The navy A-Team van engine roared. We quickly passed my two-wheeled green Toyota Corolla on the left hand side of the highway. Returning to my car would require a u-turn at the next exit, and then re-entering highway 95 heading south. The van was moving in the right direction, but the conversation inside was not.
I knew the next few minutes would be crucial. I would either be traveling toward safety or harm. I looked down at my thumb. When nervous or in an uncomfortable situation instead of biting my fingernails I often pick the skin on the side of my thumb with with the nail of my first finger. Unconsciously, I began this strangely soothing habit. My thoughts snapped to the present moment as I heard Jim’s haunting voice, “Don’t be nervous Virginia!”
“I am JEN-NI...not VIR-GIN-IA!” I shot back sounding much stronger than I felt.
In that very moment, many stories of women who had been abducted floated in to my mind. I recalled the women who were very strong, bold, and almost belligerent faired the best under their captor’s control. The women who expressed fear, cried, or pleaded for their lives actually fueled the fire of their abductor’s psychotic episode. I could feel myself going in to a fight/flight response and fight was my decided mode of operation. Calmly and clearly I decided to lie and told Jim I was able to reach both my husband and my father via phone at the Amoco station. I told Jim my father lived only 45 minutes away from my tire-less vehicle. I mentioned he also celebrated the right to bear arms and was on his way to meet me in the area, happy to assist my getting back on the road to Charleston. Not wanting to appear weak in any way, my red-headed sass was in full effect. I was not my sweet, friendly self, I was all business. I firmly reminded Jim my name was Jen-ni…the next exit would return me to my car…and boldly explained I was unavailable for dinner as I would be in Charleston having dinner with my husband.
Jim took the very next exit I had asked him to take. “Good,” I thought, “I am getting through–he is turning around.” Then my stomach knotted. Instead of taking a left on the overpass to re-enter the highway moving southbound, Jim took a right. Not good. He drove in a direction that appeared to be rapidly approaching corn fields and old abandoned barns. Thinking I might be able to run faster shoeless, I looked down at my feet and wondered if I might be able to kick off my Birkenstock sandals, open the door and roll out while the van was still in motion? The side road Jim had taken had significant ditches on both sides of the road. That would be problematic…the fall would be more than a few feet to the ground. I watched the speedometer, we were only traveling 30-40mph. Was an escape like this possible without extreme bodily harm? Incredibly, the doors on this beat up van were electric and locked, but I even wondered if the open window might be an option?
I was also curious to see if the white mustang was still following our navy A-Team van. Before I had only glanced once trying to be inconspicuous. Now unnerved and anticipating imminent danger, I glanced again. The mustang was moving closer on our tail. Jim was still telling me not to be nervous–seemingly very interested in my discomfort, and I whole-heartedly assured him I was just fine. I clarified for the 5th time, I simply wasn’t interested in spending the evening with him. Strength flowed from an unnatural place. I was firm…unbending. I told Jim he had gone the wrong way and needed to turn around immediately. I also started watching the side-view mirror with more focussed attention. Jim glanced in his rear view mirror…Jesus’s name dangled back and forth.
Jim’s face quickly grew incensed. Exasperated, he growled, “What?” (Long silent pause.) “What…is going on?” (Another long pause) “Is that? What are they doing behind us?”
“Oh, yes,” I replied as if I had just remembered, “The couple from the Amoco station offered to follow us back to help get my tires back on the car.” I spoke so calmly it was as if I was relaying information about an unexpected rain shower reported for later in the day.
Visibly enraged, Jim slowed down, pulled in to a gravel driveway, and whipped the A-Team van around. The van began moving the toward the exit, toward my stranded two-wheeled Toyota on highway 95. The white mustang followed closely behind.
And as quickly as my nightmare began I could feel it coming to an end.
Jim pulled in front of my car and the white mustang pulled in front of his van. Three cars all in a row, green, blue, then white. Before the van was fully placed in park I flung the door open, jumped out and began running as fast as I could in the direction of the white mustang. The ever so pleasant African American man I met at the gas station was now looking angry, barking instructions like a drill sergeant. Walking briskly past me toward the A-team van and Jim, he shouted, “Get in my car and lock the door!” My rescuer approached Jim and retrieved my two tires. I am not sure if Jim helped him place the tires on my car or if he just drove off? The owner of the white mustang mentioned Jim sliced his thumb in the process of pulling the tires out of the van…a mark I hope he still bears in memory of a failed abduction.
