Sara’s red uniform vest from the craft store, decorated with her nametag and Customer Service Excellence pin, emerges from the chaos of her sewing room during her last manic cleaning binge. It promptly gets appropriated for zombie duty.
When she’s not swept up in a bipolar episode, hating the whole human race for daring to set foot on her planet, Sara is great with people. She spent a long time helping a customer choose paints and brushes. The woman filled out a comment card, and Sara got a pin and a $50 bonus.
But she quit the craft store to focus on college, and then admitted she had fallen too far behind and needed to drop all her classes except Singing for Actors. Another semester wasted; another two grand in debt to add to the pile.
This triggers a rough couple of days. First she screams at me, because as her mom, I’m safe to scream at. Then, unburdened by homework or employment, she now tackles the swirling chaos of her sewing room, filled with unfinished bits of clothing and armor, and plastic bins spilling beads, fabric, spools of thread, paint, and markers in every color. She’s making three projects: Gender-Bending Beetlejuice (a prison-striped jacket with bustier), Paladin Jolteon (half Pokémon, half hired gun) and a sundress in vintage satin, beige with art-deco flowers.
Fabric scraps, discarded tools, and drifts of white shopping bags cover the floor, their contents already forgotten. For a bipolar person, the impulse to binge-shop can be dangerous, especially coupled with a thirty-percent employee discount.
But we can see the carpet now. Somewhere near the bottom she found her red vest with the store name silkscreened on the back. “What do you want to do with this?” I ask. “Keep it in case you decide to work there again?”
“Yeah,” she says. “Or use it for a costume.” She thinks a chain store uniform would be hilarious at next October’s Zombie Crawl in downtown Denver, among the business suits and wedding dresses. “And you know the store would stay open during a zombie attack,” she says.
What in the world would people running from zombies need at a craft store? “Nothing,” Sara says. “Maybe yarn. Or X-Acto knives.” Would people knit while zombies rampage, eating brains? Maybe. A knitting habit also eats your brain, but in a more benign way.
Sara hated how much her store stayed open. She left the Thanksgiving dinner table to clock in at 6 p.m. People she knew from high school were standing in line with their moms for pre-Black Friday doorbusters. She didn’t ask them why they ruined her holiday to buy two-dollar garland and Scentsicles to make their fake trees smell real.
She worked New Year’s Day, Fourth of July, during blizzards and hailstorms. If it snowed so hard that nobody came in for two hours, they could ask permission to close, but they never got it, she says. “We’d call the district manager, and he’d say, ‘Is Target closed?’” It didn’t matter if they said yes. Staying open was a sacred obligation.
The thing is, Target sells things people need during a snowstorm, like sandwich bread and diapers. Craft stores sell tissue paper and bracelet charms. But if they can’t close for hazardous road conditions, there’s no way they’d close for a zombie invasion.
“We’ll call and say, ‘Denton! There are zombies! We have to leave!’ and he’ll say, ‘Is Target closed?’ Or we’ll be getting ready to run away, but we can’t, because random people keep coming in to look around.”
Her store never kicked out a customer, even if someone waltzed in at 8:59 p.m., a minute before closing—stoned, because we live in Colorado—and spent the next twenty minutes staring at Sharpies, as if she expected them to speak to her. Employees could only lurk discreetly—infuriating to a bipolar worker, who wants to kick this woman the hell out of her store and go home.
“Or no, wait, worse than that,” Sara says. “A zombie comes in. Not to eat your brains. Just to browse.” Dear God, zombie shoppers. Taking their own sweet time. Oozing bodily fluids onto the merchandise.
Down the street, panicky people would swarm Home Depot for power tools. Glue guns and X-Acto knives won’t protect you from a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire. “You’re gonna want a chain saw,” Sara says.
The daily email from the craft store will proclaim that barbed wire is farmstead chic, very on-trend, and offer a free class to make your own rustic barnwood bludgeon. Lowest prices of the season! Fifty percent off floral and weapons!
During the zombie apocalypse, while people with 9-to-5 jobs flee the city, low-wage workers will be screwed. The Starbucks by the freeway will still open at 5 a.m., because everyone will want coffee before fleeing. The undead will stumble through the drive-through for Frappuccinos with twenty pumps of syrup. What do they care about sugar? They’re already dead.
Millennial retail clerks will stand behind their registers, bummed out, shoulders stooped, watching everybody else escape. Denton says they can’t leave work, and besides, they need those dead-end jobs to pay their student loans.
“Because student loans never go away,” Sara says. “Even after the zombie apocalypse.”
I have a vision of undead loan servicers, decaying at their desks. If you owe them money, you’re not allowed to die.
At the other craft store chain, the one that sells candies wrapped in Bible verses and smooth jazz hymns on CD, devout employees will calmly wait for the Rapture, while unbeliever co-workers grab the cash from their register drawers and book it out the back door.
“Christians don’t believe in the Zombie Apocalypse,” Sara says.
“Are you kidding? The whole Book of Revelation is about the Apocalypse.”
“That’s just the regular Apocalypse. Not the Zombie Apocalypse.”
When you have a bipolar family member, you live with multiple people. You never know who’s going to emerge from the shower or join you for dinner: a face-eating zombie, Grace Kelly in a silky dress the color of champagne, or Gender-Bending Beetlejuice. It’s my job to love them all, while I wait for my real daughter to come back.
One week ago, she was slumped on the floor, gray-faced and furious at herself for failing, not making eye contact, informing me coldly that meds and therapy don’t work. Everything I suggested was stupid. She was ready to do the world a favor and drive her car into the lake. I wrote down as much of it as I could remember.
Today, we’re laughing so hard I need to pee. But I’m still taking notes.
“You’re not allowed to kill yourself,” I say. “You’re too damn funny.”
She’s getting dressed to go to singing class. “Do these boots look dumb?” she asks.
Not in the least, I tell her. They’re black suede with pointy toes, perfect for skewering zombies.
STORY IMAGE CREDIT: Flickr Creative Commons/Antti T. Nissinen