Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The emotional perils of shopping for high-end napkins

A couple weeks ago, I went to Williams-Sonoma to buy a gift. Toward the back of the store, piles of tastefully perky, holiday-themed linen napkins filled the sale racks. Tidy little packets of Christmas cheer, conveniently available in groupings of four. Christmas en Provence? Sign me up!

I remember precisely what I was thinking as I sorted through the stacks:

"Hmm...Pretty cute napkins. These could be nice to have for the holidays--dinner parties, even just for cocktails. And....woah! Marked down to $2.95! I'd totally set my table with these! (Well, assuming I'm still alive. If I were dead, Neil would never remember to put these out.) And actually, if I die, he probably wouldn't even host Christmas, so there'd be no need for napkins at all. Someone would definitely step in and host it for him. Spare him the headache, figuring, 'Oh, he's got enough on his plate, being a single dad and all.' So...Maybe it'd be a waste to get them. But still. That's a pretty good deal. Ok, I'll get 'em. Should I buy just one set (4), or two sets (8)? Probably eight, since we'd have family over. Then again, if no one's in town, it MAY just be the four of us: Me, Neil, Betty, Rhodes. Just an even four. Not five or anything. Because we probably won't be able to have any more kids. Probably won't get the chance. Not anymore. Damnitalltohell. OK, I'll get two sets of four, just to be safe."

I purchased eight holiday napkins that day.

You may be wondering where I'm going with this somewhat rambling and innocuous-bordering-on-boring anecdote.

Perhaps it's best explained by contrasting my above reaction with other women's reactions to the same situation. I'm suspect that most other women, looking at these same napkins, would experience a thought process that goes something like this:

"These are cute. I love holiday parties! Are they on sale? Oh, awesome!"   --Fin--

When you're living with a "disease", even if you're managing to live fully and happily in spite of it (and I am), you view situations ever-so-slightly differently than you did before. Try as you might to block out scary thoughts, they still manage to creep in to your every interaction. The disease casts its sinister shadow, always. Even if only slightly.

Even in the simple act of shopping for napkins. What could be less a provocative, less incendiary situation? And even THAT kicked up the topics of: my death, my widower husband, and my inability to be in charge of how many kids I might produce.

Those are weighty topics to blindside you on a Tuesday morning in the mall. Merci beaucoup, Williams-Sonoma.

And there was something else going on here, something even more unsettling. This particular situation challenged me to come clean and admit to myself how I REALLY felt about my chances for a future. Will I be alive to use these damned napkins, or not? Do I really BELIEVE I'm going to beat this cancer? Neil aint gonna use these napkins on his own. Don't buy 'em if you're not truly expecting to use 'em.

Decision time: Put your money where your mouth is, Shelly.


To be honest with you, I'm not sure how many Christmases those napkins will see. I hope those suckers get used so many times they become pinot-stained, frayed, musty, and faded.

But the truth is, I don't know.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Love that you went for eight!!!!

    You're such a great writer, Shel.


  3. eight, indeed...and we don't know, none of us do, but all of us are hoping for the pinot-stained (not merlot, shel? Had to go HIGH END?!), faded version...all of us are, for all of us. Now, can you upload a picture of these glorious on-sale goods?

  4. WOW. Just wow. Thanks for letting us in on what it's really like to live with cancer. You're brave to write that.
    And I'm glad you bought 8.

  5. Way to buy those fucking napkins, Shelly. Great to see you the other day!!!