It's the first morning of winter break, I wake up in the comfort of my childhood bed, and find that my parents' beloved new puppy, Lexi, managed to sneak into the room and destroy my only pair of winter shoes. So now my fake Uggs from the seventh grade are ruined, and I'm in dire need of something other than rubber Old Navy flip flops to wear on my feet.
I run downstairs and complain to my mom about how Lexi (who was only purchased in the first place so my parents would have something to take care of when I left for college), destroyed my only pair of warm shoes. Rather than compensating me for Lexi's destruction, she gossips with me about the latest neighborhood happenings--because we all know that suburban sex scandals are really important--as Lexi sits beneath my mom's feet, hoping that she will soon take off her slippers so she can have another taste of demolition.
After she finally stops talking about Sheila and the mailman, I quickly cut her off to let her know I'm going to Zumiez Shoe Store in hopes of finding an intact pair of winter shoes, free of holes and bite marks.
I grab my over-sized brown leather bag, slip on my now toeless fake Uggs and follow the same routine I always have to get to the same mall I've always gone to on Little Patuxent Parkway in Columbia, MD. After driving for about 20 minutes, I turn into the mall's main parking entrance where I spend the same amount of time it took me to get to the mall in the first place looking for a parking space. I turn off the engine, grab my oversized bag, exit the vehicle and walk toward the mall to begin my quest.
I approach the entrance and notice that nothing has changed, on the outside of the building. I enter the mall through the pristine glass door entrance and step onto the spotless marbled floor, where I am greeted by the sounds of a crowded food court and a heating system that is turned on a little too high.
Straight ahead, I see the food court seating area, a space where I have never actually been able to find a seat; to my right is a strip of fast food restaurants, each occupying their own individual space while teenage employees pass out samples like "yummy yummy orange chicken" to potential customers.
As I walk down the hallway my attention shifts to a 650-pound man standing in line at Popeye's. The man hands over a 20-dollar bill, collects his extra-large family sized meal from the cashier and waddles back toward his equally large wife so they can simultaneously inhale their fried chicken and biscuits.
I turn right at the end of the food-court area and continue down another section of the mall. To my left is a seductive Victoria's Secret window display, a painful reminder that I'll never look like any of the models in the windows; to my right is Claire's, a pre-teen girl's fantasy world comprised of nothing but plastic jewelry.
My quest for new shoes at Zumiez is accompanied by the sound of crying babies who supersede the light melody of the mall's radio station. Newlywed couples surround me attempting to hush their crying babies, the young mothers are frantic to hush their newborns and the young fathers stand idly next to their wives pretending like they know how to help.
As I continue down the hallway, the sound of blubbering babies lessens, but the sound of gossipy teenage girls rises. Four teenage girls walk side by side, directly in front of me, making sure to talk loud enough for everyone in the hallway to hear. The girls soon turn into Free People--an overpriced bohemian clothing store, where they will each use their daddy's credit card to buy a skirt they don't need--and just ahead, I see the goal of my quest.
The Dippin' Dots kiosk (an outpost that has definitely been occupied by the same family for at least three generations) is just ahead, which confirms that Zumzies is only two stores away, but my attention is caught by an adorable little girl standing at the kiosk. She stands innocently next to her father, wearing a daisy printed dress with frilled high socks and white buckled shoes. She tugs at her father's hand, prompting him to lift her up and give her a better view of the different flavors.
As I pass Dippin' Dots, the smell of cotton candy ice cream is mixed with the light scent of flowers sprinkled with a mahogany musk. As the unfamiliar scent gets stronger and stronger, I notice the happy expressions of people around me begin to fade.
I arrive at Zumiez, but rather than being confronted by a packed window display of knockoff shoes, I am greeted by the words of a large sign: "Forever in Our Hearts." Flowers and candles are spread out in front of the store's entrance; cards and teddy bears lay among the candles and roses, all of which are delicately placed on the spotless beige marbled floor. I step closer to the entrance and notice three separate photo frames placed amidst the flowers, candles, cards, and teddy bears. One frame holds the photo of a young woman who looks no older than myself, the second frame holds a middle school portrait of a young boy, and the final frame holds a candid picture of a toddler blowing out the candles on a birthday cake. The photographs all lay directly beneath a smaller sign: "Gun Control. Save Our Children."
I breathe in. I take a few steps backwards. I stand in complete shock, and turn away from the memorial I had unexpectedly come across. As I walk back down the hallway toward the entrance I came through, I can see the little girl in the daisy dress smile as she gives her dad a loving spoonful of her cotton candy Dippin' Dots.