There was a time in my life where I sold cars. A time when my words could shoot persuasively from my mouth and reach the minds of people unsure. That was my job and like any job it is only bearable accompanied with some fun and foolery.
One morning I was speaking with an older lady. I know she was old not because she told me but because it was obvious. I am talking a full head of gray hair and a face made in a wind tunnel. This appearance was a dead giveaway of her superior survival skills. This lady had been fighting back death and was winning.
Though I question what she did with all of that living. I don’t believe she had ever taken the time to learn to speak. I would’ve accepted sign language, I got nothing. I had been doing all the talking. I would ask questions and get a nod at best. She would mostly just sit there with her mouth half-open barely retaining the pooling saliva dammed by a jutted out bottom lip. I would ask very simple either or questions and my answer would only be a blank stare. Sometimes her stare would be directed towards me, other times not.
We were sitting in the middle of the showroom at a Chevy Dealership and naturally there we quite a few distractions around. There were shiny cars, wacky waving inflatable tube men and a horde of balloons. While waiting for a response to a comment I made I caught her in a staring contest with a cardboard cutout of Oprah. Paper Oprah was there trying to gather attention for XM Radio and doing a hell of job apparently.
I was so bored! I tried everything to get some sort of dialogue going. I had limited success. After far too long I had gathered just enough information to pick out what I thought was the right vehicle for her. Now this was based on the conversation we just had so it had been a tough decision. She and I waddled out to where the cars were parked. I showed her a few and spent a short amount of time convincing her that the car I had chosen for her was in fact the one for her.
I asked her if she would like to take home the vehicle today as long as we could make everything affordable for her. She started a slow nod. Then her nodding became furious. Her “yes” was so violent and rigid that from a distance her movements would have shared the resemblance of a small head seizure. It was the most communication we’ve had so far. I grew to love that nod.
She wanted the vehicle. The next step was to drive the vehicle she was trading in and determine its value. I decided to let her drive while I evaluated from the passenger seat. I asked her the typical textbook trade in questions and sat in silence as had been the custom thus far.
I looked over at her to see her eyes crazily fixed on the street ahead. Her hands gripped tight at ten and two. Her seat scooted as far forward so the top of the steering wheel was level with her hunched shoulders. Her mouth half-open as usual. Drool contained. The only noise the occasional frightening squeak of a bad belt under the hood.
I broke the silence. “Can you keep a secret?” I asked. She nodded. I was bored out of my mind. What came next had not been planned. I didn’t have a secret when I asked her if she could keep one. Maybe she would say no and I wouldn’t have to continue.
I had no such luck, she nodded as usual. I didn’t have any great gossip to share. Not any real gossip at least. I made up the best secret I could think of. I told her that earlier that week I had been diagnosed with narcolepsy. I told her that no one knew. I had not told my family. I hadn’t told any of my friends. I said most importantly I haven’t told my work about this. I made no pause; I gave her no time for a reaction. My lips continued to spew this spontaneous silliness, “The reason I am telling you this, the reason I am revealing this to you, is because I must keep my job. If my boss finds out about this disorder, I don’t know if I can still work here. So if I fall asleep, I need you to wake me up.”
She didn’t even nod this time, though look on her face had changed. She believed me I could tell. Her eyes bent down with concern. I took advantage. “Can you do that for me, wake me up? It probably won’t happen as the flare-ups are rare” I added. She nodded. I nodded appreciatively back and added one last set of instructions. I told her just in case I do fall asleep make sure you wake me up very slowly. I informed her that if I get woken up to quickly I have the tendency to get violent. I let her know I didn’t want to hurt anyone.
We rode back to the dealership in silence. As she drove her car onto the lot, I gave her directions where to park. Once I had received enough nods to verify she knew where she was supposed to go I decided to try out my new disorder. I shut my eyes and let my head fall back on the seat and experienced my very first narcoleptic nap. She didn’t notice, at least not right away.
I felt the car come to a halt. I assumed she had parked. We sat there for a few minutes, she said nothing and she did nothing. I imagined her wrestling with her mind as what to do. She wasn’t going to let this young man get found out and possibly lose his job. Though the violence. I imagined her very concerned about this; that if she tried to wake me up I might convulse a furry of kicks and punches at her ancient brittle body.
I couldn’t take it any longer. I opened one eye. I saw her face two inches from mine. I saw her hand an inch from my shoulder. I had been sitting there for a couple of minutes. This made me wonder. How long had she been in this position? How long had she been staring at me trying to understand what I had meant by slowly? She wasn’t moving.
