An Unexpected Gift

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He slid the note across the counter. My eyes rose up to meet his – my soul guiding me to gain access to his – as a shiver rose up my spine. I noticed right away the paper he was handling wasn’t crisp nor white (apparently after five years of practice at the same location, these are general indications I had picked up on that this would be a patient’s prescription).

In all her Kali energy, my job was ripped from me like a dangerous toy being taken from the hands of an infant who didn’t know any better.

There she was; there I was – at 1:01pm on Thursday, July 18th, 2019.

I was brought into Presence more powerfully than ever before. In retrospect, his hands possessed the slightest vibrational tremor as he opened the folded piece of paper slowly. He was, in many ways, careful… cautious. His dark sunglasses covered an abnormal amount of his facial landscape. Not being able to stare into the portal hiding behind those lens triggered the slightest frustration in me.

“I’m going to have to get you to follow the instructions on the note.”

I looked down, adrenaline not yet pumping.

As if it was a process I had attained mastery of, I calmly began taking action, explaining every move I would be making before making it. “I’m going to grab this large white bag here and take it back to where we keep them.”

Turning my back to him and taking four steps over toward the pharmacy counter, my eyes darted to the approximate locations where the panic buttons rested. The two hanging like tacky necklaces on strings were positioned too deep on the counter to be reached without notice. Damnit, that was quite apparent now. A split second of contemplation within the last step I took toward their location deciphered that I would not be able to locate the hidden panic button without causing distress within myself. My heart rate was stable; I had been acting in a complete state of calm, reverence even, as if I was serving any other patient on any other day. There was one distinct difference here though - while I had sternly professed that we would “not tolerate abusive language from anyone” to the aggressive husband of a patient the day prior, I would not be commanding any demands to this man. Not today.

“We keep the narcotics in these drawers here. I’m going to bend down and put them in the bag.”

I bent down, opening the first drawer, using enough force to ensure the stubborn storage container opened completely. I was thankful for its nature, as it housed some of the most potent, illicitly sought after medications in the world of medicine.

They could be used for good. They truly could, but they weren’t always used in completely purity. In most cases, a sense of underlying unease bubbled within me when I counselled patients on these drugs. I was always probing when these were prescribed. PI work was not new in this job; it was a weighty aspect of the role, but I wanted to ensure that these medications, these drugs that held the potential to take complete control of one’s life, were being prescribed with care, and more importantly, being used with care.

Our pharmacy assistant had just organized every medication in this plastic container the day before, clearly marking every drug, strength, and grouping in alphabetical order. Every bottle and every lid now had a colour-coded sticker on it, and the freezer-sized zip-lock bag that held each ingredient possessed a carefully crafted legend on the outside of the bag. Although preoccupied with other work, I had been impressed by the assistant’s organizational skills.

I grabbed each zip lock bag, placing them into the larger bag like I was packing my kids lunches for school. At twenty-nine, I hadn’t decided to have children yet. We had yet to have a sense of urgency in regard to procreating. With seven years of education and two degrees in the physiological sciences, it’s not as if I didn’t realize that biology would one day encourage me to make a decision, but I felt peace with this particular clock.

The bag was getting uncomfortably full. I recall being confused as to whether I should put the few loses boxes into the bag as well. Deeming it too risky (its sharp corners could poke a hole in the bag), I placed the box of hydromorphone injectable on the counter instead. While all other directions from God and the universe in this experience were clear, calm, and direct, this intuitive hit was less obvious.

“I think there is going to be too much for this one bag. I might need to get another one,” I said, motioning up in his direction.

Shifting his bandanna higher up over his mouth, he didn’t so much as acknowledge me. Not hearing his voice angered me in a subtle way.

He placed the large back pack up on the counter by the front till. I placed the grocery bag on top of the large opening, as if I was helping one of our ninety-year-old patients pack up their prescriptions to head back home. It was in that moment that I realized I hadn’t committed his features to memory. Barely being able to see his face, I noticed his skin was fair. I swore he was Caucasian, but then again his skin possessed an almost olivey tone. There was the slightest quality of sweetness in the air – a smell I recognized from many drug users before. Then again, I couldn’t be sure if I conjured this up or if it was really there.

Staring at the top of his head while he worked his new possessions into the backpack, I realized I wasn’t great at estimating heights. I knew my height, though, and as I compared us, he appeared not much taller than me, maybe an inch or so. The bagginess of his worn hoodie hid his weight. It was black, yes. His jeans were dark, black even, and in tethered shape. As he zipped up the bookbag and turned to go, I glanced down at his buttock area. There was nothing there. His thinness surprised me a little. Following his frame up to his hips and waist, I knew he didn’t have much weight on me either. I was about 137 pounds; he must have been sitting at about 135. It is difficult to tell, sometimes, as I had learned men typically carry denser muscle mass, yet his muscles hadn’t really been his focus, had they? He was thin.

“Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.” Did I say it? I can’t be sure.

He thanked me and walked out of the store, his highest self clearly and calmly witnessing it all. I could feel the sadness in the air. His soul’s human had been making shitty decisions, that was clear. 

And in that suspended moment – a moment where Presence could not merely be embraced but fully embodied – I continued to gather intel for when I would be calling the police in just a few seconds, and I forgave him.

The hormones rushed through the gates. I stood there, only moving a little, as an urge to rush to the door and lock it behind him washed over me. My keys weren’t in my pocket. I would have to go to the back office to retrieve them. Simply breathing, barely blinking, I decided I would not enter the room as there was only one way in and out.

My brother – we had been on the phone right as the man had walked into the store. As he (someone I felt encouraged to call a “young” man despite his age appearing to be somewhere between twenty-five and thirty-five) had walked in, I questioned whether I should actually put the phone on hold or simply set the open receiver down on the counter. Routine chimed in, and I placed the line on hold.

“I was just robbed. I need to call 911. I am okay. Okay, bye.”

I dialled. 911. It felt like I had gone over this before, but I had not physically done it before. Feeling each key – they possessed a softness I hadn’t noticed before – I realized the repetitive psychological exposure to the three numbers had ingrained a sense of familiarity within me.

“My name is Casey; I am a pharmacist calling from the Medicine Shoppe on Primrose Drive. I was just robbed.”

The relationship between me and the words on the note was unusual. They didn’t instill an immediate sense of violence, but they possessed a premeditated sense of potential death. They held weight. They held time. It was then that I realized their light was not only dimmed, but gone.

“Act casual. Put all the narcotics in a bag.”