked out clothes, I picked out clothes for her.
I filled two fitting rooms with bottoms and tops full of potential. Kate began to try on the clothes, and soon I saw just what she was dealing with. Honestly, I’ve only seen photos of people that thin. You could see her bones, veins and a hint of muscle. Her sunken cheeks were just a preview of the indentation of her stomach and the lines of her ribs. Kate was hiding in her fitting room, and she had finally let me in.
I brought Kate a dress on a whim. It was long, flowing, elegant and easy. I told her that she didn’t have to try it on if she didn’t want to, but I wanted her to have something that would make her feel like a woman. To make her feel good. Special.
Kate put on the dress. I cried. She looked beautiful, despite her skin-and-bones arms and legs. Her inner radiance showed through. I could tell that she felt good. I told her that she was stunning. I meant it as I had tears in my eyes. Kate hugged me. She asked if I could always be her shopper. She asked for my card, and I told her to call me anytime. “Even for drinks?” she asked. “Especially,” I grinned.
Kate made my day – my job – about more than shopping. To her, clothes represent life and her fight to keep her own. We hugged as she parted. Instead of dollar signs in my eyes, I saw a glimmer of happiness in hers. I hope to see Kate again soon, but not for the sale. Just for the comfort of knowing that she is winning. And wearing her new dress.