As I recall, the incident took place the last week of December, 2008 in the parking lot of our neighborhood Jewel grocery store.
Shari and I had just spent our first Christmas together as an engaged, cohabitating couple. We drove to the grocery store to replenish our kitchen in preparation for the coming New Year’s Eve.
Since my car is a sedan, we usually take Shari’s car on shopping trips. She drives a small SUV – a white Honda CR-V, and the cargo area is convenient for loading groceries.
It was after work on a weeknight. Shari parked the Honda and we walked into the store. The last bit of dusk illumination had nearly faded, leaving behind an ominous cloudy sky, and a cold wind whipped us as we walked into the store.
Since our relationship was still somewhat new and Shari was feeling generous with holiday spirit, she agreed to follow my lead once we started shopping. You see, we have two different methodologies when it comes to grocery shopping. Mine is to bring a detailed list, and then go up and down every aisle in the store, to jog my memory in case something is missing from the list. Shari’s method, so far as I can tell, is to forget the list at home and dart randomly from one section of the store to another, coming home with nothing but yogurt and maxi-pads. I’m not saying my method is better, but Shari’s is certainly faster and less expensive, at least in the short term.
An hour or so later, our shopping completed, we rolled the cart out of the store and saw that it was raining. Not a downpour – just a moderate shower, but the winds were still strong and the raindrops stung our exposed faces and hands. I removed my glasses to keep them dry and put them in my jacket pocket, and then pushed the cart as Shari led us back to the Honda.
We loaded the groceries into the car, and Shari climbed into the driver’s seat to start it up while I took the cart to the corral. I was squinting from both the rain and my nearsightedness and didn’t see a cart return anywhere in our current aisle, so I wound up taking the cart two lanes over to put it away.
I turned back toward the car and noticed that Shari had already shifted into reverse and was backing out of the space. How sweet, I thought. She’s backing toward me so I can get out of the rain faster. What a thoughtful gesture.
As I approached the rear of the car, she then put it in drive and began to pull away.
Oh, I see…she’s playing with me. She’s going to pretend to take off and leave me here. Very funny.
I hastened my step and pulled even with the passenger door before she could get up to speed. At this point I was dimly aware of a signal coming from my brain. It was like the first few words of an incoming bulletin. My brain was trying to tell me something important but hadn’t quite formed the message yet.
I reached for the door handle. Once again I heard a faint teletype sound that indicated a message coming in. Something about the door handle…it was gloss white and matched the color of the rest of the door. It was not supposed to be that color. But I had already committed myself. I jerked the door open, the vehicle skidded to a halt, and I found myself face to face with the occupant of the passenger seat, an African-American man in his late thirties with remarkably wide eyes.
The man spoke to me. He said, and I’m quoting exactly here, “Whoa.”
At this point, my brain’s Emergency Alert System activated and all the queued-up bulletins started arriving in rapid succession. “Say – Shari doesn’t have an in-dash GPS like that, and this car is actually much larger than her Honda, and JESUS CHRIST I’M GOING TO GET SHOT.”
I have been in love a few times in my life, and I can assure you that I have never experienced more vividly the impression of time coming to a complete stop while gazing into someone’s eyes as I did with this man.
I finally managed to squeak out an apology (“ohgodwrongcarsorry”) and, gently but firmly, shut the car door. I turned to walk away, patting the fender in what I hoped was a reassuring manner. One step, then a second, then a third, and still the car had not moved. I shut my eyes for steps four and five, until finally I heard them hit the gas and pull away. Realizing that my pulse and respiration had completely stopped for the last thirty seconds, I took a big gulp of air and felt my heart resume pumping.
I put my glasses back on and located Shari’s car in the next aisle over, waiting patiently in the parking space. I opened the door and climbed in. She took one look at me and asked, “What happened?”
“I tried to get a ride with someone else,” I replied, “but I decided I’d rather go home with you instead.”
“Wise choice,” she said, and we never spoke of it again.