by Joe Bender
The day was hot and steamy. The air was stuffed with noxious fumes from the Northern New Jersey environment. All that day, the client demanded one item after another. Sometimes consulting was incredible draining. This client, a mid size NJ Bank, was exceptionally so. It felt good to lower the windows, turn off the AC and suffer the smog filled air blowing through my hair as I drove down the turnpike to Philadelphia.
The days events twisted and turned around the recesses of my memory. Sometimes requests from this client appeared absurd or at best unreasonable. I recalled that attempting to respond to an illogical question from the client was not only frustrating but also draining. A day in that pressure cooker required at least two hours of down time so I was glad the drive would take about that amount of time. The thought of retiring that evening to my newly acquired apartment was the reward I needed after the drive.
My thoughts embraced the upcoming solitude and peacefulness of my new apartment. I began to reflect on the recent separation from Madeleine, the stress of buying furniture, equipping the kitchen with cutlery, pots, pans and other items, the bathroom with a shower curtain, soap, toilet tissue, and the like. It never occurred to me the amount of items and actions required to set up a place to live. The day of furniture shopping had to a first for the store. I charged through with a salesman in about thirty minutes buying living room, bedroom and dinette items for the apartment. The process was more about completing the task than surrounding myself with comfort.
The phone and electric had to be connected, the cable company called and the water company account set up. That was done two days prior to move in time. Tonight, before going home I planned to stop for red wind and NY steaks. I already had potatoes and knew that baked-stuffed would be perfect for dinner. Pat had called the night before and asked if I wanted company for dinner. She said it was not good for me to be alone at this time. Now that I was to have a new life after thirteen years with Madeleine. Madeline and I had met Pat and Chuck earlier this year at a house party. Shortly after the party she and her husband Chuck separated, ostensible because he had acquired another girl friend. Chuck told me about his new flame and showed me a picture. She was half American Indian and half Spanish. She looked attractive from what I could tell from the snapshot but who knows.
In any case, I was in a way looking forward to her visit. On other previous occasions, when I was with Madeleine, Pat made it clear that she wanted a new friend. At that time I thought her attractive but I did not want to spend any alone time with her. Strange as it may seam, it has to do with commitment. I was committed to Madeleine. Madeleine kept telling me that Pat was interested. Some how women pick up more vibes then do men. Madeline was right on point as I later learned.
Initially I passed it off as a short-term crush. In any case, jealously had often played a major role in Madeleines inability to acquire friends. She often said that other females were only using the friendship card to have access to her usband as she would pronounce it.
Madeleine was very French and her accent was even more French. Although an extremely attractive woman, Madeleine had a big problem with self-esteem. How many times was it necessary for me to reassure her? I lost count and became so tired of responding to Josef, as she pronounced Joseph, how do I loook, the word sounding more like ook than look.
The last few times she asked I responded by saying, Madeleine, how do I answer your question? Would not my answer be suspect? I continued, If I say great would you not think that my answer was positive just so as not to offend you? On the other hand if I said not so good you would be hurt and not talk to me for hours. I mused. So if you had waited and allowed me to say, Madeleine you look great, then the emotional benefit would be substantial and not suspect. Madeline would agree but never the less ask the same question again and again. I often wondered if she just agreed so as to end the dialog without really understanding what I was saying.
In any case, as I approach my destination, I decided to stop for gas just off the Atlantic City Expressway. Upon entering the station, I noticed a group of several guys hovering around a car with its door ajar. A young girl was sitting behind the wheel looking totally confused and somewhat frightened. After pulling up to the pump, I went to investigate, thinking maybe she was in trouble and didnt want the offered help from the crowd around her. Because I was the only person at that time wearing a shirt and tie and appeared to know what I was doing as I walked up to the crowd they separated to allow passage. Immediately, it was obvious that this young girl spoke no English. I tried to communicate in French but to know avail.
At this point I started to regret that I had become involved at all. Some how through all the frustration and pig English it became clear that this poor thing was lost and a long way from where she was trying to go. Apparently she had started to drive from Marlton, New Jersey, to a store near there and ended up just outside Camden. This meant she had traveled down route 70, around several circles and ended up here in Belmont. She was truly lost and without a clue as to going home.
Just next door to the gas station was the Belmont State Police barracks. My thinking at that time was Go next door with her and get them to help her. This would get me off the hook and alleviate any responsibility should some thing happen to her if I just walked away. After all I was the last person in the gas station to talk with her. I guess life had provided sufficient experiences, for me, to justify caution. She realized I was motioning for her to follow me and reluctantly she did. I was hoping she would understand we were only going next door to the State Police facility. Upon parking my car near the facility door she continued down the parking lot about as far away from the door as she could park. How strange I thought, why would she park so far away. It still did not hit me until she came up to me and we walk through the door. She was clearly petrified at going in to the State Police facility. I motioned for her to sit near the door on the bench while I went up to the window.
