I’m going to tell you a story. It happened. I know. I was there. It just might not have happened exactly the way I’m going to tell it. It’s been a while and memory… well memory is a bit on the flexible side. Not to mention some of the real facts are just plain boring, so I spiced them up a bit.
Once upon a time, some years ago, I left my Christmas shopping for the last minute. I could spin you a yarn about having to wait for a pay check and it would be true enough, but the point is on December 22nd that year, I had not bought a single gift for even one person on my list. I needed to get to the mall, and join the rest of the frantic last minute shoppers. There was just one problem with that: I’m agoraphobic.
People scare me. Crowds scare me. Loud pushy crowds filled with anxious people who have no regard for my need of extra personal space terrify the living daylights out of me. Just thinking about going to the mall during the holiday shopping season is enough to send me scurrying under the bed with a bucket of ice cream. The thought of disappointing everyone on my gift list… that was pretty powerful, too.
I knew there had to be a way. It was December 22nd and this was in a time when shopping on-line meant weeks of wondering, “when will it get here?” That wouldn’t leave me anywhere near enough time to get things wrapped. I had to go out and face those crowds of harried people and not end up in a quivering heap in the corner.
If I was going to do this, I’d need a way to keep my over-sized personal space clear of other people.
Now, mall security frowns on things like my “people repellent” (a staff I made from some found wood – well the tree gave it to me, but that’s another story since I couldn’t take it to the mall anyway). Also off the list was the flame thrower, bow with arrows, or the juggling knives (which I’ve never actually learned to juggle – but that’s also another story).
What I did have was a closet full of costumes and Renaissance Festival garb, including a gown with a hoop skirt. The bottom hoop is five feet in diameter. Between that, the cleavage produced by the bodice and most people’s revulsion of anything weird, I was set. I added a market basket in place of shopping bags and a cloak in place of a jacket. I only lacked a muff instead of mittens to complete the look.
No one would get close to me. In fact, I doubted anyone would even let me notice them looking at me. Oh, it’s good to be weird.
I arrived at the mall, market basket and all, and marched right up to the doors. It took almost a minute of deep breathing exercises to go through those doors, but I made it. Whew. It was as crowded as I expected. People and noise and it took all my will power not to turn around and leave right then. Then I noticed that all the people were over there and I was over here. All good. This is what I wanted.
I checked my list and headed to the first store. I made it without a single person bumping into me. Score one for the dress. Two steps into the store (which wasn’t sized for people wearing hoop skirts) I was approached by a sales assistant. Could she help me? Of course. I told her what I was looking for and she found it for me. I made my way through the open center of the store to the register, paid for my purchases and back out to the hallway without knocking over any displays.
This was better than I’d hoped. I’d be done in an hour and a half rather than the two hours I’d planned for.
Then I saw him.
A young man, cute as can be, in a mall security uniform. He stood right across from the store I’d just come out of and was the first person to openly look at me.
I tried to smile and move on to the next shop. He was there again when I came out. This just wouldn’t do. My dress was working and I wasn’t going to let one security guy ruin by making me paranoid on top of all the rest.
I gathered up my courage and walked right up to him. He didn’t expect that.
“Are you planning to follow me all day?” I asked.
“I’m sorry…” He stammered. I could see him trying to figure out how to tell me that he’d been ordered to follow me around. Weird gets that.
“You need to watch me.”
“It will be easier on us both if you escort me.”
His eyes went wide, then a smile blossomed from his lips and spread across his face. “Why, yes,” he held out his arm, “I believe it would.”
I took his arm and told him my next stop.
We were quite the sight, I’m sure. The crowds parted before us and it was as though I were alone, with my knight in shining armor, as I finished my Christmas shopping in record time. We chatted between shops, and he confirmed that the security chief had set him on my tail. I told him of my issues. In the end, he escorted me to my car. We wished each other happy holidays. I made it home without further incident and even managed to get everything wrapped before grabbing the tub of ice cream.