Zombie Apocalypse in a Trader Joe’s

March 27, 2024

Graphic by Lucy Leydon 

…I remain stranded in between the produce and the frozen food, waging a feeble battle against my inner voice and always losing, always awaiting the apocalypse.

        If there was a zombie apocalypse, you’d find me at a Trader Joe’s. Assuming that I emerged triumphantly (and perhaps guiltily) from the stereotypical gorey scenario of escaping from my classmates as they twisted and contorted into rotting, flesh-eating entities, I’d stumble into the familiar space of handwritten chalk signs, a golden bell (probably now silent), and seasonal birthday cards.
        Usually, when I walk into grocery stores I instinctively reach for a basket, not a shopping cart. Pushing a shopping cart has always been like the social anxiety special edition of driving; I’m always fearful of causing a crash or lacking the cues to know the right timing to turn a corner, usually inching along just barely out of reach of aisles where I need to grab an item. I’ll choose to make a full loop around the store rather than weave my way through shopping cart traffic to grab what I need. It’s painfully comfortable to find my too-small hand straining around the too-large basket handles, already anticipating the weight of shoulder ache that will follow me into tomorrow from lugging around two weeks’ worth of groceries with one arm. I always hold my basket close to my body so I can take up less space, make less noise, have less presence. 
        But, with just me and the empty, probably ransacked apocalypse store, I’d yank out a cart with more force than necessary, not caring if it caused a domino effect of carts being pushed out of place, making an enormous, echoing racket. I’d fulfill my childhood dream of being the annoying kid who rode carts in the aisles like a scooter, mindlessly toppling over boxes and perhaps nudging some corpses aside without uttering a single apology. It’s a rather morbid picture to consider, but I’d be too busy reveling in the squeak of the wheels or the rattling of plastic every time I hit the corner of an aisle to care. For the first time, I’d embrace the sounds I make without fear, each push of the cart with my foot almost like launching myself into the arms of a silence that is no longer oppressive, but welcoming. I wouldn’t be scared of taking up space.
        I’d take pictures in front of the produce aisle like an influencer. I think I’d have a preference for the vegetable section - something about the crinkle of the produce bags, the periodic spraying of mist to keep them fresh, and the rich green color of the leaves. I would avoid the bananas — I’ve always thought yellow didn’t match my complexion. Perhaps amidst the ruin, wreckage, and the rot, I’d build a tower of baby carrots, green onions, and miso salad mix, arranging it into some unique architecture for my background. If it wasn’t powered off already, I’d prop my phone up on some snack boxes and set up a timer. I’d finally try out those poses I see on Instagram Reels, like “poses for camera-shy people” or “cute solo selfie ideas” without a care in the world. There would be no fear of an old high school classmate judging my attempts at artistic facial expressions or not-quite-yet-friend acquaintances being scared away by my cringe attempts at dressing out of my comfort zone. It would just be me and the zombies, who would be more concerned with eating me than judging me. Maybe in a sense, the zombies would be like my enablers, my cheerleaders rather than my critics, giving me a space for liberation and self-expression amongst death and decay. My Instagram followers would be people of the past, quite literally for most of them. After taking the pictures, I’d add all of them to my “favorites” rather than just the ones where I like the angle of my arms, the apparent length of my legs, or the lack of lines on my face.
I’d zoom in on the pictures to perhaps remember what I look like with pure, unadulterated happiness on my face one last time rather than squinting at my acne scars or a strand of hair that didn’t perfectly frame my face.
        Following my carting and photoshoot, I’d absolutely eat my heart out in the snack aisles. I’d try everything that I’ve seen on my weekly visits but was always too fearful to try: the Gone Berry Crazy dark-chocolate covered strawberries, Speculoos cookie butter, or the classic lemon bars. I’d also revisit childhood favorites: the Scandinavian Swimmers that always get stuck in my molars, Ube Tea cookies that leave behind a suspicious-looking trail of powder, or the chocolate chip cookie dunkers that I could inhale in 20 minutes while watching a movie. When a colorful, sugary label caught my eye, I’d think more about how it could be my last sweet treat ever rather than its nutritional content, the amount of calories, or how it would raise my blood glucose. I’d walk around eating directly from the box rather than carefully placing them in my bowl cookie-by-cookie. The store’s entire stock would be my serving size, given that it hadn’t already been stolen or expired in the stale apocalypse air.

Graphic by Lucy Leydon

        After my adventures, I’d start on what was usually the most daunting finale of my shopping trip: making small-talk with the cashier. Granted, they might not be much of a conversationalist since they’d either be undead or nonexistent. Nonetheless, I’d venture, for once, beyond topics like the 108 degree Austin weather, the worsening traffic due to the rise of the tech industry, or my rather atrocious choice in Trader Joe’s birthday cards. Maybe I’d add in some variation, rambling about a TikTok trend I’ve been obsessed with, or why I love or hate my outfit today. Maybe once I got comfortable, I’d dip my toes, then plunge into the depths of deep life talks with a stranger. I’d let slip the fact that I have insomnia from worrying about my tasks tomorrow, the image of my to-do list, written in what everyone sees simply as perfect handwriting, like an itch in the back of my eyeballs that has long scabbed over from being picked at incessantly. Perhaps I’d admit that I secretly hate the sound of my voice, and how it’s never loud enough to talk about what matters, always fading into the background — heard but never listened to. Maybe I’d show them my fingertips, bitten, trimmed with only my anxiety and racing thoughts since the 3rd grade, and how my hands are and always will be my biggest insecurity. I’d probably look psychotic, airing out all of my deepest secrets and insecurities to an empty space by the abandoned checkout line, but it’d be easier knowing that I’d probably never see another living soul again. It would be just me, the zombies, and my fresh, unfiltered thoughts, released like smoke into the air for only myself to see before it’s blown away and forgotten.

        If there was a zombie apocalypse, you’d find me at a Trader Joe’s. Despite the imminent end of the world, my probable future transformation into a mindless walking corpse, and snack aisles soaked in blood, I would be the most fearless I’ve ever been. Just for a few moments, I’d truly live the life that I’ve yearned for but never reached: one full of my unapologetic noise, one of self-expression without hesitation, one where my words come undeniably from my unfiltered self. But for now, as the future remains bright and the aisles well-lit and filled with living bodies rather than dead ones, I remain stranded in between the produce and the frozen food, waging a feeble battle against my inner voice and always losing, always awaiting the apocalypse. ■  

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