I went to replace a gallon of bad milk and return a bag of mealy peaches, plus we needed potatoes. The cashier, who couldn’t have been older than 16, admired my tattoo and asked me first what the Hebrew meant and then what *that* meant to me.
I told him “Aya” means hawk and is one of my wife’s Hebrew names. He went on to tell me that he’d have to think long and hard about getting ink, and I told him that had been the case for me, too. Then I asked if he had any ideas.
“Well,” he said, “I had a brother who I never met because he was strangled by his umbilical cord, so I always thought maybe I’d do something about that.”
“Did he have a name?” I asked. “BJ,” he told me. “My parents just called him BJ.”
Then the bagger, also of high-school age, chimed in. She gestured to her back and told us about the Banksy image she imagined spreading across her left shoulder blade– the butterfly girl. “Suicide has been a big part of my life the last few years,” she said. “And I’m a writer so I love defiance and symbolism.”
When I mentioned that I was also a writer, she brightened and told me she is a published poet and takes workshops with a local group for teen writers. She looked so proud.
I left the store with milk, potatoes, and a reminder that all of us carry so many stories, whether they’re visible to the outside world or not.