I parked my car outside the Goodwill in Lodi and studied the line. A sign on the window announced the new normal: Capacity – 30. I had come in search of a couple of household items that weeks of reflection had finally convinced me to acquire. My dedication did not extend to the funds necessary for a new item. Used would suffice, at least until I determined the wisdom or folly of the purchase.
But did that compel me toward a growing queue? Should I endure the chilly air, scrolling through social media on my phone? Would the wool poncho keep me sufficiently warm? Could the odds of discovery justify the tedious shuffling forward, keeping six feet from the next in line?
I eased myself from the vehicle and closed the door. When I had steadied the wobble in my legs, I stepped onto the curb and judged the distance between myself and my destination. A glance through the car window confirmed the availability of a walking stick but I disdained its awkwardness and proceeded forward. With a few wary glances, the line shifted to allow me safe passage to its end.
It took fifteen minutes and the decampment of the guy in front of me to gain admittance. With a small cart, I began navigating the home goods aisles. I found a large plant pot (score!) and headed for the appliance aisle. No toaster oven. No small dresser in the meager furniture section. I skirted the clothing (my no-clothing-buy rule holding fast) and surveyed baskets (adorable but unnecessary) before turning the corner to books.
Like most writers, I think I should be journaling. The idea of owning a plethora of notebooks appeals to me. I usually get two or three days into each new year before abandoning the effort. Crises draw me back and inevitably I decide that remarkable trauma or joy justifies the purchase of a fresh book. But living tiny and wanting to save money have of late combined to dissuade me from acquiring any more notebooks.
I found a novel by a favorite author and studied its back cover, straining to recall if I had already enjoyed its passages. Into the cart it went. I started forward when suddenly I spied a spiral binding, a sure sign of a journal. Whether or not it contained someone else’s thoughts remained to be seen. I carefully slid it from between a Gideon’s Bible and a vegetarian cookbook.
Empty pages! Its price appealed to me — $1.39. Small enough for my everyday handbag. I could carry it with me! I debated. You have four or five barely filled notebooks at home! But none so cute, none so thin, none so small, none so cheap. I leafed through the book to make sure its pages bore no one else’s scribblings. I stopped.
On the last page, someone had, indeed, recorded a brief, stunning message, incomplete but somehow self-contained. I lightly ran my finger over the ballpoint ink. My breath caught as I noted the homonymous error. I saw the one-word entry at the bottom of the page. I read and re-read the line so carefully penned on the last page of a virgin notebook, by an unknown person, who then donated the book to Goodwill or left it on their bedside table for someone else to donate. For me to find. For me to take home, on a cold clear Saturday in January, on the first day of the rest of my life.
It’s the sixteenth day of the eighty-fifth month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.