I had promised Alyssa a trip to the library for days and felt guilty about not following through, so as a peace offering I agreed to take her to the bookstore and buy her a book. On a Saturday afternoon. At one of the busiest places on Earth. I really love that kid.
When we arrived at the shopping center, there were no empty spaces. Not one. It looked like Black Friday, cars swarming around the parking lot, moving at a snail’s pace while their drivers stalked anyone and everyone who looked like they might be heading toward a parked car.
Few things get my blood pressure up like a packed parking lot.
At the bookstore, I was the fourth such swarmer, moving in a sluggish procession. As we crept down the aisle, back up lights kept appearing and parking spots became free. Like a magical game of Tetris, one by one the cars in front of me slid into the open spaces.
But, I knew the chances of four cars leaving one aisle at the same time was practically nil. There weren’t even any people walking around my aisle to stalk.
Then I saw those glorious beacons. Back up lights at twelve o’clock. Meant just for me.
But the spot was in a weird place, and there was no clear way for me to lay claim to it. If someone came from the other direction, they could just draft in behind him as he pulled away and swoop right into my space. I had to be vigilant.
I looked around, and to my delight all the swarming that had been going on just seconds earlier had stopped. There were no cars in sight. All the guy had to do was pull out and that space was all mine.
But, he wasn’t moving.
Why wasn’t he moving?
He still wasn’t moving.
Why do you put a car into reverse if you are not. going. to. move.
Finally, he moved. Then he stopped. He had gone approximately six inches.
Then he sat there a little longer.
“Foot off brake. Move. Move,” I said, out loud, in an effort to will him out of the space.
As if I had cast a spell, the car began to inch backward again until out of nowhere, a couple waltzed between me and my betrothed.
They were completely engrossed in each other and oblivious to me and the fact that the chances of me losing my space to another stalker were, each second, increasing exponentially.
Finally, they were gone. Thank goodness. And the car began to move again just as a preppy little twenty-something in an SUV pulled up from the other direction. Of course. Like anyone caught up in a parking lot swarm, the lights had mesmerized her, and she stopped.
“No,” I said, still talking out loud, “You cannot have my space.”
I had waited on that space for a full three minutes, at least. It was mine.
She brushed her hair off her shoulder and looked directly at me. I recognized that look. She was scoping me out, trying to determine if she could snake me.
Our eyes locked, she in her car and I in mine. “NO!” I said, this time with an emphatic, don’t-even-think-about-it shake of the head.
Her eyes got wide, and her mouth dropped open — literally dropped open — and I realized that it was daylight. She had seen me.
“Did you just tell her no?” Alyssa asked, with a look of shock like I’ve never seen.
I slid down in my seat, remembering the only other time I had ever been caught flapping my jaw.
I was at a Nascar race in 1997 and merely suggested the girl in front of me sit down, and even though I didn’t say a single other thing, in three seconds flat I had started a fight. It was just like something on TV, when everyone joins in without even knowing why, except they’re wearing a Dale Earnhardt shirt and you’re not, and that is enough.
Luckily, I was with a friend who had more moxie than me and after she held her off with a razor-tongued what-for, we slipped away just as the police were coming up the stands to break it up.
I narrowly escaped unscathed that day, but let me tell you: nothing teaches a lesson about jaw-flapping like being threatened by a frizzed out redneck girl with Lee Press-on Nails.
For the last 18 years, that experience kept my mouth shut many, many times.
“I can’t believe you did that!” Alyssa said, bringing me back to the present. Then she burst out laughing at me for being so brazen, while she was looking at the girl who was still looking at us.
And then, mouth still gaping open, the girl in the SUV peeled out and darted into the next parking lot.
The slow-poke finally moved and I claimed my prize, but before we could even get out of the car I saw that preppy twenty-something, head high and shoulders back, striding into the bookstore.
Not only was I rude, but it looked like my kid was taunting her to boot. And I was going to have to go in there with her. I hadn’t even thought about that possibility.
“Come on, let’s go in,” said Alyssa.
“Just a minute,” I said, pretending to search through my purse for some unknown thing that I desperately needed.
I put on lip gloss, put lotion on my hands and elbows, and smoothed my hair. Twice.
Inside, I spent the next hour ducking behind bookshelves and looking over my shoulder.
Next time I will not flap my jaw.
But I made it home without getting my eyes clawed out.
And I got the parking space.
I got the parking space.