Tuesday, February 28, 2006


When I saw her walking along the interstate and clutching a paper bag, I thought she was a teenager. She had long black hair and was dressed in black, so it was easy to mistake her for some goth-inspired runaway.

I pulled over and rolled down my window.

"Hey," I called. "You know, what you're doing isn't safe."

She turned to look at me and the hopeful face I saw wasn't that of a kid, but of an older woman who - when I asked her name - identified herself only as Cynthia.

She'd just gotten out of the local jail, she said, where she'd spent the last six nights. The way she told it, she'd landed there after the judge at her traffic hearing had ordered a drug test that showed positive for cocaine. The boyfriend who'd promised to pick her up on the day of her release had been a no-show. Cynthia really needed a ride. Could I help her?

I was hesitant.I knew that judges didn't order drug tests in routine traffic cases. But I also knew that when I got to work I'd read enough wire copy of rapes and murders to regret it if I didn't give her a ride.

I made her take off her coat and turn all her pockets inside out to show me she wasn't carrying drugs or weapons. My sympathy is tempered with reason. She obliged and even dumped the bag out on the side of the road. Court records, medical records, a half-pack of Marlboro cigarettes - that's all she had.

I told her to get in.

As she buckled her seatbelt, I stole a glance at her. She had high cheekbones and green eyes. At one time, Cynthia was probably a beautiful woman. Now she looked hard, tired and used.

I didn't ask for her story, but got it anyway . She spewed a tale in the manner of someone who thinks if they talk fast enough they'll be believed. She stumbled over her words, backtracking several times in an attempt to redress and correct glaring contradictions. She had a boyfriend but the night she was arrested she'd been drinking with someone else. She didn't do drugs but couldn't remember what happened after the third shot of tequila. She had five kids who were with their dad. They really wanted to be with her and they would be, if she and her boyfriend didn't lose the trailer they shared, which is exactly what would happen if he couldn't get his child support reduced.

I finally stopped her and told her it was OK. She didn't have to say any more. I'd done plenty of things in my past I wasn't proud of myself. She could chill out. I wasn't her parole officer. I was just someone giving her a ride.

I did ask her , though, why her boyfriend didn't show. She said he must have gotten delayed at work. He was driving a burgundy Mazda and was probably on the way. With anxious eyes she scanned oncoming traffic, looking for his car. We never saw it.

I called my boss and told him I was giving someone a ride home and that I'd be late. He said that was cool, but I never got the chance. Cynthia began fretting that her boyfriend - who didn't have a cell phone - would end up riding the roads looking for her all night. She asked me to pull over and drop her off. I refused to pull over on the busy interstate but took the next exit, hoping I could convince her to let me take her to a convenience store where there would be lights and a phone. It would be dark soon. I was worried about her.

But she wouldn't listen. She got out, but before she did gave me a hug and told me how much she appreciated the ride. Did I know how many people she'd asked who'd refused before I came along? About five, she said.

I pulled away, watching her in the rear view mirror as I did. I never saw the burgundy car. But I'll never forget the vision of Cynthia standing there, waiting for it to come.

When I got to work, I was pretty bummed out. On a break, I shared this story with my friend John, who has a lot of insight into people.

"My life has been far from perfect," I told him. "Lord knows I've had my share of missteps. So what's the difference between me and Cynthia?"

John took a drag off his cigarette and gave me a smile.

"You stopped waiting for guys in Mazdas," he said.


prettylady said...

Beautifully written. I have had similar experiences. You can't help people until they are ready to start helping themselves.

Morgan said...

*sigh* I know, Pretty Lady. It just makes me rather sad. I don't know how many more chances someone like that will get before their luck runs out. Thanks.

Tom T. said...

Morgan, this story brought tears to my eyes. I quit drinking over 22 years ago, now and occasionally I run into a rummy on the street about my apparent age (probably younger, it ages you fast.) It always make me stop and think.

There is some hope, though. A couple of times in my life I've seen people that I figured would be dead in a year turn their lives around. In most cases, they just decide that chaos is not their friend.

Why it happens, I'm not sure--there didn't seem to be a religious component to it in these two cases--more a sudden realization of self.

In any case, I've just started reading your blog (I'm an occasional poster on Vox's) since the Famous Rat in a Bucket Incident.

I'm another old hippy living in a commune in Illinois. Best wishes to you, and keep writing.


Morgan said...


Thanks so much for you comments. They really meant a lot to me.

Since the Cynthia incident I find myself wondering how she's faring. Your note gives me hope that she'll pull it together. I don't ever want to think it's too late for someone to have the sort of epiphany that turns their life around.

That's cool that you live in a commune. When I was pregnant, I relied a lot on a book called "Spiritual Midwifery" written by Ina Mae Gaskins, whose husband Stephen started a commune called The Farm in Tennessee. I have a book called "Voices from The Farm," that's full of really interesting stories about life there. The Farm is still operational, but is more like a commercial enterprise now, with workshops on agriculture and such.

I read a novel last year called "Drop City" about a failed commune that started in California and ended terribly in Alaska. It was a work of fiction, but interesting.

I know this is OT, but I'd love to learn more about your life on the commune. If you ever have a moment to chat, drop me a line at morganofthelake@hotmail.com

The whole concept is just fascinating to me.

Thanks again for writing. It's gratifying to know I'm not the only hippie reading and posting at VP. ;-)