I was held at gunpoint when I was seven years old. It happened at our family owned furniture store.
Spoiler alert: I lived. Which now that you know the ending, kinda makes it not worth reading.
But there’s this phenomenon when people hear you have experienced something that involves fear, terror, or panic they want to know all about it sucking on your every word. Why? Because people are bored and your story is an espresso shot to their ordinary bland day.
We’ve all got a story or two like this. Some of us have a childhood worth. But I’m telling you right up front, DON’T SHARE YOUR STORY. People are bored because they are boring themselves with their rituals, going to the same Starbucks every day, watching the same TV show at the same time, buying the same shampoo the last three years. They go to work, have a weekend, rinse lather and repeat. It’s a conventional life. And conventional people can’t process a story that veers out of the norm without passing a mental judgement. Weird stories, freak events, something out of the normal should be kept in your head.
My grandma and papa owned a large furniture store in El Cerrito, California. It was a family business and our parents worked their too which meant this was our second home. I had all sorts of things to keep me occupied; games, cards, and a pile of clean white paper.
We had age appropriate chores, but on this day my grandma was the only grown up working. And grandma’s never make you do chores. So I immediately went to the back office and sat down at a little table to begin writing a story.
There were two offices off of the furniture floor. Both were the same size and both were connected. The back office had a cement wall with the delivery bay and parking lot on the the other side. And that’s where my sister, Tina was.
Tina was in the parking lot smacking a bounce-y ball against the wall right next to my little writing table. What I didn’t know was, there was going to be one more kid coming for the day, my cousin Joey. He was five. And it was Joey who the robbers would ultimately threaten to kill, but I didn’t hear that part because the robbery began out on the customer floor away from the back office.
At this point you might be thinking what’s so out of the ordinary about this? It’s shareable. Right? That’s only because everything I’ve shared is normal stuff. Work day. Grandma and grand kids. Nothing I’ve share to this point is weird or freaky. Anyone’s freak event is this way. No one wakes up thinking, “I better bring all my photo albums to work because the neighbor kid is going to light my house on fire at 3:00pm”. When you share your story everything is relate-able until you get to “freaky part”. And once you get to that part where your story departs from what the conventional person does (rinse lather and repeat) these people shift from listening, freak out and propel into a judgement zone, so it’s best to not even start your story.
I know you are thinking your story is different than mine because it has no fear and panic. Yours is unique and you are pretty sure people will be impressed when you jump the conversation with, “I circumcised my son in the bathroom following a step by step tutorial on YouTube.” You think it’s a great relate-able story because all the men in your audience have a penis. But, I guarantee you most of them had their circumcision done by a medical professional, and your specialty knife skills are not relate-able. Keep this in your head, which is what I should have done with my story. But oh no, I THOUGHT my peers would want to know about this.
At the time I was held at gunpoint, most kids my age were in second grade. I was in a no-grade, because I went to a no-school. My parents were raising creative, critical thinkers, who weren’t worried about hairstyles and cartoons, and they felt we would be best suited outside of the public school system. So they enrolled us in a “private school” called Farm Home.
Farm Home can be summed up pretty quick. There were eight students, or maybe five. Attendance was optional and was reported nowhere.
The teachers were parents who didn’t have jobs. We had a school room. It was a red barn with wet cement floors, but there were no desks, no textbooks, and no real plan for any day.
We came to school barefoot and in our bathing suits because most days were spent at the beach building sand castles and digging tunnels while our “teachers” smoked weed and watched us.
But something happened at Farm Home. The police were called when some students and “teachers” didn’t return after an all night field trip. And that’s when my parents thought we should try public school. (Side note : The kids did show up later that day. No need to hunt for the news story.)
Public school was so committed. It happened EVERY Monday THROUGH Friday. And the class schedule never varied. Math happened at 10:00, reading was after lunch, art was only on Fridays. Most of school was boring, except show or tell. It was interesting, or better put, it was interesting the first couple weeks.
Show and tell was a time where each student took three minutes to share something about their life with the rest of the class. I kept waiting for, “I cut up a cow,” or “I have sixty stitches, wanna see?” But no one shared stuff like that. It was all rather ordinary like, “I stayed up till midnight and watched scary movies,” or “My mom and I made chocolate chip cookies,” or “Here’s a picture of me at Disneyland”.
