Earlier this year someone thought I was dead.
Granted, during that time period there were a fair amount of people who were overdosing on drugs and would perish or become comatose in their car, so I understand the concern involved. Sleeping in the bin of an airplane might get you sent to another city, but no one assumes you’re dead (unless you’re in the back of an MD-80). Sleeping in the breakroom between flights might get some pranks pulled on you, but you’re relatively safe. Sleeping in history class in school got either a ruler-on-the-desk wake up or some lipstick applied to the somnelant student by the teacher. I’ve slept in my car before, most notably when I had to trailer my sister’s car 200 miles south and then return that same night/morning. Stabbing myself in the thigh with a pen was no longer sufficent to keep me awake, so I slept in a Wal-Mart parking lot for a few hours. I had to get to work by 1pm and that included needing time to return the trailer. At no point was I mistaken as ‘dead’; if I had been, U-Haul would have been furious.
It was late February of 2017 and I had worked late that night/morning. I was fighting off a head infection of some sort, which in addition to being up late and then getting up four hours later at 7am to get the kids to school meant I was prettttyyy sleepy. I had 30 minutes between dropping the kids and the feed store opening, so I pulled off in a local park, wrapped myself in a blanket to fight off the chill, and enjoyed the beauty of the waterfall that could be seen from the driver’s seat. I just remember a long blink and resting my head against the car window.
BOOM BOOOM BOOOM!!
I jumped in my seat and looked out my window, adrenaline flowing so high I could have thrown a clamshell of aircraft brakes across a room. I thought it was a park ranger come to berate me. Half asleep, mostly high, and running on internal emergency mode I rolled down my window to speak with my elderly gentleman awakener. “Yes sir? How can I help you, sir?” was what rolled off my tongue with zero forethought.
“Are you okay? You’ve been like this for about a half hour–you haven’t moved–and I was worried you were dead!” His white hair was neat and he was dressed in a tan coat with a red scarf. He look very anxious. “This is the second time I’ve knocked on your window!”
“No sir, I’m okay, I’ve just been really sick and I worked late and I had to take the kids to school and I’m waiting for a store to open.” As you can tell I speak in run-on sentences when awoken from a sound sleep and have to give an accounting for my actions.
The elderly man gave me a hard look over. “You sure you’re okay? Lots of people dying in their cars recently.”
I shook my head, still high on the adrenaline rush. “I’m okay. It’s just a beautiful spot and the sun is rising–I didn’t intend on falling asleep.”
He nodded, apparently satisfied. Then he said, “I was worried. This is how my friend died, in his car at a beautiful park. He took his own life. I didn’t want to have it happen to you if I could help it.”
What do you say to that? What do you say to a person who misses his friend? What do you say to one who still cares, even if he doesn’t know you? What do you say to someone who loves a total stranger, enough to be sure I’m safe?
I reached out the window and grasped his one hand that had come to rest on my door. “I’m sorry about your friend. I’m sorry I scared you. Thank you for checking on me, I really appreciate your concern.”
He nodded. “Glad you’re okay. You should probably go home and go to bed.”
I drove away from that little park feeling thankful, feeling loved, feeling really tired and sick, and slightly giddy-sick from the post-adrenaline rush. I didn’t get his name but he made an emotional impact that I still feel many months later. The whole episode probably lasted less than two minutes.
I would hope we all care that much for fellow strangers who may be in distress. Or maybe accidently wake them from a dead sleep.