Today I was standing at the prescription counter at the drugstore waiting to get a prescription filled. I waited a long time because the couple in front of me seemed to be taking forever. Whatever they were discussing with the pharmacy clerk, it seemed to be very involved and convoluted, and at first I wasn't intentionally eavesdropping, just overhearing.
Then I heard the clerk say, "You have to sign these forms..." and I got curious. What kind of prescription would you need to sign forms in order to get? That was when I started eavesdropping. (My behavior gets worse in this story, by the way).
A thought popped into my head about what they might be doing there. A guess. I glanced over at them for visual clues. They were a man and a woman, both dark-haired, probably my age or younger, but it was difficult to tell. Both their faces could best be described as "hard," but, as is universally and unfairly true, this looked better on the man than on the woman. (He could be charitably described as "ruggedly handsome." She was just rugged).
I went back to minding my own business as the clerk continued talking to the couple. They were going to have to go away, read and sign their forms, and come back in about half an hour to talk to someone else -- I didn't get who that was. OK, I wasn't really minding my own business.
She slid the forms across the counter to them. I was standing quite close so I didn't have to lean in or anything, just shift my eyes for a quick glimpse. Yes, I looked at their forms. (That's as bad as my behavior gets. You can relax now).
My guess was right -- possibly it was on my mind because I'd heard the same thing discussed at staff meeting today regarding one of our students. They were signing forms related to receiving methadone treatment.
Suddenly they're not just two people picking up a prescription: they're a story. And I guess that's the easiest way to excuse my nosiness: I'm a writer; I'm looking for stories everywhere. I still knew next to nothing about this couple, but I had the evidence to make a couple of guesses: they were presumably drug addicts and were, for whatever reason, wanting to try to get off whatever narcotics they were on.
My reaction wasn't really a writer's reaction. On some strange and not-at-all-like-me level, I wanted to touch those strangers, maybe hug them, tell them that I think they're amazing and brave and I hope it works out for them. I didn't say or do anything, of course; I looked away and tried to pretend I was respecting their privacy like any normal human being would do.
I have, as I've said before, lived the most squeaky-clean life imaginable when it comes to any kind of substance use or abuse, so I don't know why I am so moved by alcoholics and addicts, why their stories (in fiction or in real life) intrigue me so much.
I know that I am in awe of anyone who makes brave steps toward huge life changes -- people who lose weight, people who come out, people who take the risk of loving instead of being lonely, people who take the risk of leaving instead of being hurt. But I am moved most of all by someone like the student who said to me this week, her voice bright and brittle with hope and fear, "I've been sober for four days now!" I wanted to hug her, too. I'm not a hugger, so I didn't.
But I'm also not a stranger at the drugstore, in her case, so I was able to say, "That's wonderful. Good luck with that."
Good luck to Drugstore Couple too, whoever and wherever you are. My prayers are with you. I don't know why it matters so much.