The Longest Ten Minutes

About a decade ago, I worked for a short time at a small Bible college in Huntsville, Alabama. My main job was to film the various classes, then edit them so the courses could be made available for online correspondence. I intermittently worked on this project through three school years. During this time, I lived onsite at the school’s dormitories, and as a result I became friends with a lot of the students who stayed in dorm.

Around the time, a very strange incident happened to me which I’ve tried several times since to figure out. I’ve even tried to purvey the details into various stories and books. Every time I’ve done so, an alpha reader ends up scoffing at it: “Ridiculous. That’s so implausible.” Somehow the fact that it happened in real life doesn’t make it any more plausible. As a result, the following anecdote has yet to actually be immortalized in the written word, until now.

One evening, after dinner, I accepted an invitation from a group of students to join them at a favorite park of theirs. First, we stopped for some smoothies and milkshakes, and then we started to drive. The park was near one of the students’ home, about twenty minutes away, so it necessitated a short drive. The sun was already down at this point, so the only illumination was the street lights. In the near-dark, I sat in the back seat next to a friend of mine—a male student—while two women sat up front. We exchanged some quiet chatter, but we were mostly kind of tired from a long day, content to listen to the music playing over the stereo.

Suddenly, I felt a hand land on my leg, just above the knee, and rest there. At first, I thought this was an accidental grazing. Maybe this friend had meant to lower his hand onto the seat beside him, and somehow missed. Maybe. The strange thing was that the hand did not pull away. It stayed… and stayed.

I was fairly speechless at this point, but also kind of terrified of what it might mean, so I resisted the urge to turn to him and very politely say, “Excuse you, but your hand is resting on my leg.” I mean, what if this was real, intentional? I didn’t want to embarrass him, but in retrospect I obviously should have said something right away, because my silence only seemed to encourage the behavior.

Because it didn’t stop. One minute passed, then two. To my shock, the hand inched up, up up up, until it found my inner thigh. This was clearly no accident! And he did not move his hand. If anything, he groped tighter.

This went on for an agonizingly long time as my mind raced to find the perfect, tactful solution. Five minutes. Seven, eight. Ten? Yes. Ten minutes. This is the part people can never believe, because ten minutes is an insanely long period of time in this context. But I distinctly remember checking the time at least three times. And I’m sure it can’t have been much less than ten minutes, because I later drove that route many times. The timeline is not in dispute.

“Excuse me,” I finally whispered as we neared our destination. “Your hand’s on my leg.”

His hand lifted immediately. “Oh, sorry!”

And we never spoke of it again.

One response on “The Longest Ten Minutes

  1. Mike Kimball

    I wonder if this is a special class of anecdote. Almost like a Shaggy Dog? Something happened that was significant and memorable to you. And no-one else seems the least bit interested in it. A low key beginning, growing tension, no real ‘crisis’ (unless the immediacy of the end of the trip approaching constitutes the crisis), a resolution . . . and then nothing. No denouement. It just fades away.

    I can see that telling this as a true story would be frustrating, since your audience would be mostly unmoved. However, I can see that you could tweak the details a bit to use it as an element of another story. E.G. reword the “Oh sorry” and the ‘We never spoke of it again’ to establish some sexual tension between two characters and retweet that tension from time to time through the rest of the -murder mystery? police procedural? Harlequin Romance?- story. Or maybe ‘he’ is your best friend’s husband/boyfriend, and the tension is more focused on your relationship with your friend. Lots of way to work it into other stories if you are willing to depart from the real facts. Maybe tell it from his viewpoint.
    Or turn it into a Shaggy Dog by changing that “Excuse me your hand’s on my leg.” into a Mae West “Is that a gun in your pocket or are you really happy to see me?” type of wisecrack.
    I have a fair number of anecdotes I’ve been trying to put down on paper, but most of them are like your example: interesting and memorable to me, but mostly with no resolution, just a petering out to the sound of crickets.
    E.g. My mother was sailing a small boat and capsized it. A member of the powerboat squadron towed her back to the clubhouse but came to close inshore and the mast snapped when it hit bottom. She hated powerboats ever since. End of story. No resolution, no denouement. Nothing. It just stops dead.
    Another one: going through my mother’s effects I found a letter from my dad when he was posted on the far side of the country. In it he tells he tried to be a gentleman and ‘comfort’ the widow of one of the pilots in his squadron, but she rejected his ‘comforting’. He wondered where he had gone wrong. That’s it. Nothing more. Is that implausible enough? 1. that he included this in a letter to his wife, 2. that he thought this was being a gentleman, 3. that he was confused or puzzled by her (the recent war widow’s) rejection.
    I’m wondering if there is a special plot structure to an anecdote that takes it from something only I find interesting to something others like.

    I’ll stop now. I think I ‘lost the plot’ some ways back and have been rambling on for some time.

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