Southwestern, Chapter Twelve: The Hill

Week eight. I found myself sitting on the hood of my car staring at a fairly large hill. It was the middle of the afternoon, though the cloud cover along with a nice breeze made for a much more tolerable temperature. It was sometime in the middle of the week, meaning, I should have been selling books. Instead, I’d been driving around all morning, trying to psych myself up to find a new area and start knocking on some doors.

But I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I kept making little goals that I never intended to keep. Time goals, for instance. Like, I’d tell myself, at 2:30 I’ll quit screwing around and get out of the car. But 2:30 would come and go while I was reading an article in the newspaper or thinking about what my friends were doing back home in Indiana. Once I snapped out of my reverie and notice I missed my goal, I would proceed to set a new goal. One that would ultimately be missed. Again.

I did this over and over, and I’d been doing it all week. My motivation was completely gone by week eight. I had lost more weight, despite gaining some muscle from all the push-ups and constant walking. I was psychologically checked out. I had been told no so many times that I eventually convinced myself it was no use trying. There was a not-so-subtle lesson I was starting to learn about myself. I do not handle rejection well. At all.

I wished I could let it roll off my back. I even prayed about it. None of it helped. I couldn’t stop myself from internalizing every no I got. Each no felt like a slight against my character. I was no longer able to consider the fact that the product I was trying to sell was simply not of great interest to the people I was trying to sell to. In my mind, the customers weren’t rejecting the books. They were rejecting me.

Nearly 15 years later, this is still something that hampers me constantly. I’ll be 34 years old this year, and I still struggle immensely with rejection. People who can take failure and turn it into motivation absolutely fascinate me. I want to learn how to do that. Can I please just learn how to do that?

As I sat on my car, I thought about the preceding few weeks leading up the that moment. It had been three weeks since we all learned of Adam’s death. The days after that Sunday felt like a blur. I was on auto-pilot, reciting my sales pitch to uninterested customers like a robot, not putting up the least bit of fight when they decided they weren’t interested.

The week after that was absolutely nuts. At one point, I found myself in a small cul-de-sac in the middle of nowhere with five mobile homes situated in a half circle. The next closest house to this group of rundown homes was probably three miles away.

I parked at the entrance to the cul-de-sac off that main road and walked to the first house. Sure enough, no answer. Same at the second house. At the third house I finally heard some movement inside, but no one ever came to the door. After knocking on the door of the fourth house, I again heard some movement and caught a glimpse of the blinds being peeped through. I waited about 20 seconds and knocked again, took two steps back, faced the neighbor’s house, and tried to look impressive.

The inside door swung open wildly. I turned to face the homeowner with a smile and was met with a glare I won’t ever forget. An older man, skin yellow and wrinkled, with a beard that hadn’t been trimmed in years, stared at me with a crazed look in his eyes. I’m convinced the man was on drugs. I launched into my spiel after a few seconds of trying to collect myself. Separated by a cast-iron storm door, I didn’t realize the man had a machete gripped tightly in his left hand. While I ignorantly went on with my pitch, the man slowly unlatched the door and started opening it, eventually revealing the machete.

As soon as I saw it, I jolted back. Startled by my quick movement, the man lunged a few inches forward, causing me to fall down the handful of stairs leading up to the man’s door. I didn’t bother saying my goodbyes. Within ten seconds, I’d covered the 40 or so yards back to my car and had thrown it into reverse. The entire time, the man stood on his stoop screaming incoherently at the top of his lungs, threatening to end my life if I ever showed my face again.

That day, I decided to stick to the neighborhoods. No more cul-de-sacs in the middle of the desert.

The next week was more uneventful, but too much so. I maybe averaged knocking on 30 doors each day that week. My motivation and determination were slipping. At one point, I drove all the way across town in an attempt to find and stalk Ricky. Just as a joke, of course. I figured I’d find him and follow him around, sending cryptic texts every few minutes until he figured out what was going on. I was bored. Coincidentally enough, I finally spotted his car, no joke, at a park. I pulled up next to his car and realized his seat was leaned all the way back and he was taking a mid-afternoon siesta. Turns out, Ricky was bored, too.

Week eight. Staring at the massive hill in front of me, I felt like I was at a crossroads. Los Lunas hadn’t been kind to me. Over half the summer was gone and I felt lost. My confidence was gone. My health was waning. My spirit was on the verge of breaking. What was I going to do?

While I thought about all that, I started climbing. In the midst of failing all my sales goals, I decided to make a physical goal instead. I was getting to the top of that hill, no matter what. I keep calling it a hill, but that doesn’t really do it justice. The path to the top was rocky and steep, and this hill was hundreds of feet tall. Climbing to the top wasn’t an easy task. I was in decent shape (or so I thought), so reaching the top shouldn’t have been an issue.

