Hombre de Pollo

It’s a name my middle daughter came up with for the Whole Foods guy, the one who packaged up her organic chicken when she was on a six-week cleanse. She bought a lot of fresh chicken, saw the guy often, gabbed back and forth, and hence the funny name.

Fast forward a few years and I have my own “hombre de pollo.” My guy has a long, braided ponytail and a dry wit. We always seem to jump right into the back and forth banter, a pun or two thrown in for good measure. He tends to joke about getting my order wrong. I play along, suggesting what I’ll do with the potential overabundance of chicken.

After many encounters, we recognize one another. I always enjoy seeing him. “Hombre de pollo.” Yes, indeed.

I shopped late last night after a long, hard day. I was limping again, reinjuring a relatively new groin pull from lifting Ashley. I waited until it was slow at the counter to hobble back to the meat department so I could finish up quickly and get home.

Sure enough, my guy was there.

Preparing for an upbeat encounter briefly lifted my spirits. I was still recovering from having to advocate for Ashley at physical therapy earlier in the day. It’s been decades of it, but even more acutely these last 9 months. I occasionally have to be “that person” and, to be honest, I hate it. I’m tired of the fight. Bone tired.

“Hombre de pollo” and I always start our usual convo with me characteristically asking him about his day. But today was refreshing because, well, he was honest. “It was just okay.” “Not so good today?” “No,” he said. “To be real, not so great.” I chimed in, “Honestly, mine either.” “Weird,” he said, “but it’s as if nobody is really prepared to hear the truth.”

I felt this moment of refreshing vulnerability. I don’t get to experience that much and just blurted out, “My oldest daughter had a stroke 9 months ago. She was already managing disabilities, but it’s been devastating.” “Oh, man…” “Yeah, how would you have known? We both put smiles on our faces, and no one ever really knows the truth.”

He then shared with me about a woman he dated. “She had a two-year-old daughter. The little girl was fighting acute lymphoblastic anemia. I was there for the whole thing. Man, it was tough.” Hoping that she made it, I asked, “How is she now?” “She’s 7 and full of energy. You’d never know. But, you know, she’s got to be followed for the rest of her life.”

He handed me my chicken and said, “Somebody needs you. You step up.”

And he’s right.

Please, give and receive being real with the people around you today. We cover up our pain with a smile and a “doing fine.” More of us are hurting than any of us realize, and one of us just might benefit from some authenticity. I know I did.