The glass was clearly bullet proof and the State Trooper manning the window desk looked bullet proof. His demeanor and appearance would have shaken anyones confidence. He had a crew cut, was athletically stocky and wore as many hash marks on his face as on his sleeve. Yet, it a way, he really seamed to want to help. By this time, it occurred to me that the young girl might just be an illegal immigrant. So in my quest to help her, I would get her arrested and deported. This thought didnt sit well with me at all. To avoid any contact between the girl and the Trooper, fearing he might start asking her question and learn what I suspected, I interposed myself between his view and her. I then told him I was trying to get to Marlton and could he provide a map.
He strolled off, somewhere in the back and as I glanced at the girl she looked totally scared. I had no way of reassuring her and I was so frustrated. When he came back after what seamed like an eternity, he came out the door along side of the window. I again stepped between him and the girl so that he would not she how frightened she was and begin asking question that might lead to her incarceration. What an ugly ending to an act of assistance, I thought.
He began to show me on the map where I was and where I had to go to get to Marlton. All of this I already knew but I had to maintain the ruse. When he asked if there were any question, I told him no and that he had made everything so clear. I thanked him turned, motion for the girl to get up from the bench and move out the door quickly. She understood that part real well.
Back out in the parking lot, we walked to her car and I spread the map out on her auto hood. She looked at the map and back at me. My thoughts were to give her the map with some pointing instructions and send her off packing. I did not want to have any more excitement or involvement for that day. She must have realized what the significance of events in the State Police barracks were all about. I had not turned her in as initially she might have suspected. She then waited until I looked into her brown teary eyes and said in almost perfect English Please take me home.
I knew at that moment that I could not abandoned her. I was doomed to make the thirty or forty mile trip to Marlton with her following behind. I resigned myself to doing this trip and for the first time in many minutes, my stress level, which had been rising rapidly, completely disappeared. I told her ok, I will take you home and immediately I saw a change in her face. She appeared happy for the first time since I met her in the gas station.
She then tried to start her car to no avail. The started churned on but the car would not start. Some how she made me understand that this phenomenon happened often on her car and required a little time for the car to sit. I suspected the car flooded and needed time for all the excess gas to drain from the carburetor. Now I was faced with another dilemma. Do we sit in the State Police parking lot waiting for the car to start, running the risk that some trooper would eventually come and ask question or do we go away for a while and come back. My thinking at the time was how do I communicate to her that it is not a good idea to just sit here waiting for the car to start. Surely, a Trooper would come bye. Somehow she understood but reluctantly got into my car and we left the lot.
My thoughts were to bag the steak idea and to buy some junk food. My hunger now kicked in and some kind of snack was in order. Somehow on the way to the convenience store she had second thoughts about being in my car. When I turned into the stores parking lot, she opened the door to jump out. I stopped hastily some thirty feet from the parking slot. My abrupt halt stopped her exit and she realized I was angry. She tried to make me understand that she wanted to use the telephone. Now I thought, why hadnt she suggested that earlier. That idea would have saved me much time and given me so much more tranquility.
My thinking previously was she had no way of contacting other help. So I dismissed the possibility. She shut the door and I backed up to the pay phone. Go call I said and get help to go home. My tone of voice clearly indicated that I was not a happy camper. She then turned to me and in broken English conveyed that there was no one to call. She again requested, please take me home.
After buying some cup cakes, Snapple ice tea and a hot dog to which she had declined all offers of food, I dropped her off at her car. As she got out she clearly wasnt sure if I was going to lead her to Marlton or not. She kept looking at me as she got into her car and started the motor. I waited for her to pull out and I began the long trip down Route 70. I opened the Snapple and cup cake, turned on the music and settled back for the trip. From time to time I checked the rear view mirror to make sure she was still following behind. She followed at a distance of about twenty feet and I attributed that to her not wanting to get lost again.
Eventually we arrived at the Marlton circle and I traveled around the circle but some how she had turned left just before the circle. When I looked in the rearview mirror she was nowhere to be found. However, just on the other side of the circle, after doing a 360, and now heading back up Route 70, I saw her car parked up a small dirt road. Its lights and motor were running. I stopped and got out as she did. From a distance of twenty feet or so she said in perfect English, thank you for bringing me home. I got back in my car and as I pulled back on the highway, I immediately glanced back to where her car was stopped. The time frame was only a few seconds.
Yet, mysteriously, her car was gone. No lights, no dust from the dirt road and no way for the car to have been blocked from view. Now I had concerns. Was this all a dream?. Did this lost soul really exist? Was I being tested? Had God given me an opportunity to do something nice for someone even though I didnt want to be involved? I may never know but I will never forget the request and those eyes, please take me home. How many of us at some time or another in our life need help to go home both spiritual and physically?
The still unfinished bottle of Snapple on the front seat indicated it was not a dream. She was real and the events as strange as they seamed were facts. Besides, I still had the map and an inner peace only rarely enjoyed in life.
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2011, Marnie L. Pehrson, All Rights Reserved.