Sometimes things happen and I just know, I know deep down it was the universe at work. Some people call it God, others Allah, or Krishna, or Buddha, and still others Karma. I call it The Universe. Be it God, or Allah, or Krishna, or Buddha, or Karma, it is a force greater than myself. Last Friday evening something happened, and I just know it was the universe at work.
It was so important, I facebooked it.
I’ve not shared the first half of this story. It’s a bit, well, dangerous, irresponsible, the kind of thing people might shake their head at while saying, that was nice of you, but thinking, you stupid crazy bitch you’re lucky you didn’t get kidnapped or raped or killed. It was nice of me, and I didn’t get killed, and I would do it again in a heartbeat (so if you’re after me, might I suggest being in distress at a rest area).
“You see that tree over there?” I asked the kids, then two and four.
“Yes,” they answered, at the ready, knowing freedom was imminent.
“Go run in circles around it,” I told them. “And if anyone but me talks to you, scream your heads off, ok.” And they took off screaming their heads off.
I turned and faced the dark parking lot, looking at the two men I had looked at once, twice, three times already. It was obvious they were troubled. They were huddled close together peering into a car, rusted and in need of washing. Neither swayed nor yelled. I clutched my phone and my keys and stepped from the grass to the sidewalk to the grass, and down off the curb onto the blacktop towards a mid-century box on wheels.
“Excuse me, sirs,” I said. They both turned to me. Two men, suddenly lighted with the ominous glow of the yellow lights, middle-aged with graying hair and dirty faces lined with wrinkles of age and experience, one slightly larger than the other, but neither of such significant size or apparent shape to suggest I couldn’t outrun them. “There’s probably nothing I can offer you, but is there anything I might be able to do to help?” I asked.
Shocked, they stared at me, then they looked at each other, wiped the sweat off of their hands, and looked back at me. Their demeanor suggested they expected trouble and didn’t expect an offer of assistance. “Uhm,” said the younger of the two, “well, I uh, uhm, well, I, you see, I locked my keys in my car,” he stammered.
“I can see that,” I said. “I haven’t a hanger, or a slimjim, or a toolbox, or anything useful, but I have small hands.” I looked over my shoulder to my kids, squealing with glee at the freedom to run, unrestricted.
“No, I don’t think so,” he answered. “I’ve done this before. It takes a while to jimmy the lock.”
“I have water,” I offered. “I have a case of bottled water in my trunk. Would you like a few bottles?” It was hot, even with the sun having been set for an hour.
“Yes,” answered the younger man. “No,” the older man answered with a shake of his head.
I opened my trunk, and kept my eyes on both men to be sure there wasn’t any quick movement to shove me in and take off. My generosity partnered with my media-induced fear of strangers in the dark. I worried for abandoning my children.
I pulled out three bottles, closed the trunk, and handed them to the younger man. “Here’s three, in case you change your mind,” I said looking at the older man. “Good luck to you,” I said in closing and turned to gather my kids.
As my kids and I approached my car, the younger man approached us. I clutched both their shoulders and opened the door to the back seat. “Climb in and get in your seats,” I told them and turned to the man. The older man who was helping him had disappeared. Into thin air. Gone like a ghost. No footsteps tapped in the silent air. No car door shut. No engine sparked to life. I shut the back door to my car.
“There is something you can do to help,” he said to me.
“Ok. Sure. What?” I offered.
“I noticed you have a phone,” he said pointing to my hand. “Might I borrow it to call my sister?” he asked.
“Yes, yes, you can,” I answered and handed him my phone.
He dialed and waited. There was no answer. “I’m just going to leave her a message,” he said. He explained where he was and what happened. His name, I learned, was Larry. I opened the door to my car. The heat was too much to leave two kids sitting in a closed vehicle.
Larry and I talked for a few minutes while my kids looked on in silence. It was the quietest they had been all evening. I learned Larry likes art and that he believes people are put in our lives for a reason, and he believed we stopped at that rest stop to be of help to him. He praised God and gave me his email address. I emailed him that night after the kids and I got back home. He replied the next day. He had gotten into his car a few minutes after we left and made it home safely. I didn’t reply and I’ve not heard from him since.
“Hey,” I said. “Get out of the bushes please.” I was both taking a picture of him playing in the bushes and telling him not to play in the bushes. My son is three and a half. My five (almost six) year old daughter ran to him from the tree she was shaking to “make it snow flowers”. Instead of getting out of the shrubbery, he jumped into the bush so he was up to his knees in greenery. My daughter was standing right next to him in the grass.
I walked around the curve on the grass. He screamed. He grabbed his leg. My daughter screamed. She grabbed her leg. They both screamed and I ran, stopping suddenly when I saw the swarm.
“RUN!” I yelled. “Run now! Run away! Run to the table! Run!” I yelled to my daughter without concealing my anxiety.
“Jump,” I said to my son as calmly as I could. “Jump out of the bush onto the grass,” I said.
I couldn’t get to him without risking getting stung by the swarm of wasps buzzing around him. I wanted to grab him, to rescue him, but I couldn’t. I just couldn’t move one step closer.
He jumped. We ran. We collapsed in the grass with distance between us and the swarm. I pulled up his shorts and saw the angry red spot. I tried to pull up my daughter’s leggings, but they were too tight. I pulled them down and saw the angry red spot. I stood and told them, “do not move, do not move from where you are. I am going to get the first aid kit.”
I stood and spun around and very nearly crashed head on with a woman who was running towards us. Her hands were full, but I couldn’t see with what. She was blocking my path to my car, to the first aid kid, to all I had in the middle of nowhere South Georgia to help my kids crying in pain, swelling from the sting, and scared.
“I can help,” she said. “I’m a pediatric nurse,” she explained and I stopped trying to push through her. I saw what she had in her hand. “I always travel with a kit,” she said, bending down to one knee. “You never know when you are going to need it.” She looked at the kids’ legs and addressed them directly.
“You have an owie,” she said to them. They felt her compassion and told her that got stung. “I see that. Can you stick out your tongue for me?” And both kids complied and stuck out their tongues. She turned to me.
“They are not having an allergic reaction,” she said. “Their tongues would be swollen if they were,” she explained and turned back to them. “I’m going to put this goopey cream on your stings and it will help them feel better,” she told them and then squeezed some antihistamine cream on their legs. She gave them each a band-aid and they opened them and put them on.
I thanked her, very nearly crying from the pain my children endured and her compassion and willingness to help strangers. She put her hand on my elbow and explained that she was put there at this rest stop to help us. Larry’s words echoed in my head.