Eventually I was going to have to share. But there wasn’t too much ordinary in my life. Our parents didn’t believe in TV and we were never going to get one. If I stayed up till midnight I was reading by my window because there was a full moon. We never made chocolate chip cookies because my mom was a health food goddess who didn’t believe in white sugar or white flour. My last vacation was at my aunt’s cabin where we had no plumbing and we hit mice on the head with hammers when they crawled through gaps in the floorboard.
I only had one story I could think of sharing. And a couple weeks later I walked up to the front of the class and began.
“When I was seven years old I was in an armed robbery.”
The teacher said, “Why don’t you explain what that means.”
I thought how many meanings did it have? Then I realized these kids lived very ordinary lives and the phrase ‘armed robbery’ probably wasn’t used at the dinner table. At our house we discussed current events and listened to talk radio, I’d heard the term “armed robbery” since I was breast fed.
I started again.
“When I was seven two robbers came into my grandma’s store.”
Most of the kids looked up, and the teacher took that as a signal she could go back to grading papers now that her flock had the dumbed down version.
“The kids weren’t allowed on the floor with the furniture because we might interrupt while our parents were talking to a customer, so I was in the back office writing a story.
And then I got this feeling, not a good one. I didn’t want to share my story any more. I realized it wasn’t a normal story and I had nothing in common with the other kids and their chocolate chip cookies and nightly TV shows.
I looked at the teacher, she looked up from her papers and smiled. I liked her. And so I thought since she was a grown up maybe she would like my story and I continued just for her.
“Two men walked in the furniture store and picked up my cousin. They put a gun in his stomach and said to my grandma, Lady give me all the money you have or we will shoot this boy dead.”
The robbers weren’t business savvy, and they chose a bad place to hold up. Furniture stores don’t deal in cash. It’s not like people carry thousands of dollars in their pocket to buy a love seat and matching couch. But I decided this wasn’t worth mentioning.
“So my grandma said to them, ‘I just went to the bank I don’t have money here. I only have a small cash bag in the front office.’ The robber kept the gun in my cousin’s stomach and carried him while the other robber pushed my grandma across the floor to get the money in the front office.”
“I heard the robbers yelling at my grandma in the office next to me.”
No one ever yelled at my grandma and it was making me uncomfortable so I thought I’d just get up and walk out the door. This approach doesn’t work when men with guns have their face in plain view.
“The robber who had the gun yelled to the other robber, “Grab that girl. Grab that little girl!” And he picked me up and put me in a corner where my grandma and my cousin were told to stand.”
No one in the class was moving. A boy with the frog eyes began to scowl at me.
“One of the robbers took a necktie and tried to tie my grandma up because they didn’t believe my grandma gave them all the money.”
The frog eyed boy squinted harder.
“And then there was this loud ‘BANG’ ‘BANG’ ‘BANG’! It was my sister hitting the ball against the metal garage door instead of the cement wall and the noise scared the robbers so they ran out. And we called the police.”
I started to walk back to my desk, but the teacher said, “Wait a minute. What are you supposed to do next?”
Ugh. The teacher had a rule.
I walked back up to the front, pivoted on my heel, faced the kids and said, “Are there any questions?”
The frog eyed boy couldn’t wait and without raising his hand he yelled out, “Is that really true?”
“Yes,” I said. And then I thought I either hated him or I wanted to beat him up.
He looked at the teacher and asked her, “Is it?”
I don’t remember what the teacher said. I’m sure it was something appropriate and something that made an eight year feel ok for sharing something so out of the ordinary. But little did I know this was just the beginning of the out of ordinary events in my life.
I mean, how many people do you know that lived off the grid had no home, slept in a pick up and didn’t go to school for a whole year? Yeah. Well, that happened when I was thirteen and I don’t readily share it either. Why? Because I learned a valuable lesson that day.
Your story gives the listener a tingle when you begin to share because their life is mundane. Remember? Their life is very conventional with predictability day in and day out. It’s far more stable than than living off the grid or making wind chimes for a living, and that’s why people choose it.
If you are lucky like me you have savored two lives, the unconventional and the conventional. I’ve come over to the conventional side of life with a steady income and benefits (like normal vacations where indoor plumbing exists and I don’t need to pack a hammer to hit mice on the head). But I also have years and years of stories that conventional people can’t relate to.
Keep in mind that if you have an odd story don’t be tempted to share with conventional people. You’re not going to gain a bestie by doing so. There’s no need to share about the time you burned your books in the fireplace because the people in the church said they could smell the devil in your house. Your job is to fly under the radar and save those stories for your blog.
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