Since that last post was so well-received, and since she is on my mind all the time, I thought I’d post a story about one of the adventures Myra and I had. We had quite a few, over the years, so if you like this one, prepare for others. And if you don’t like this one, consider finding a different blog to read, asshole.
I think this happened in 1997, when I had moved home to live with my mama again while I finished up grad school. I was smart enough to know better, so it must’ve been after undergraduate school, I reckon. Remember that 1997 was well before cell phones for most of us. Just, you know, in case you forgot.
Myra and I had been to Fargo until after dark one winter’s night. I don’t recall that we were Christmas shopping, so maybe we’d been to a movie, or just out to get groceries. I know we were in Fargo, though, because we were coming home via Interstate 29, which we only did from Fargo. I was driving, and as was our way, we were talking and laughing and having so much fun we missed the Gardner exit. Now normally this isn’t a big deal, but Gardner is the last exit before Hendrum that has paved roads all the way home. Grandin, the next exit, is technically closer to Hendrum, but there are miles of gravel between the Interstate and our sleepy little town.
We briefly discussed turning back at Grandin to go back to Gardner, but it would be another 6 miles then, before we got home, and the weather was clear, and it was late. Though we had some questions about Traill County’s abilities in road maintenence, it had been a while since the last snowfall, and as a farmer’s daughter I was confident in my gravel-driving abilities. So we pressed on, through Grandin onto the gravel that would take us home.
The road was clear but narrowed from all the snowfall (remember the winter of ’97? It was like driving through a tunnel up in there). This didn’t bother us, for we still (as always) had much to talk about.
Suddenly, miles ahead of us, we saw headlights. I know it was after eleven, because I remarked on the time to Mom. “Who in Traill County is out at this hour?” I asked her. “And on this road?” She had no answer, but we were fairly confident the road was wide enough for 2 vehicles, and went back to our visiting. I joked, briefly, that it was probably a serial killer, looking for a woman and her daughter out too late on a deserted road.
Remind me not to make such jokes, won’t you?
Suddenly, still about 2 miles ahead, the headlights disappeared.
“Ha,” I laughed. “See? He’s lying in wait for us, now.”
“Oh, stop it,” Myra said. “He probably got to his farmstead’s driveway is all.”
I assumed she was right. Until, a mile and a half ahead, I could clearly see a man standing in the middle of the gravel road, waving his arms above his head.
Now, gentle readers, you know that he couldn’t have killed either of us, because this was nearly 20 years ago and I’m still here and Myra’s only been gone about 8 months. So take a deep breath.
But at that moment, going 40 miles an hour, close to midnight on a dark rural road, I didn’t know who this man was. I had to slow down, because he was in the middle of the road. His car was in the ditch next to him, lights still on, shining into the snow (I’m still not sure how he ended up in the ditch. If ever an area had straight roads, it’s eastern North Dakota. Like driving on a damn grid).
So I slowed way down. “Crap,” I said.
“Jenny, we have to stop,” Myra said.
“Oh yeah? Why? What if he IS a serial killer?” We were still about 7 miles from Hendrum. My suggestion that we tell Mike Smart about him once we got home was shushed before it came out of my mouth. (Mike was [and still is] Hendrum’s police officer, and he’s the guy to go to when you don’t know what else to do.)
“Jennifer. It is winter in the north. We do not leave people on the road in the winter.”
“But mom, we can’t stop for him. It’s like, not safe.” (I’m sure I was more articulate than that, but I do recall saying “like” a lot back then). As we approached him, I saw his letterman’s jacket, with the year ’98 proudly displayed on his sleeve. He was at least 6 feet tall, but he was only a junior in high school. I had almost half a master’s degree, for crying out loud. I don’t know why this made me feel more brave (I bet Ted Bundy wore fake letterman’s jackets…), but Myra was insistent. I scrambled to make a plan.
As we pulled up almost to him, I said to Myra, “Just do what I say. You drive. Okay?” She nodded, clearly not aware we were about to meet our doom. I got out of the car.
