I closed the door behind me as quickly as it would close, leaned wearily against it and said, “That was harrowing.” I didn’t mean to say it aloud but it escaped my lips.
I took a couple of deep breaths and calmed myself before returning to my car. The place I’d just come out of was disorienting and uncomfortably warm. At one point I had difficulty breathing in there. It left me feeling overwhelmed and I was anxious to leave. As I reached the safety of my car I thought, “That was terrible. I don’t ever want to go in there again.”
Where was I? Southcenter shopping mall in Tukwila, WA. Maybe once in a year I go there for something. I remembered that the last time I was there I didn’t like the experience. However this time my experience was worse. It had nothing to do with the way I was treated by anyone. It was the setting itself.
There was too much going on in the space. There was too much for me to take in. In addition to the overly busy stores, there was a dizzying array of booths everywhere. Every place I looked there were display screens and videos and music and all sorts of eye candy. I couldn’t find my way. I couldn’t even find a directory to tell me what stores were in the mall.
I walked into a department store and it might as well have been a fun-house maze. There were so many mirrors and uninformative signs that I couldn’t even find the escalator. When I wanted to leave I couldn’t find the way out. I had to ask one of sale reps to point me toward the entrance back into the mall.
It was during that brief conversation that I found myself struggling to breath. I am horribly allergic to some fragrance (the name of which I don’t even know) and it freezes my lungs so that I can’t inhale or exhale until I get away from it. I saw the look of fear in the young woman’s eyes. Maybe she was looking at me and thinking, “She’s an old woman (grey hair) and she disoriented (dementia) and now she can’t breath (heart attack). Maybe I should call 911.” She actually said to me, “Ma’am, are you OK?” I quickly said yes and almost ran in the direction she pointed.
When I got back into the mall I had completely lost my bearings. I had no idea which exit I should take. People were strolling up and down, relaxed as they could be, but I was approaching panic. My one thought was, “Get me out of here, now.” I headed off in one direction and by the grace of God I picked the right one. I still went wrong at one fork but I was “in the ballpark” and found the way out.
When I was driving away I replayed the experience in my head. I began to feel sheepish about the whole thing. I glimpsed something about myself that was a little painful to see. I am aging and I’ve “lost a step” (as they say in the world of sports). A place like Southcenter is now too busy for me where a few years ago I would have found it fun and “normal.” It didn’t feel fun or normal today. I suspect that I am changing every bit as much as the shopping experience is changing. We are moving in different directions: it’s speeding up and I’m slowing down.
I once heard a Billy Joel song that never became a hit. It was all about aging and now I’m beginning to appreciate the song. The last verse goes like this:
Hey, it’s good to be a young man
And to live the way you please
Yes, a young man is the king
Of every kingdom that he sees
There’s an old and feeble man not far behind
But it surely will catch up to him
Somewhere along the line
The old woman is catching up to me. Some days I’m OK with that and some days I’m not. Today was one of those days when I looked over my shoulder and was alarmed to see how close she is to me.