I set my alarm for 2:00 am, planning on being in the Walmart parking lot by 3:00, but I was too excited to sleep. Instead, I repeated our game plan in my head over and over, trying to find any possible flaws in the sequence. When I was finally exhausted enough to consider drifting off, I could no longer allow myself to fall asleep, for fear that I wouldn’t be able to wake up to the 2:00 alarm.
Finally it was time. I threw the covers off, drug a hoody sweatshirt over my head, crammed my feet into my fastest running shoes, and ran out the door. I would have smoked everyone else in a fire drill, seriously.
I picked Wendy up in my beat-up beast of a Suburban. We would be able to load up the back with some serious Christmas stash.
At precisely 2:43 am we pulled into the lot. We were pretty impressed with our speedy arrival, but the sight of a line of people snaking its way around the parking lot dampened our spirits a bit. We had thought that we were plenty early, but I guess everyone else had the same thought. The store didn’t open its doors until five o’clock. We were in for a long, cold two hour wait.
Wendy had the foresight to bring two thermoses full of steaming hot chocolate and two cozy blankets. Clearly, this was not her first rodeo.
We spent the majority of the two hour wait fine-tuning our store attack strategy, while scalding our tongues with the molten chocolaty goodness. The main theme of our plan was Divide and Conquer. We grouped together what items we each needed in the store and assigned who would get what.
Five minutes before five o’clock, the crowd began to get agitated. I could tell everyone was gearing up for the dash. The last sixty seconds, everyone started counting down, including me. My blood was pumping, adrenaline was racing…I was just waiting for the gun shot!
At exactly five o’clock, the doors slid open and total mayhem ensued. There was no longer anything resembling a line, it was every man (or highly pumped woman) for themselves, shoving their way into the store.
I needed a karaoke machine for Ian and a Playstation 4 for Wendy’s son, so I headed back to the electronics department, while Wendy braved the toy department with her assigned list. I knew the Playstation would be the hardest, since they only had limited quantities and a high demand. I headed there first.
It was easy to tell where the hot ticket items were, just by looking at the mob of people piling on top of each other to reach them. The Playstations were grouped on a huge palette in the middle of the aisle, with plastic wrap still locking them together. There was already a pile of people surrounding the palette, their frenzied expressions and maniacal tearing at the plastic making me feel as though I was inside a zombie movie.
The first one through the plastic, a scrawny man with bulging eyes and a five o’clock shadow, stood up on top of the pile, his prize clenched fiercely in his hands as he let out a victory roar. The opening that he started in the plastic became his surrounding competitors’ target, and the man was shoved roughly out of the way, toppling off the mountain, disappearing from sight.
This was going to be tough. I stole a second to pump up my nerves then went in blindly for the kill.
Hands, elbows, knees, shoulders, every hard, pointy part on the human body was thrust in my face as I tried to fight my way in toward the quickly diminishing pile of games. I could not fail. Wendy’s son would be devastated. Someone’s head rammed into mine, blinding me for a moment, but then I pushed on. Someone else was lying on the ground, having stumbled during the zombie push. They had put up a noble fight, but not everyone can win in the end. I climbed over his shoulders, using a large woman’s backside for leverage. Out of nowhere, an elbow smacked me in the nose and blood started to gush immediately. No time to staunch the blood, I plowed on. I was almost there, no quitting now!
Finally, a game was within reach! I stretched out to grab it and was stopped by a large foot slamming my hand into the palate. The large woman who had inadvertently given me aid with her large backside, had caught up to me and was about to grab the game. I let out my final battle call and made a lunge, ripping my hand out from under her huge foot. Quick as a cat, I grabbed the game and slipped backward, away from the blood bath. I heard her scream of frustration, and saw her standing empty-handed on the cleared off palette.
Victory was sweet.
And tasted a little like iron.
Wendy and I met back at the checkout line. I was holding the Playstation 4 close to my chest in a death grip, and had nothing else.
“You got the Playstation!” Wendy cried gleefully. “Excellent job! I almost went for that one myself, because I knew it would be a tough one.” Then she noticed the blood still oozing slowly from my nose and a swelling over my right eye. Judging from the pulsing heat hovering over my eyeball, I was sure it would be purple in a few more minutes. “Oh, Honey! Are you okay?”
I reluctantly pulled one hand away from the game in order to swipe the blood from my face.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” I said, and noted that Wendy had done her job, getting Dixie’s Disney Princess Dollhouse Mansion, in addition to several other toys for her children.
