When I was in 8th grade I won a limo lunch.
That’s all I have to say, and my friends start ducking me. They groan, “Nooooo.” They cover their ears. My guy says, “I thought you weren’t going to tell this story anymore.” The Limo Lunch Story, they call it. I don’t even have to tell it anymore; I just have to say that line, and everyone knows what I am getting at. New people who join the group are always regaled with this tale. It’s as inevitable as seeing my interpretive dance to Jo-Jo’s “Too Little, Too Late,” or hearing Heidi’s rant about why TV is so much better than movies. Every friend group is a quilt of shared experience and those stories that never stop being told.
It started with a fundraiser. Those fundraisers that every middle schooler faces annually: They hand you a catalogue full of wrapping paper samples and candlesticks shaped like santa claus, and they send you into your neighborhoods and parents’ offices to guilt the world into supporting your school. I always did my best to sell a little bit, but never concerned myself too much with being the best. Without fail, I would only sell enough to win one of those sticky hands that was quickly coated in hair and dirt and thrown away by my mother. This year, however, was different.
We gathered in the fundraiser kick off assembly, ready for the usual rundown of how to sell, and a promo of the awesome $20 boombox you could win if only you sold $150 worth of stuff. It was typical fundraiser insanity. And then they dropped the bomb — anyone who sold over $350 worth of quality Christmas product would win a limo lunch.
I don’t know what it is a about a limo. Maybe it’s the tinted windows, or the aura of wealth, or the getting to be driven around without having to talk to the driver. Whatever it is, that limo lunch lit a fire of hope inside of me. For the first time, I was willing to talk to strangers. I went door to door throughout my neighborhood, called every family member, and forced my parents to corner their co-workers with tantalizing offers of popcorn tins and gold accented manger scenes. Every christmas to this day, my parents take out the little village of ceramic houses my dad purchased to push me closer to my goal.
On the day we turned in our fundraising orders, I had sold $362. I was the winner of a limo lunch. All I had to do was wait for them to schedule the limo.
In the meantime, Halloween arrived. I was 13, and therefore lacked any common sense or sense of shame. Halloween in the Northwest is a night of walking in sopping-wet, icy-cold darkness. I was never allowed a costume that didn’t suit a full long-john bodysuit and a rain jacket. This year, however, I got ready at my friend’s house, out from under the watchful eye of my parents. And so my best friend Janelle and I stepped out into the Oregon October as hula dancers — bikinis, skirts made of grass, leis.
I was suffering my third day of high fever and horrible coughing when my math teacher called
me. “You’ve been out all week,” she said. “But I thought you’d want to know that your limo lunch is tomorrow.”
“Oh, I’ll be there,” I said. There was no way I was going to miss this.
But I did miss it. When I tried to drag myself from bed the next morning, my fever blaring and my body shaking with chills, I didn’t even make it to my bedroom door before rushing back to my pillow. It was days before I was well enough to even care, and then I broke down to my mom in wild tears. I’d missed the lunch I had worked so hard to earn.
“You know,” I say. “I’ve never been in a limo.” And the fits of annoyance start. Minnie threw her shoe at me once.
“You HAVE to stop telling that story.”
Ten years after I missed my limo lunch, my guy took me out for our anniversary in style. We hit a fancy restaurant, and rode throughout Seattle lounging across the back seats of a sleek black limo.
“There,” He told my friends. “Now she’ll have to stop telling that story.”
And to a certain extent I have. But sometimes, when someone new joins the group, it’s too good an opportunity to pass up, and I find a natural way to work it in.
“Oh,” I say. “Your parents were divorced when you were ten? Once, when I was in 8th grade, I won a limo lunch.”