I was a pretty brave person when I was younger. Or maybe I had that sense of invincibility that comes with youth. I’d survived some things: a stalker, who pursued my sister and I for over a year & a half, being sexually assaulted, 2 house fires, and growing up in a house that I swear to you was haunted. Not in that Disney way, either. I’m talking torture chamber in the basement and strange things going on. Anyway, I suppose, looking back, that having been through all of that made me feel a little like either I was sort of invincible, or maybe I just assumed that I’d gotten all of the bad stuff out of the way and nothing else would happen. Whatever it was, I learned to know better.
When I was 17, I didn’t have a driver’s license. (In fact, I was 36 before I did.) I walked most places, occasionally catching rides with friends, and, less occasionally, hitchhiking. The night in question was one of those seldom seen occasions when I’d decided to hitchhike, having worked late and being too exhausted to walk. Now, most of the time when I’d hitch a ride, I wouldn’t get in the car with a lone man. Only women or (rarely) men with a wife/girlfriend and/or kids in the car. This night, though, cars were few and far between and it was cold, and really (if I’m being perfectly frank), when he pulled over I took a good look and figured I could take him if he tried anything. He was on the slender side, and had a strange frailness about him, even though he looked healthy enough.
I got into the car after we agreed on a destination, we exchanged names and I warmed my fingers in front of the heating vent. He spoke quietly, asking a few questions along the lines of was I a local and how did I like living there. He said he’d only been there a couple of months, but found it beautiful and hoped he could find happiness there. That comment struck me as a little odd, but I brushed it off. It began to snow and the road quickly got slippery, so he slowed and kept his eyes straight out the windshield, driving silently. I was okay with that, as small talk was never my forte. About ten minutes later, I noticed a car near the intersection we were approaching seemed to be sliding, so I said, “watch out!” He immediately hit the gas, shooting through the intersection and burst out with, “Don’t EVER scream at me!”
Needless to say, I was taken aback. I said, “Look, this is close enough, just pull over here and I can get there.” He didn’t seem to hear me. “Um, Richard? Did you hear me? I said you can pull over here and let me out.”
…no response. He just stared straight ahead, driving faster now than he had been since it began to snow. To say I was scared doesn’t seem to cover the depth of the fear that began to arise in me. I didn’t know if I should stay quiet, or speak, but I was damn sure not going to yell after his outburst. After about a mile, he began to mumble under his breath. I couldn’t quite make out what he was saying, but I assumed he was speaking to me, so I said, “hmm? I couldn’t hear you.”
He began to speak, quietly and rapidly, saying things like, “you’re always yelling at me. I’ve told you time and again I do not appreciate being yelled at, but do you listen? Nooooo. Well I’m done listening to YOU now, do you hear that?”
I was at a complete loss. I didn’t know what to say in response or if I should say anything at all. I contemplated just jumping out of the car, but nixed that idea when I realized the door lock was missing; there was just a silver-lined hole where it should have been. I’d started to cry and debate with myself about causing an accident by grabbing the wheel and hoping for the best (at least, I figured, there was a chance I’d survive that), when he suddenly looked at me for the first time since I had gotten into the car. He blinked several times, rapidly, then slowed the car, pulling into a gas station.
I waited to see if he’d unlock the doors, not wanting to say anything to set him off again. After a minute or two, he quietly said, “I think I better let you out here.” and hit the button to open the locks. I wasn’t about to hesitate. I jumped out of the car as if it were on fire. I was about to turn and walk into the gas station when he called my name. He looked so damned sad I hesitated. He apologized, said he was sorry if he’d frightened me, that he never would have harmed me, and asked if I’d be able to get home okay. I said I would, and closed the door. He began to pull out of the gas station lot, but stopped suddenly. He just sat there for a couple of moments, his head down. I froze, wondering what the hell he was up to and was about to run into the station, but he opened his window and yelled to me, waving something in his hand. My hat. I’d left it on his seat. I warily approached his side of the car, and he handed it to me, apologizing again. I didn’t know what else to say, so I just said, “Thanks.”
I watched as he drove off, making sure he was out of sight before moving on so he wouldn’t know which direction I was heading (I’d decided to go to a friend’s instead of home). As I walked, I went to put my hat back and, on out fell a piece of paper. Folded into the paper was a $100 bill. The paper said, “I’m sorry. Please take a cab and don’t hitchhike any more tonight.” I didn’t. In fact, it was the last time I ever hitched a ride alone.