“I had to fight off some crazy girl for the dollhouse,” she said, pointing proudly to her prize in the shopping cart. “For a second there I thought that she would claw me to death for it, but luckily someone put another one back on the shelf….Hey, where’s Ian’s karaoke machine?” Wendy asked suddenly. My heart sank. I was so caught up with my Playstation victory that I completely forgot about Ian’s present.
“Don’t worry, I’ll go get it,” Wendy said hastily, pushing her shopping cart into the line next to me. “You hold our place while I run and get it.”
Ian’s karaoke machine in tow, the rest of the morning flew by as we hit three other stores, stacking our amazing deals into the back of the Suburban beast. Finally, at around noon, our lists were complete. We headed back home, exhausted and elated.
Phyllis and Roger were loading up their car when I pulled up.
“How was the shopping trip?” Phyllis asked, trying to peak into the back of my car. “Was it a success?” Then, looking at me and my blood-stained sweatshirt, she gave a jump.
Roger walked up to me, loaded down with pillows and grocery bags full of Thanksgiving leftovers. He also saw my bloody face, but he cracked a grin.
“Did you win the fight, Candy?” he asked, nodding to my nose.
“You bet!” I laughed. “She didn’t stand a chance!”
About twenty minutes later, we all stood around Phyllis and Roger’s car, giving our good-bye hugs. The kids were crying, not wanting their grandparents to leave, which set Phyllis into a flood of tears as well.
“You think you’ll beat the record going home?” I asked Roger as I gave him one last hug.
“You bet!” he laughed. “It doesn’t stand a chance!” I smiled back at him.
Then, while Sam was talking to his dad, giving one last recounting of the final three minutes of Thursday’s football game, Phyllis approached me to say good-bye.
“Thanks for letting us stay,” she said, squeezing me in a tight embrace.
“It was no problem, really. We love it when you come,” I said, and surprising myself, knew that I meant it.
“Candace, I have to tell you. Every time we visit, I am always so impressed with how you manage all that you do,” Phyllis said, holding my hands in hers. “I remember how hard it was when the boys were young and running as crazy as a pack of wild beasts. I didn’t think that I would ever get through those days.”
A lump formed in my throat.
“I just wanted you to know that you’re doing a great job, raising my grandbabies and taking care of my own baby,” she said, nodding her head toward Sam. “He’s lucky to have you and I am lucky that I have such a great daughter-in-law.”
Tears spilled down my cheeks as I embraced Phyllis with a long hug. All these years, I had thought that she was being so critical of me. Now I began to see that everything she said was just meant to help me out because she cared. She understood, and that gave us a bond that all moms need.
I mentally tore up The List, the list of all my shortcomings. We all have parts of us that we don’t like, or things that we just aren’t that great at. Maybe I would never be less than atrocious at housekeeping or never master the art of organization, but I didn’t need to wallow in it anymore. I was good at loving my children and my husband, and that was a lot more important.
“Thanks, Phyllis,” I murmured, wiping the tears from my eyes. “That means a lot.”
Waving goodbye, as they pulled out of the driveway and headed home, I thought about all the time I had wasted worrying about what Phyllis thought.
Number 15: Candace worries too much.
Wait, I guess some habits are hard to break….
Roger called Sam’s cell phone exactly six hours and twenty-one minutes later. He had beat his time by two minutes. The old record didn’t stand a chance.
About an hour after Phyllis and Roger left our house, as I was trying to recover from the crazy morning shopping trip and taking a nap on the couch, I was woken by the door bell ringing. When I answered the door, there was a delivery man waiting, with a clipboard in hand, standing next to a huge box on my front porch. Around the box was the biggest red ribbon that I had ever seen.
It was a brand new, state-of-the-art, stainless steel gas range and oven. It was beautiful, and so much nicer than any that I would have gotten for myself. The note on the delivery man’s receipt said, “Merry Christmas from Mom and Dad.”
While I had been out bloodying my nose and filling the back of my makeshift Santa sleigh, Phyllis had also braved the craziness of Black Friday in order to get me a new oven.
Never could such an impersonal gift be any more personal. But instead of screaming at me “you’re a lousy cook,” it only said “I love you”-- loud and clear.
****Be sure to share your own Black Friday stories of triumph or trauma in the comments section below. We'd love to hear your own shopping experiences!