Everyone has stories that approach such a level of weird and strange that they seem almost surreal. Maybe you had a conversation in the park about Foucault with Jack Nicholson or your driving instructor enlists you to stalk her boyfriend as part of your lesson (Well, that last one is A’s story for another day). However, R’s story, this story, beats all of those.
Let’s set the stage. I was 19 and back staying with my parents for the summer after my first year at college. For some reason or another my mother had needed me to drive her somewhere, and I had gone to the public library (because I am JUST that cool) to kill time while waiting until it was time to pick her up. All was well and normal until I left the building, got in the car, and started to pull out of the parking lot. From the library entrance this woman with a toddler somewhere around two or so waves desperately, runs over to my car, proceeds to shove her toddler in the backseat, her toddler’s stroller in the trunk, and herself in the passenger seat.
In that moment I truly knew the meaning of frozen in shock. I have no idea why my car doors were unlocked, but they were. I think I must have unlocked the trunk for her out of the sheer shock of having a two year old boy suddenly appear in my backseat. Once she was settled in the passenger seat, and I had still yet to move a muscle, she informed me that she had left her wallet at the local mall and needed to go there. She was particularly crazed about this. As in, almost crying. So, still in a daze, I drove toward the mall.
As we proceeded towards the mall, which was only a few miles away, I suddenly broke from my stunned silence and started babbling. But my newly acquired passenger was also babbling. So essentially there was a Trailblazer driving down residential streets in which some seriously distracted driving was going on. She went on about the wallet, which has got to have been the most important wallet ever created, and I babbled about how I hadn’t lived in the town in which we were currently driving for seven years. I think I even pointed at my t-shirt (which had the name of my university on it) and stated that “I live in New York City most of the year” about 12 times during the probably 3 mile drive.
Finally, we arrive at the mall. She jumps out and runs towards the entrance and the Wallet of Destiny. I, on the other hand, experienced what are probably the most terrifying five minutes of my life. I have had surgeries, been diagnosed with a medical disorder, had my mother tell me over the phone that my father had just been hospitalized for heart problems, and a range of other things. But this, THIS, just inspired sheer terror. Remember, I had a two year old boy in the backseat, and his mother had just booked it into the mall, ostensibly due to a WAY overblown concern for a lone wallet.
One minute passed. I watched the toddler eat some popcorn, toss some on the floor, eat some popcorn.
Two minutes. Panic is rising. I asked the toddler how his popcorn was. He, less than shockingly, babbled some nonsense back and smiled.
Three minutes. Rising panic.
Four minutes. OH MY GOD THIS LADY IS NEVER COMING BACK THIS WAS ALL AN ELABORATE PLAN TO GET RID OF HER LITTLE BOY OH MY GOD WHAT IS THE NUMBER FOR SOCIAL SERVICES OH MY GOD WILL THEY BELIEVE ME WILL THEY THINK I AM A KIDNAPPER OH MY GOD CAN I DROP OFF THIS CHILD BEFORE I HAVE TO PICK UP MY MOTHER.
Five minutes. More panic. Sheer panic. TERROR.
Six minutes. By this point I am a human-shaped tower of panic. I am trying desperately to concoct some sort of plan in my head that involves giving this child to social services and hoping they can find a caring relative while I go pick up my mother.
Seven minutes. The mother comes back. OH THANK EVERY DEITY IN THE UNIVERSE I DON’T SUDDENLY HAVE A CHILD.
Of course, my day as a chauffeur was not yet over. The Wallet was not in the mall. Possibly because this was not the best town, and any number of people had seen the lone wallet left on a table in the food court (she said she left it there when they ate some kind of chicken). Someone took it. I am fairly sure someone had probably taken it before she ever pressed me into service as her chauffeur. Wallet + Open view on table + Not the best area = THIEVERY.
The fact that the mall was not in fact the end of our journey did not bother me a bit at this point. I was so happy I wasn’t going to be making an unexpected stop at social services I would have driven this woman to Idaho and back if she had asked me. Instead of Idaho, she requested I drive to a local park. She said her mother would meet her there and pick up her, the kid, and the stroller.
Of course, I didn’t know how to actually get to the park. Rather than point at my shirt and indicate that I went to school in New York City again, I asked her for directions. She directed me to the park, which ended up being probably five miles away. Most of this time was spent with her babbling about losing her wallet and thanking me for driving. I, meanwhile, had a repeating mantra going on in my head: “Get them to the park, and they will leave. Get them to the park, and they will leave.” Finally, I made it to the park. When I pulled up and parked so my strange passengers could finally leave, the sun hit some random piece of park equipment, and it reflected like crazy. I remember feeling it was symbolic of how I felt. Like sunrise or a new dawn despite the fact that it was probably around noon.
At the park, they left. I WAS SO HAPPY. I left that park in a complete daze. Quite frankly, it is extremely lucky that I didn’t cause an accident I was so out of it. I was almost shaking from the relief of simply no longer having unexpected and unwanted passengers. They were finally gone, the only evidence being the popcorn the child left behind in the backseat of my car.
However, remember, I still had to pick up my mother in about ten minutes. My only thought was that there was no way in high holy hell I was going to tell her about this incident. So I pulled over into an empty parking lot, cleaned the popcorn out of my car, and tried to air it out. It’s not as though my passengers had a particular odor, I just didn’t want ANYTHING to be off about this car. As a result, I ran around the car, opened all the doors and the trunk, and frantically flapped them back and forth. This had the dual effect of likely providing some quality entertainment for passers-by and probably not being that great for my doors’ hinges.
Eventually, I decided there was no remaining evidence of my passengers, picked up my mother, drove her the hour or so home, and didn’t tell her anything. Now, it’s just The Greatest Story Ever and an awesome way to entertain an entire room. Though if this incident had happened to me now, six years later, I feel I would have a different response.