Then I saw her hands start to push forward and close the gap to my shoulder. She was about to make contact. I am sure her heart was racing wondering if my fabled fit of violence would come. I didn’t make her go through with it. I opened both my eyes holding back the tears of hilarity and thanked her profusely for waking me. We didn’t talk about it happening. There were no nods. Communication had seized for the moment. It was odd for her and she wanted to dismiss it all together. I laughed to myself and let her know that I would get her a great deal for showing me kindness.
We walked inside; I sat her at a table and showed her the great deal I promised. I told her the price of the vehicle she was buying, I told her the value of her trade and what her payments would be. I then told her if she would like to take delivery today to sign on the line, I pushed the pen in front of her and fell asleep.
My disorder had returned for a final appearance! My head fell and my eyes closed. I even added a few snores for attention. I sat in a silence as she contemplated her decision. I woke quickly this time as guilt and glares from my boss were enough to cure me. I looked down at the piece of paper and saw a scribble. She had signed. I sold the car. We both looked each other in the eye and nodded.
Shortly after, I delivered the vehicle to her and she was on her way. I never told her that I had been faking it. I often wonder when I relive that day what she was thinking. I can imagine every time she gets in her vehicle she remembers the time she saved her salesperson from losing his job. She remembers the fear she had in doing so. She remembers being filled with anxiety hoping I wouldn’t go ballistic on her. In reality, all she really saved me from was a day of boredom. If I saw her again today, I would keep my secret and with a nod I would thank her. I would thank her for purchasing a car from me years ago and saving me from another dull day in Iowa. Then I would promptly fall asleep.
I was playing outside with my friends one afternoon after school when I was rudely interrupted by a mandatory family meeting. I was irritated. I knew the rules. You did your homework, your chores and then you were permitted to play outside until dinner. Yes, we were around the dinner table, yet there was no food. I sat, peeved and impatient waiting for whatever was so important that could justify interrupting my precious play time.
My Mom had been pacing around, looking restless and bothered. My dad sat close looking calm and stoic as usual, yet there was an opposite feeling, visible and bubbling on his inside. My brother and sister sitting with my same confused half nervous look of anticipation.
My Mom had anointed herself the meeting’s speaker. After a couple of awkward rounds of the typical after school mom to children questions, we finally arrived at the meeting’s purpose. My mom with a large swallow told us the news as bravely as any person could. She looked me right in the eye, now I knew I was the focus, I could only assume I was in trouble. I was wrong. She told me that the doctor called while I was at school, the biopsy results had come back and the tumor was malignant.
My eleven year old mind did not understand the word “malignant”. I, of course, asked curiously for a clarification. My poor mom had been working up the courage all day to tell me this news, once had been enough. This time the tears could not be held back anymore, she choked out, “Chris you have cancer”.
I took this in for a moment. At eleven you don’t understand the severity of the word cancer. She might as well have had said malignant again or you have antidisestablishmentarianism. I just knew she had said the word doctor and I could see her tears. I assumed that whatever cancer was, I had it and it wasn’t good. I looked up at my brave mother. Still trying her absolute hardest to hold it all in, she was close to overflowing, the emotions ready to boil over.
I asked her if they could fix it. I asked her in a very matter of fact way, very calmly and genuinely curious. She told me, well yes. I looked at her baffled. Then what was the big deal? If they could fix it, then why was I inside when I could be outside playing?
I don’t think she could handle how well I took it. I clearly didn’t understand. I clearly didn’t see the severity. I clearly didn’t hear that sometimes death sentence of a word. I could see this, that she was not taking it so well. That it made it worse that I didn’t think anything of it, other than I was annoyed about more doctor visits. Somehow my eleven year old mind knew to tell my mother what I had learned in school that day. I said, “Mom, you know what Mrs. Junion told us in class today? She told us that God doesn’t give us anything we can’t handle.”
The tears came harder. Though this time beneath her eyes beaten by a phone call and the anticipation and the burden of having to share this news with all of us and worst of all with me, there was a smile. There was laughter. I believe in that moment, she knew I was right. That we aren’t given anything we can’t handle and there was a few seconds of relief. I could see that I had achieved my goal of easing my mom’s clear discomfort. Which was a half selfish ploy; I saw my moment and promptly asked if I could go back outside to play. She smiled and nodded with the only energy she had left.
Obviously I survived as I am writing these words thirteen years later and after that moment, it was never as hard as it was then. We knew. My mother knew, my father knew, my sister and my brother knew (brave themselves for the attention I took from them) and I knew that there really is nothing we are given that we can’t handle. If you see my family today there isn’t one of us who doesn’t know this, who doesn’t understand this. Anyone who knows any one person in my family knows that each and every one of us is strong and successful. It has taken many moments around a dinner table in Iowa that have made us who we are today.