The moment I officially had my driver’s license and a car, I picked up students from my high school and gave them rides home. I gave rides to anyone I saw walking home after class and in Arizona; a ride is a blessing when it’s well over 100 degrees. As I got older and out of high school, I saw other people who needed rides, so I’d pick them up. I think the first time my brother was with me, he was a little surprised when we picked up a hitch hiker heading to Prescott and we were going just beyond, to Sedona.
When I lived in Flagstaff, which has a huge Native American, college student and hippy population, there were always hitchhikers waiting by the freeway with their destination written huge on cardboard and luggage at their side. Now in Flagstaff, there are many roads that lead out of town, one goes to New Mexico, another towards Nevada and one that leads into the heart of Phoenix. If people were going where I was going, I’d pick them up. There was nothing wrong with it, though I’ve seen enough horror movies, heard things on the news, was constantly warned as a child, etc.
Usually I’ve never had a problem with this. Most people are super friendly, funny and interesting. The woman I picked up two months ago was a chemotherapy patient, but before she got sick she used to be an actress with the Renaissance Faire. She told me stories as I drove that had me laughing. I really enjoyed her company and she invited me to her house whenever I wanted to stop by. The sad thing was, since she couldn’t drive, she had to walk that long distance to the store with her walker and she had continuously stop and rest since the treatments made her so weak, so when I picked her up, she was beside herself with relief. It was something so small on my end, but it was so huge for her because she had to take a treatment when she got home and sleep it off. I couldn’t imagine walking in 100+ degree weather when you are sick from chemotherapy. She lost her driver’s license when the treatments started. She said she thought no one would ever offer her a ride so she never asked.
Just recently, I was driving home from my meeting and I saw an older gentleman standing at the gas station with his thumb up. It was late and there wasn’t a great deal of traffic on the street so my empathy was immediately triggered. I turned my car around and asked him how far he was heading. He says, “Thank you so much for picking up a veteran on Veteran’s Day.” Of course everything inside me screams, VETERAN! I love my vets! He’s wearing this headphone device, but by the way he talks to me, I know it must be a hearing aid long before he tells me about it.
He starts to tell me about his history, which is what I’m always keenly interested about when I pick people up. Who are these people outside my bubble, or what my cell mate fondly calls “my rock foundation” since he believes I live under a rock when I’m not in the Dungeon working. The veteran’s story is full of hardship and wallowing self-defeat. He has seventeen grandchildren, but his youngest daughter was murdered. He was in a coma from service and admitted that he wished he’d never woken up.
As I turn down a back road to avoid road construction, the topic turns to me. “Are you married?” Yes. “Are you happily married?” Yes. “Do you have children?” No. “How tall are you?” Uh? “How old are you?” Um… “No children?” (He gives a long sound of manly approval followed by a very inappropriate comment) Warning bells go off in my head as I sit a little taller. In most stressful situations, I have this really, utterly useless defense mechanism; I start to giggle. Stupid, I know, but I outwardly laughed and inwardly start trying to sooth myself with PRIVATE thought, “This is okay, this veteran is obviously affected by his medicine. I’m sure he didn’t actually mean to say something personal out loud.” (My co-dungeon workers told me I was naïve)
He tells me about this homeless woman that he fell in love with and begged her to move in with him. That’s when he found out she was an alcoholic and smoked packs of cigarettes a day. He says, “If I had a gun, I’ll kill myself.” My sympathy is immediately back. My dad came back from service with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. My dad has severe nightmares and he sleepwalks, so again I pass the veteran’s odd behavior off from the stress of his service and all the darkness he’s seen.
Then he repeats his earlier questions with a few inappropriate responses and a joke that I don’t immediately understand until he brings up what he can do at his age that most men can’t.
We pass his complex because he requested I drop him off at Walgreens so he can pick up milk. When he gets out of the car, I debate staying. He’s less than a quarter of a mile from his apartment complex.
So I flip a coin and decide to call Emory and tell him exactly where I’m at and where I’m taking the veteran and Emory disagrees immediately after I add in the odd questioning about my height, age and how many times he asked if I had children and followed it with the comment about my “tight body.” Emory says, “Leave him. He can get home.” I think, “but… but…” and Emory is right, my warning bells have been triggered and as we passed the apartment complex, I noticed how dark it was. There were very few street lamps and then all these scenarios took root in my writer brain, so in the end, I knew I got him as far as I could, but as a lone female it is dangerous to stay with someone who is that fixated with my body. So I drove away, but not without guilt.
My Dungeon Friends:
Carol: “You’ve learned your lesson. You’re never going to do that again, right?”
Julie: “My friend, you NEVER pick up hitchhikers.”
Michael: “Are you insane? Where is your husband? I need to have a long conversation with him.”
Carol: “What’s your mother’s number? I think I need to chat with her.”
Me: *private conversation with Emory” “Everyone thinks this was a life changing lesson, but it isn’t. I’ll probably do it again.”
Emory: “I don’t think you’re going to change either. That’s why I’m going to get you mace.”