Ribbons of Awareness
By Ripley Patton
"Would you like a free ribbon?" a woman asks. There, in the place between the outer and the inner doors, are two women and a man, smiling and holding out little black cards.
"No," I say. They have cards. Not ribbons. These are two distinctly different things. I know that now. My doctor says I know, that I can trust my mind. I'm on good meds. I can shop by myself and not bring home detergent to feed the cat. These people are playing tricks. Or it could be part of the test.
I am almost past the man when he steps in front of me.
"Hey, come on. It's for a good cause, and it's FREE." He tries to put the card in my hand.
"No!" I yank away. People will give you things. Cigarettes. Alcohol. Drugs. A baby. When I was sick, I always thought they were gifts. Dr. Michaels says, "Not everything is a gift. You can say no if you want."
The inner doors open and I slip between them, leaving the man behind.
Sound assaults me. Light, faces, bodies, carts, rows, columns, pyramids of endless things, all the same, all different. I duck my head and pull the crumpled grocery list from my pocket. It took me three days to write it. I'm pretty hungry.
It is dark outside when I finish at the checkout. My head hurts and my stomach aches. But I've done it. My cart is full, each item's label checked and re-checked to match an item on my list. I push the cart toward the exit. There are doors for entering, and doors for leaving, but when the exit doors open a woman shoves past me coming in. I want to scream at her. I want to grab her hair and pull it out by the roots. Dr. Michaels says, "Not everyone follows the rules. Not everyone needs to, like you do."
When I step through the inner doors into the place between, the man with the cards is there, and for a moment I'm confused. He was at the entrance before. Have I used the wrong doors?
The women are gone now. The man extends a black card toward me.
"Want a free ribbon?" he asks. I can tell he remembers me. His eyes dare me to say no.
I just shopped for myself. I got everything right. I'm getting well.
"No thank you," I say, clenching my jaw and pushing my cart out into the parking lot.
But everything goes wrong after that. I can't remember where I've parked the car. I can't even remember what my car looks like. I try to check all the spaces, but people keep driving away before I get to them. Then, I remember that I don't have a car anymore.
I find my bus pass in my pocket. I look at the full cart. I will never be able to carry it all on the bus. I sit down on the curb and try not to cry. The parking lot is almost empty, and they are closing up the store.
"Hey, are you okay?"
I look up to see the man from the place between the doors staring down at me.
"Oh, it's you," he says, his voice no longer friendly.
"Yes," I say.
"What kind of bitch doesn't take a free ribbon for a good cause?" he asks.
"It was a card, not a ribbon."
"It's a card with a ribbon on it." He pulls one out of his pocket and shoves it in my face.
"What kind of a moron are you?"
"I don’t want it. I don't have to take it, even if it's free. My doctor told me."
"Your doctor? So, what? You're a nut case?"
"Leave me alone."
"You know what these ribbons are for?"
I shake my head.
"To raise awareness. But how the fuck does that work?" He laughs and glances around the parking lot. He unfastens the safety pin that attaches the ribbon to the card. "They don’t even pay me to do this handout job," he says. "I do it for free, 'cause that's just the kinda guy I am."
Then, he jabs the safety pin through my shirt and into the flesh of my left breast.
As pain blossoms in my chest, I hear myself whimper.
The awareness man grabs me by my hair and drags me into the shadows behind the store.
"Melissa, can you hear me?" Dr. Michaels asks.
I ease my eyes open. I'm in the hospital. Everything hurts. My face feels swollen. My hands are bandaged. My fingers twinge with the memory of being run over again and again by a grocery cart. That was one of the things he did to me.
"Melissa, what happened to you? Who did this?" Not Dr. Michaels. A new voice, a man in a uniform.
"I don’t know."
The policeman holds up a plastic bag with something in it.
"We found this pin stuck in your chest," he says, "and this card and ribbon were- stuffed in your mouth. Melissa, do you know where this card came from? What this ribbon means?"
"No," I say.
Dr. Michaels turns away and puts his hand over his eyes. Maybe he's angry. I didn't bring the groceries home. I didn't pass the test.
"Melissa," the officer says. "These ribbons are to raise public awareness of violence against women. Whoever did this to you- we want to catch him. But we'll need your help."
"Okay," I say. "I want to help. I'll remember. I promise."
But I'm lying.
Even as I say it, I'm slipping away from them. I'm floating toward that inner, passionless haven I built for myself years ago.
Let these men shop, and label doors, and hunt angry men wielding their ribbons of awareness.
Not everything is a gift. I can say no if I want.