Monday, May 28, 2012
The Pizza Diaries, Part 7: The Invisible Woman
No one really notices pizza delivery drivers. There’s no reason to, I suppose. During my time as a driver, deliveries were a cold affair. I knocked on a door, a customer answered, and without so much as a “hi there,” handed me money and took the pizza. Only the occasional customer penetrated my shell of invisibility.
I remember one in particular. He lived in a small bungalow shaded by olive trees and a few oaks. I delivered to his house several times, and his German Shepherd always greeted me at the door. I think he liked me because I was never afraid of his dog. I have a Labrador of my own, and I can spot the difference between friendly, excited energy and lethal hostility. Taz just wanted to be the first one to sniff the garlic and mozzarella.
We’d go through the same routine whenever I delivered.
“Sorry about the barking,” he’d say. “She always does that when people come to the door.”
“It’s ok,” I’d reply, politely ignoring Taz to avoid exciting her even further.
“Busy tonight?” He’d ask.
“Yeah, Fridays are our busiest night.”
He always tipped me ten dollars, even though his usual order only came to about twenty-five. It made me wonder if the generous tippers of the world are ever weighed down by the burden of having to make up for the misers.
Mostly, though, customers didn’t notice me. A funny thing happens when people look right through you while you’re standing directly in front of them. You start to wonder if you’re really there. At least I did after a couple of months into my pizza delivery gig.
Since most of my evenings consisted of driving around, I had a lot of time to reflect on my life up to that point. I wondered what would happen if I dropped dead suddenly, or was killed in a car wreck driving home one night. Would my death have any real impact? Sure, there would be formalities. Paperwork, some phone calls, maybe even a dispute over who, legally speaking, would be obligated to replace my magnetic topper (if I died in a car wreck while on a delivery). Maybe it would be no more inconvenient than a brief interruption in wi-fi service – a couple seconds of buffering and then life for my loved ones would resume. I suppose I felt this way since I have so much unfinished business to attend. I have yet to finish my novel. I’ve never been to Europe. And I don’t think I’ve ever really understood how to backup my hard drive. What, really, have I accomplished?
Thinking about death usually led me down a pretty dark train of thought: I know my husband loves me, but let’s face it, everyone’s replaceable. He’s a good-looking guy, funny, smart, makes great money. Fact of the matter is, if I died, he’d do all right. He doesn’t need my salary to survive, and once he got the life insurance check, he’d basically be set. They say grief takes no holiday, but what if grief could suddenly afford a vacation villa on Big Island? I’ve heard widowers are a hot ticket in the dating market. They’ve demonstrated a history of commitment and the ex is clearly no longer a threat. I figure he’d probably get remarried within two years, but I tend to be pessimistic. It could be as early as eighteen months.
For the most part, I tried not to linger on these thoughts. But one evening, I was almost t-boned by a moving truck being operated by what appeared to be a fifteen year-old boy with only a cursory understanding of the rules of the road. Sure, he braked while approaching the red light in front of him, but he never actually stopped. I had just finished my shift at the pizzeria and stopped at the grocery store to pick up a few things. About a mile from home, the kid in the truck nearly took me out. Thankfully, I sped up quickly enough that the cab of the truck missed my bumper by a few inches.
Shaken, I pulled into the parking lot of our apartment complex. My husband came outside to help with the groceries.
“Oh my God, I was nearly mowed down just now by some kid in a truck who probably didn’t even have a license! You wouldn’t fucking believe it, he clearly had no idea what he was doing but he was driving this huge moving truck. What the fuck is it with people around here?”
My husband took the bag of groceries I’d been holding and reached for another one in the trunk. Without even looking up, he said, “Oh man, that sucks…Hey, did you remember to get soy milk?”
I watched him fumble around in the trunk and didn’t say anything. Instead, I left him to tend to the groceries and began walking toward our apartment.
“Hey, what’s wrong?” He called after me. I kept walking, slamming the front door behind me.
I suppose maybe I overreacted a bit. I had not, in fact, been creamed by the moving truck. It was more the subtext of the conversation that hit a nerve.
Me: “I, the one with the doctorate, just delivered pizzas for four hours – in addition to working at my day job – to pay off our debt, and was rewarded with a near-miss.”
Him: “I, the one with a bachelor’s degree, sat in a climate-controlled space all day surrounded by free M&M’s, gourmet coffee, and an appreciative boss. But my evening was nearly ruined because my idiot wife almost forgot the soy milk. Maybe I should start making her a to-do list since she’s so scatterbrained.”
My husband’s utter disinterest in my near demise didn’t make the nightly drives any easier. With the scent of basil and bread sticks wafting around me, I pondered the facts. I was (mostly) estranged from my family. I had quit law two years prior for a decidedly less prestigious job. At night, I forged a life of quiet desperation, shuffling pizzas around town for extra money. My husband appeared more preoccupied with his lactose intolerance than the dangers I routinely encountered while on the road.
I wondered if I was slowly becoming…forgotten. I wondered how to remind the world that I was still here.
There’s a quote widely attributed to the Dalai Lama: “If you wish to experience peace, provide peace for another.” I decided to adopt that approach. In order to be noticed, I would notice others.
One night, I drove to the bungalow surrounded by olive and oak trees. As soon as the door opened, Taz came bounding toward me and nearly knocked me over.
“I’m so sorry,” the customer said, grabbing Taz by the collar and pulling her back. “She always does that when people come to the door.”
I set the pizza bag down on one of the plastic chairs that framed the doorway. Bending down in front of Taz, I rubbed my fingers into the thick brown fur around her collar. In the crisp December air, I could actually see her breath as she panted joyfully in response. “It’s ok,” I replied, smiling goofily at the bundle of spastic, kinetic energy in front of me. “She’s just letting me know she’s here.”
I came home late that night after closing the pizzeria. After showering, I went into the large walk-in closet (one of the few luxuries of our teeny-tiny apartment) to dress. I gazed upon all of the neatly folded clothes that lined the shelves. Clothes that had not been laundered and folded by me. I peeked out of the closet and saw my husband in the living room with his headphones on, happily folding more laundry while sitting on the couch. He laughed. Not at me, but at something he heard on his iPod. I could tell he was listening to a Giant Bomb podcast. That one always made him laugh.
I knew I would eventually join him on the couch and help him fold, but first I watched him for a few moments. From my vantage point, it dawned on me that I wasn’t really invisible. All of the quiet gestures my husband made while I was away from him were his way of noticing me, even when I wasn’t there.
And watching my husband happily doing laundry on a Saturday night, not knowing I could see him, was my small way of noticing him, noticing me.