I dreamed of Pennsylvania last night...
My first date with my husband lasted twenty-four hours. We didn't want it to end, and only ended it when the relatives I was living with woke that morning, and the need to avoid explanations made it necessary. We were both twenty-two, in college, scraping by...and now in love. The engagement happened fast. Six months later. We wanted to travel the country and settle in Colorado, because we thought it sounded like a cool place to live. No one thought that was a good idea, and pressure mounted to have us stay in Boston, but I was adamant. I kept saying, "time to get out of Dodge." We had no money, lots of student loans, and a maxed out credit card. So, we were broke. The wedding gifts were "green back" so we bought a small "covered" pickup to put all our worldly goods inside, figuring how hard could it be to learn "stick shift?"
Our families were frantic. Now, I realize why, but I was young, and knew if something happened, all I had to do was pick up a phone and my parents would come save us. *And did just that, months later, when my car battery died in a Colorado garage. SMH I don't know what I was thinking, beyond that's what you do when you're in trouble. Call home.* I could say we were young and stupid, but that wouldn't be true. We were young, fearless, and had nothing to lose...or so we thought.
Pennsylvania nearly broke our spirits. The hills were tough on stick shift driving, at least it was for us, who were new to it. We were traveling hostel to hostel, from Boston to Denver, so mainly using rural byways that were framed by drainage ditches. Once, lost on a rainy night, doing a three point turn to reverse directions, we got stuck in just such a ditch. As my husband pushed our fully-loaded pickup from the rear--in the muddy, bug and snake infested drainage ditch water--and as I struggled with the gears, desperate not to crush my new groom with a "roll back" while I shifted, a pack of Dobermans descended. I'm not kidding. I'm not using hyperbole or literary license. A PACK OF DOBERMANS DESCENDED. We'll never forget the terror, and the abject certainty that we were incompetents.
Unfortunately, that wasn't the worst Pennsylvania had in store for our self-esteems. The next day, the truck started smoking, and we were out in the middle of nowhere, [pre-cell phones], broke, tired, and high on too many cigarettes and caffeine, late for our next hostel check in. It was twilight, and we were parked on the side of the road, staring with horror at our smoking hood, fearing it would go up in flames. A large pickup pulled up, and a man with lots of facial hair, about our age, chewing tobacco wadded in his cheek, stared down at us like were were behind the glass in the primate section of a zoo. He spit a wad of brown goo, and asked us if we needed help.
My husband is the great communicator. People enjoy talking with him, so I shut up and waited for him to "fix this." The guy seemed like the kind of guy that would know how to fix a truck, so after my husband explained the situation, he opened the hood, and stepped back as our savior peered at the greasy, twisted, pieces of machinery that worked together in such a way as to allow us to drive the thing. He pronounced it fit, and couldn't see any problem, so he suggested he drive the truck to better diagnose the issue.
At this point, my husband and I would have paid money we didn't have to anyone willing to "fix this," so in a blink of an eye, my husband handed over the keys, and moments later, the only possessions we had in the world, including my purse and his wallet, drove up the hill and over, out of sight.
We turned and looked at each other, blinking, more than a bit stunned, and I watched as my husband's expression shifted to reflect my own epiphany. What have we done?
Long story long, the guy was a hero. He came back and diagnosed the problem. We'd left the emergency brake on, and it was smoking, but that wasn't the big take away from that incident. We'd learned that when you "give up" and hand over your problems to someone else to solve, you lose control of the solution. (The solution easily could have been our new friend in Pennsylvania driving off with our problem/worldly-goods.) We learned that one decision, sprouted from desperation and despair, could easily come back to haunt us. (Sick and tired of feeling incompetent, we were willing to hand over everything we owned to a stranger if it meant we could stop feeling that way.) And finally, we learned that safety nets are vital, but come at a cost YOU don't pay. (I knew all I needed was a phone to call my parents, and they would come. So did they, but they also feared the trouble we might find getting to the point of making that call, and the something horrible that could happen.)
I'll never forget the lessons of Pennsylvania. I'll never forget the kindness of the people that we met there. Beautiful vistas, farmlands, lush green trees and good food. And I'll never forget what it felt like to be in trouble, without hope, and to be at the mercy of someone else's conscience.
Repped by Louise Fury at The Bent Agency.