After getting maybe one-third of the way up the hill, I could barely breathe. I was walking at a brisk pace, so I figured I just needed to slow down to catch my breath. But after ten minutes, I was still gasping for air. Was I really that out of shape? Or maybe it was the sudden change in elevation? That didn’t make a ton of sense, given the fact that I’d only climbed maybe 100 feet in elevation.

I trudged up the path another 50 yards or so before having to stop again, completely breathless. At one point I almost started to panic, thinking maybe I was having a heart attack or something. Then logic came to me and I realized a 20-year-old having a heart attack would be highly unlikely. Regardless, I was legitimately struggling to breathe.

I took a hard look at the summit of the hill, grousing internally about not making it up there. I’m sure the view was…well, it probably wasn’t much, to be honest. It was the desert, after all. But I was still mad I couldn’t even accomplish this goal. I cursed loudly the entire trip down the hill.

I decided that this hill wouldn’t define me. Just like this summer wasn’t going to define me. It had been one of the hardest things I’ve ever put myself through and I was failing wildly. I wasn’t accustomed to that sort of failure. I have enough natural ability, both physically and mentally, to at least be competitive in things like schoolwork, or sports, or whatever. So, to be the worst seller week after week after week? It absolutely rocked me.

I made a vow that I’d make it to the top of that stupid hill by the end of the summer. Now that I knew what to expect, I’d make sure to be prepared the next time I attempted a trip to the top.

A few days later – Saturday, to be precise – Ricky and I got up and headed to the diner like usual. Saturday was “gravy day”. What that meant to us is this: Monday through Friday offered challenges that Saturday simply did not. On weekdays, 96% of the demos we gave were to retirees or super-busy moms. The moms, especially, were tough to sell. But if I ever caught a mom showing some curiosity but knew she simply didn’t have the time to listen to me, I’d set up an appointment to come back on the weekend. In theory, sellers would hit their weekly sales targets by the end of every Friday, then Saturday was all gravy. Hence, “gravy day”.

Also, and far less consequential to this particular anecdote, Ricky and I had started ordering biscuits and gravy on Saturdays. Symbolism at its finest. Like self-fulfilling prophecy, except, you know…eating it into existence.

Eating it into existence. Now there’s a sentence I never dreamed I’d write.

Anyway, we wrapped up breakfast and Ricky headed to the bathroom for his daily dump. This time, though, he came out of the bathroom no more than a minute after entering. On his way back, he stopped to talk to Deb for a minute. When he got back to the table, I took a guess as to what he said to her.

“Out of T.P. in the bathroom again?”

Ricky chuckled. “Yeah, something like that.”


My morning started off okay. I notched a sale before 8AM, giving my confidence a much needed jolt. By 4pm, though, one sale was all I’d tallied on the day. Again, I found myself at the bottom of that hill. This time I made it closer to the halfway point, making at least a little progress. I certainly wasn’t satisfied, but I tried to stay positive about it.

After coming down the hill, I had sweat through my shirt and knew I couldn’t sell books looking like I’d just finished a half-marathon. I decided to head back to the house early. It was Saturday, after all, and I felt the need for some extra rest (despite hardly working that week).

I pulled into the driveway around 5PM and recognized Annie’s car parked around the side of the house. Annie, if you’ve forgotten, was the daughter of the homeowners. We saw her only a handful of times throughout the summer, usually when she came over on a weekend to use her parents’ washer and dryer.

I walked inside and made sure she saw me. I didn’t want to scare her, knowing she wouldn’t expect anyone at the house until me and Ricky would arrive later in the night. She waved and took off her headphones.

“Hey, you’re back early. Tough day?”

“Yeah,” I acknowledged. I looked down at my shirt, remembering I looked disgusting. “A hot day, too.”

“I hear ya. Alright, well I’ll be out of here in a few minutes. The dryer should be done any minute,” Annie said as she turned to leave. But then she called back over her shoulder, “hey, sorry about your buddy. He left a note for you on the bed.”

I thought I heard her wrong at first so I didn’t say anything. I went back to the bedroom and sure enough, there was a handwritten letter with my name on the front. The floor where Ricky’s suitcase usually sat was empty. Same for the closet. I knew immediately that he left, but I couldn’t admit it to myself in those first few minutes.

I opened the letter and read. I don’t have the letter anymore, else I’d write it here word for word because it was absolutely hilarious. I’ll paraphrase to the best of my ability (and memory):

Dear Sam,
This summer has sucked. It’s been great getting to know you and to experience all of this, but this isn’t what I signed up for. I’m not making any $$$. It’s stupid hot every single day. I got peed on last week by a grown man. So…I’m out. You have my number, gimme a call when you get back to Purdue this Fall and we’ll have beers. 

Love,
Ricky 

p.s.  – the diner had toilet paper. I just felt weird trying to take a dump before saying goodbye to Deb.

Welp. Goodbye, Ricky.

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