I know it gets a bad rap many times, but I have a soft spot in my heart for Walmart.
Sure, I love a great deal as much as the next guy. And sure, it might be the best people-watching store on the planet.
But my affection has nothing to do with low prices, interesting people or the inside of the store.
Let me explain.
A year before we got married, and about four years after the start of our on-again off-again relationship, Brooke and I were home from college for winter break.
Running errands one afternoon turned into dinner, which turned into ice cream, which turned into driving around talking, which turned into pulling into the Walmart parking lot well past midnight.
I don’t remember the specifics, but I do remember the poking and prodding.
I loved her. And she loved a version of me.
A version she was starting to test a little bit. Starting to question.
This version was one who didn’t open up much, wasn’t unhappy much, never showed much emotion beyond positive ones, and never got much beyond the surface of things.
And for a vulnerable, I want to go deep kind of gal, that act started to wear thin.
“Tell me how it felt when….”
“I mean, it felt fine…”
“What was it like when….”
“Uh, it was OK…”
“It had to have been awful to experience…”
“It really wasn’t that bad…”
“Justin…if you don’t open up and let me in, I’m out…”
I’m sure it didn’t go just like that, but it was close. Not until I felt threatened by her abandonment (and who wouldn’t bail from a guy like that), did I wake up enough to open the vault.
And boy, did she get what she asked for…
A decade or more of stuffed down feelings, longings and secrets came pouring out. The dam broke.
She hit the wobbly rock wall enough for it to allow enough water through the cracks until it finally burst.
I despised her at the time for pushing me to the brink. And I loved her even more after the pressure released.
I was sabotaging myself.
My self-protected, don’t let anyone in, keep you close enough to like me but not close enough to know me tricks and strategies worked like a charm.
Or so I thought.
Any good therapist or even friend would have looked at me during that time and said, “how’s that working out for you?”
“Great,” would have been my knee-jerk response.
But under the smile was a scared little boy. Feeling like safe and secure love couldn’t possibly be found, so he hid and protected and built his walls of protection.
The walls came tumbling down that night, thank God. And thanks to Brooke.
An emerging open, honest, fearful little boy began to emerge those next few years. Wedding vows were exchanged, jobs were started, babies were born.
Responsibilities piled up. And somewhere the old strategies kicked in again.
Feelings got stuffed. Longings ignored. Secrets buried.
The Universe has an eerie (and beautiful) way of repeating itself. Or coming full circle. Or hunting you down. I’m not sure which.
But two years ago, late one night, I found myself again in a Walmart parking lot. This time alone.
15 years after the dam broke the first time, the poking and prodding started to crack the rock walls again.
Walls that had been refilled with years more subconscious and conscious actions, beliefs, desires and imperfections.
Call it intuition I suppose, but Brooke knew the real me went into hiding again, and self-protected me had come back out to splash around.
She couldn’t quite put her finger on it, but earlier that day, our counselor sure did.
And it hurt like hell, for both of us.
“I need some space,” she said as she grabbed her purse and left the room before we’d even paid for the session.
“Love her enough to give her the space she’s asking for,” he said after she left the room.
Not knowing what that meant or what to do, running some errands that afternoon turned into hiking a trail, which turned into dinner at Chipotle, which turned into driving around aimlessly, which turned into pulling into the Walmart parking lot.
Confused, broken, sad, scared.
But with the waters flowing freely again, instead of being bottled up in the dam of self-protection.
My phone buzzed. Hoping it was a text from Brooke, I grabbed it as fast as I could.
It wasn’t from her.
It was from him. Our therapist.
“Don’t lose heart,” it started and then went on to talk about God’s love, trusting in healing and some other stuff I don’t really remember.
But “Don’t lose heart” rang out like a bell. It was a lifeboat to the rushing waters in my soul that had been held back for so long.
Once again, for years, I had been sabotaging myself.
And the craziest irony in all of it?
What I wanted most, secure love and connection, was impossible without vulnerability and openness.
I was chasing it. But not with those traits, more with the traits of running from pain, avoiding the hard emotions and pretending like life is happy.
I’m hopeful the second time in the Walmart parking lot was a lesson that will stick around for a lot longer than it took between parking lot experiences.
I want this one to last. I don’t want history to repeat itself. I don’t want the dam waters to fill back up.
I’d rather they flow freely, even when they are choppy and out of my control.
Don’t lose heart.
And please don’t shut it off from those who love you.
Because self-protection is a sabotaging liar.