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Publisher’s Letter: Hot and Bothered

Ashley Sexton Gordon. Photo by Jeannie Frey Rhodes.

I stood outside the threshold with a shopping cart full of boneless/skinless chicken breasts, a vat of hummus, a case of assorted wine and enough toilet paper to keep a standard middle school running clean for a month. Sweat dripped off my forehead. My skin was on fire. I slithered out of my pullover and left it in the toddler’s seat. All the while, I kept my eyes on the prize. “Let’s do this,” I might have said aloud.

As I walked toward the entrance, leaving my cart behind, I registered the shock of those around me. They saw I was only wearing a sleeveless top and shorts. A woman gasped. A child’s finger pointed my direction, but I only saw it in my eye’s periphery. An elderly gentleman behind me attempted a save. “Ma’am. I think you forgot your windbreaker.”

Back off, Grandpa. I’m walking straight into the Costco refrigerated room with little more on than a bathing suit.

No, this isn’t the Southerner’s version of the Polar Bear Plunge. There’s a good chance I’m going through The Change.

That’s what my mom suggested a few months ago after a week’s worth of “I can’t believe I’ve been putting up with this” and “See how crazy everyone is?” spewing out of my mouth at every turn. She came over to my house, sat me down on the couch and suggested that I might be hormonal, emotional, a bit irrational. “Perhaps you are going through The Change,” she suggested quietly. Kindly. Afraid I might lash back in a crazy-eyed way.

“I’m only 46,” I squeaked out, reaching over to her. I think my hot hand seared her forearm.

In case you didn’t grow up in the time that people gave names to things they didn’t want to discuss in polite company, The Change is menopause. And there is absolutely no way possible that I could be going through menopause because I have four children still at home and I don’t need a walker. Or a medical alert necklace. Or Metamucil. I am not getting old, right? But apparently, the hot flashes are telling me something different.

I have to face facts: I’m comin’ in hot, and I don’t mean in a sexy, supermodel kind of way.

In the comfort of the Costco refrigerated room, my body temperature righted itself after a few minutes of saddling up next to the shoulder-height packs of cage-free eggs. My thoughts returned to me, my mood lifted. I was free.

But I was making the masses uncomfortable. Just past the wind curtain at the refrigerated room’s threshold, the crowd outside eyed me with suspicion—like a tiger in a cage.  “How long has she been in there?” I heard a young dad ask. His cart full of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Uncrustables and Goldfish crackers.

“Four minutes, 32 seconds.” The woman in yoga pants looked up from her Apple Watch and addressed the crowd. “I’ve been timing.” Her young son, lip quivering, lifted his pudgy hand and held hers.

“Mommy, I’m scared,” he said.

Out of nowhere, a young man, face stern with conviction, stepped up and zipped his sweatshirt all the way to his Adam’s apple. “I’m going in,” he said decisively, flipping his hoodie over his man bun. He was about to be a hero.

“Don’t be ridiculous.” This time an older, calmer, wiser voice penetrated the onlookers. She stepped out through the carts and parted the people—some videoing the refrigerated room scene with their phones—and she approached the entrance, silver bob swaying with each step. Her eyes were kind. “Dear,” she addressed me, like a negotiator in hostage situation. “Please fetch me a carton of skim milk and a box of unsalted butter.”

My mind snapped back to my senses. I did as I was told. I walked toward her, then stopped as I saw the world beyond. The masses. Hesitant. Under her breath she said, “Don’t worry, you will make it through this. We all have.” Her veiny hand reached through the wind curtain, took me by the elbow and escorted me back into the land of the living. There was an audible sigh from the crowd.

She threw her shoulders back, and I felt power in her tiny frame. “Show’s over, people,” she told the onlookers, waving a long finger in their direction. “There is nothing to see here. She’s just going through The Change.”