A woman walks into a T.J. Maxx holding a giant stuffed hamburger. She heads to a cashier and asks the teller if she can please have a refund. The cashier is polite enough not to laugh at said woman, but does stare at her for a second, absentmindedly rubbing the hamburger’s lettuce frill. Then, engaging the woman in small talk about the upcoming frost, she processes the return. The woman goes to the back of the store, picks up a sizable stuffed banana, hikes it under her arm, and heads back to the cashier line.

I was that woman last week.

Somehow, my life, which had started with such promise — academic awards, a scholarship to grad school,  a vigorous, if unprosperous, writing career — had become distilled down to this point. I stood in line with my stuffed banana and recognized that this was the most pressing thing I needed to accomplish that day. I wasn’t even ashamed. I was now this person. This stuffed banana person.

It all started in the doggy aisle at T.J. Maxx back in, yes, August. This aisle has become one of my favorite places in the world, and, on a regular basis, I happily load up my cart with treats and toys and mull over harnesses and food bowls.

Well, as you likely know, T.J. Maxx tends to roll out holiday decor far in advance of any actual holiday and so on that August day, I happened to come upon two doggy Halloween costumes. One was of a banana split. The second was of a super hero. I picked them up and, as one tends to do for no apparent reason, held them up at arm’s length to make a frank assessment. As I was doing so, I was aware of two things:

  1. These costumes were $12.99 a piece, which seemed like a fair price.
  2. I was holding a banana split doggy costume in full view of the Somerset public.

Nevertheless, I quickly knew I needed to own these costumes. Picturing our little Tilly and Fitz dressed up for Halloween actually made me kind of giddy and I knew William, though initially reluctant, would ultimately get a kick out of it.

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Just to be thorough, though, I asked a passing customer if I was completely loony for considering this purchase. Unfortunately, this customer also happened to be in the pet aisle at T.J. Maxx and so of course her immediate response was, “You are only insane if you don’t buy them.”

I brought them home, fed William a happy hour cocktail, and pulled out the costumes. His mouth lifted at the sight of the banana split, it fell firmly with the super hero, however. This costume, complete with cape and faux muscly chest, had little human arms that hung down in front, kind of making your dog look like he was posing in front of one of those photo boards with holes cut out for your face.

Anyway, the arms were too much for William Baker. He said it was strange and demeaning and he wouldn’t have it. Which necessitated my return trip to T.J. Maxx.

On that second trip, I discovered the doggy Halloween costume selection had become badly depleted. My two options were: a hamburger or a Thanksgiving turkey. The turkey looked uncomfortable even by doggy Halloween costume standards, so I picked up the hamburger and traipsed home.

It, too, was met with a firm no by Dog Daddy Baker.

And so, a third trip to T.J., a second return, and me back in the doggy aisle at the back of the store. It’s there I found just a plain banana costume and figured it would have to do. As I pondered more on it, I even started to get a kick out of the symmetry of it all: Tilly would have the girly banana split costume, Fitzi would have the straight man’s plain banana.

But, as you likely know, T.J. Maxx tends to roll out holiday décor far in advance of any actual holiday. And low and behold, that’s when I spotted doggy Christmas sweaters.

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