The Supermarket Story

A few years ago, miserable at work, I became addicted to a message board (I hear they actually have clinics for this problem in Japan already). Of all the time I killed posting there during my days as a chemist, there was really only one post that I feel proud of. Its topic was suicide. This is my attempt to recreate it and expand on it for posterity (that board is since gone even from Google's cache).

I've put a lot of thought into suicide at various points in my life. Often this has been mainly in the philosophical sense: How strange it is that this existence could suddenly cease or completely change in nature because my mind decided that it should. And at darker moments I've thought of suicide from the emotionally-driven perspectives of despair, suffering and self-hatred. The primary reason I've always found to never take the plunge has been a desire to not bring suffering to my family and friends. In particular the imagined devastation of my mother has always shut my mind right up when it gets going in those wild directions. The 'supermarket story' best describes an alternative good reason to not kill oneself.

Being intellectually fascinated with suicide and the nature of consciousness since childhood, I've always been bothered by the attitude in our culture that 'any thoughts of suicide' should require a person to be given forced psychological 'help'. I would imagine that any person who does a lot of thinking is going to think about suicide here and there. I first ran into this sickening censorship taboo in junior high when a well-meaning peer reported me to the guidance counselor for early poems I was writing which were exploring the idea at a time when I was too young and pre-hormonal to be experiencing true depression. Since then I've learned that this world is crawling with ignorant mind police and have had no problem dealing with such people by telling them whatever they want to hear, or, preferably, nothing at all. By the way, the guidance counselor insisted that I needed to change my poetry topics to 'flowers'.

The idea of being able to choose a sudden exit fascinates me on many levels. For example, I may be at a party having a good time and suddenly the thought crosses my mind that I could actually just walk out and leave it. Sometimes once I get this thought in my mind I become possessed by my own curiosity. Then I may feel compelled to immediately leave the party and walk to some random spot where I could not have predicted I would be at that moment. I may touch a mailbox and think to myself 'I could easily have never touched this mailbox. I could easily still be inside. But instead, because a random thought possessed my mind, I am having this completely different experience now, one which could never have been foreseen.'

In a way I guess it seems totally ridiculous that I get this amazing high from walking out of a good time and touching a mailbox by myself, but it gives me this surreal sense of being a free agent that operates my mind at its own whim, as opposed to being led into predictable patterns of behavior designed by evolved instincts or learned behaviors. And leaving in itself is so sudden - a complete change to the senses - there is something so exciting to me for a moment when an exit is made and suddenly I am standing outside in the vast wild world.

Once I was at the supermarket when I got an attack of this type of thinking. I started to fantasize about walking away from my shopping cart and going out into the parking lot and exploring the suburban streets behind the supermarket- being somewhere completely unexpected and not being in the supermarket at all. The thoughts overtook me and I abandoned my full cart of groceries to get the rush of walking out into the parking lot where the world could not have expected me to be coming- to penetrate a moment in that lot which never thought it would see me.

Standing in the parking lot I was truly heady, intoxicated by own freedom, feeling that I was seeing some secret surreal moment. For several minutes I stood there on top of the world enthralled by own consciousness and the sensation that I had been newly born by walking out the automatic doors. I was communing with the branches of the trees and the cracks in the pavement as if I was in the midst of an intense acid trip. I was thinking about making memories and making memories of making memories and the memories of doing that some more (yes, these are those very memories!)

But after these wild sensations wore down, I became more conscious of the other reality. The reality that I really did need to buy groceries in the near future was the same one that had propelled me toward the supermarket in the first place. Now that reality came back more strongly to my mind. I sighed to realize that although I was free to go off and do whatever I pleased, that it would only mean that I would have to come back to the supermarket tomorrow and start back over with all the shopping. Finally I had to concede that the only thing to do was to go back in and buy my groceries and I may as well just go back and get my cart right now so I wouldn't have to start all the way back at the beginning tomorrow.

When I went back into the supermarket, though, my cart was not in the aisle where I had left it. Because I had only been outside for a few minutes, it surprised me that my cart would have been already moved, and I searched for it in vain throughout the store. After going up and down each aisle several times in search of the work I had done assembling my groceries, I began to feel incredibly lost. At that moment it occurred to me that the entire experience was a perfect description of suicide. I had suddenly chosen to walk away from my unfinished work and jump into a different reality. Then I had experienced a euphoric freedom, which was followed by the return of the original need to perform my human duty. Then, realizing the error of my whim, I had attempted to return to my human body, only to be devastated by the loss and the finality of what I had done and forced to begin from the beginning.

After that experience I decided to resist the urge to leave at such moments. Instead I make it a point to experience suburban supermarket parking lots in a psychedelic sense during my walk in and out from the car. That way I still get to chuckle to myself in knowing euphoria without slowing down my chore in the slightest.


Anonymous on January 27, 2008 - 7:37am

Nice story, Jody.
A friend of mine once told me “whatever issues you have in this life carry with you into your next life”. That made sense to me. So why waste time, I might as well learn to deal with those issues and improve myself (and hopefully the world around me) now.

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • You may post code using <code>...</code> (generic) or <?php ... ?> (highlighted PHP) tags.
  • You can use Markdown syntax to format and style the text. Also see and Markdown Extra for tables, footnotes, and more.

More information about formatting options