“Oh, thank God you’ve stopped!” he said, breathless from his arm waving (and evil intentions, I imagined). The name on his jacket said “Jason.” “I think if we both push it, we can get it out of the ditch.” He nodded toward his car, a little red Dodge Neon-type. The hood was buried in the snow, and there was no way I was going to help this kid. I had seen Silence of the Lambs, and knew better than to help any man, even a young or injured one, with anything vehicle related. Besides, he was delusional if he thought anything but a pick-up truck or bigger was going to move that car back to the road.
Meanwhile, Myra got out of the car and went over to the driver’s side. I looked Jason over carefully, trying to see where he might have a hidden weapon or three, while I quizzed him about his whereabouts. Where had he been? Where was he going? Why did he go in the ditch on a straight road? He still wanted me to push his car out of the ditch, though, so finally I sighed and said, “Look, it’s me and my mother. We’re not moving your car.” Finally, he answered my questions: He’d been at his girlfriend’s house, 3 miles back. He lived in Argusville (the opposite direction of where we were headed). He had bent down to pick up his Funyuns and whoopsie, in the ditch.
I didn’t necessarily believe anything he said, but I could see he had no mittens, hat, boots or scarf with him. It wasn’t terribly cold, but it was certainly below zero, and there was no way he could walk three miles in the pitch dark dressed like that. Finally, I said, “Look, we’ll drive you back to your girlfriend’s house. That’s the best we can do.” He looked longingly at his car, then went back to it, grabbed his Funyuns, and turned off the lights, sighing. “Seriously, dude,” I was thinking, “as far as I know you’re a goddamn murderer! Thank me for risking my life here!” Instead, he sighed heavily again, then got in the passenger’s seat, where I had directed him.
Here was my plan. I had dental floss in my purse, and as soon as I got in the car, I strung a 3 foot piece between my hands, shortening it to about 2 feet. I figured if he made a move to hurt Myra, I would throttle him. This is why he had to sit in front of me, so I could keep an eye on him. Now, in hindsight, I recognize that flossing a man to death is not the best self-defense plan. But it was the best I could come up with on short notice. If you would’ve had a better one, by all means, share it in the comment section.
At any rate, Jason explained that his girlfriend’s dad would be so mad, because her curfew was 11, and he had stayed even a few minutes past that, saying his goodnights. Now he’d be coming back, close to midnight, asking for help. As we pulled into the yard, I could see all the lights were out in the house, and I felt a little bad for the kid. I mean, Funyuns? Really? He was never going to live this down.
He got out of the car, and thanked us for the ride. Myra moved over to the passenger side, and I slid in the driver’s seat, finally exhaling. We waited until the porchlight came on (a few minutes after he’d knocked) before turning back toward home. I was still shaking a little.
“We had to help him, Jenny. You know we did.” Mom was almost apologetic, but mostly chastising in her tone. Of course we had to help him.
I was upset by this episode in two ways.
First of all, I didn’t like that I had become so frightened of strangers that I considered leaving him out in the cold, even for the 30 minutes or so it would’ve taken for Mike to get to him. That’s just crazy. I blamed the movies, and stranger danger, and a new found instinct for protecting my mama. Somehow, if I’d been alone, it would’ve been easier to stop for him, but the thought of someone hurting my Mom? Uh, look out. Here comes the floss.
But secondly, I was mad at this kid. First of all, who travels with no winter gear in North Dakota in winter?? And also, what kind of balls did he have, to think he could just stand in the middle of the road and demand we help him? Hadn’t HE seen The Silence of the Lambs? Didn’t he know how women learn how to keep themselves safe by not PICKING UP STRANGE MEN IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT? Why wasn’t he at least a little apologetic?
There’s a lesson here, somewhere, about youth and male privilege and being a good Samaritan, but recounting all of this has made me tired. You figure it out, gentle readers. And feel free to defend yourself with dental floss, should the need arise.