My next few hours were a blur. In the present moment sitting in the driver’s seat of the mustang, all my mental energy was focussed on the petite pregnant woman seated next to me. She looked at me wide eyed and declared in an animated (yet soothing) voice, “My husband does not believe he had good intentions for you! Where did he say he was from? He sure seemed to know the back roads around here!” All information I knew, but I listened as she processed what I had endured from her perspective. My brain was hazy and in shock. I shifted subjects. I asked when she was due and if she knew the gender of the baby. She shared she was 7 months pregnant and would be having twins…(boys if I recall correctly). She explained she and her husband were on their way to Myrtle Beach to a funeral.
Once my tires were on and the “coast was clear”the woman’s husband joined us and the couple offered to follow me as far as their final destination. This would leave me with only two additional hours driving solo from Myrtle Beach to South Carolina. Fantastic. I thanked the couple profusely and hopped back in to my green Toyota Corolla ready for the final leg of this incredible journey.
About 30 minutes in to my drive the gravity of the situation finally hit. Flashes of Jim’s face and words washed over me. I was watching a terror movie from my own memory…I realized how catastrophic this could have turned. I sucked in several deep breaths, guttural sounds followed eventually turning into an ugly cry. The emotional release was quite cathartic. I thanked God for sparing my life and for giving me adorable guardian angels driving in a white Ford mustang on that warm morning in early April.
My corolla and their convertible stopped at a gas station just inside Myrtle Beach city limits. The couple was almost apologetic about needing to attend the funeral, expressing remorse in their inability to accompany me all the way to my final destination. I used a pay phone and was able to reach Chris. I briefly explained my morning adventures. He gave me the information to the YMCA where his group was staying and said he would be waiting for me there.
Once again I attempted to express my gratitude to my rescuers, and requested their personal information to properly appreciate their efforts. I told them my husband and I would love to have them to dinner when we returned from serving in South Carolina. They gave me their first and last names and the wife explained, “they were in the book.” I planned to look them up in the white pages when I got home. I scribbled both of their names on to a scrap piece of paper and made a mental note to find them. They lived in my sister city…Cary, NC, we were practically neighbors.
Two short hours later I arrived safely at the YMCA in Charleston, SC. I opened the doors of the gymnasium to find a huge banner draped across the floor. It was a finish line of sorts created by high school students who had heard murmurs of my insane morning. On the other side of the finish line was my husband seated in a metal folding chair holding flowers.Who knows how long he had been there? It wasn’t like I had called him on my cell telling him I was 10 minutes out…but he was there…and I was relieved. He extended the petals in my direction. I practically collapsed in his embrace. The expression “sight for sore eyes” was the understatement of the century.
We went on to paint houses and do other habitating for humanity that weekend. I drove back following the vans of high school students…relieved I did not have to make the long trek home alone.
A week or so later I picked up the scrap piece of paper and attempted to call my real-life rescuers. Their names were not in the white pages. I wondered if in my emotional state I had accidentally written the wrong names? But I knew I hadn’t…I was careful…so very grateful and wanting to be sure we connected again when we were both back in the area. Had they given me false information? In their humility did they want to remain anonymous? Or were they, as many friends have suggested…angels? I have friends who are convinced I had an angelic “intervention” on that morning ride to Charleston.
My friends who hypothesize I had a divine appointment say incredulously, “Jenni, seriously, think about it. They were driving a WHITE convertible. She was a mother–so you felt safe approaching her. The husband had supernatural courage confronting Jim. They were going to a FUNERAL!!! Duh. It is so obvious! They were angels.”
All I know, is that for a few short moments of my life, I was kidnapped. The couple in the white car prevented me from becoming a tragic statistic. Therefore they will always be…in my heart…guardian angels.
Thanks for sticking with me through three installments of this story. It is a story few people know, honestly because it takes so very long to tell! Glad you came along for the ride (literally)!
This word count is getting ridiculously long. Therefore tomorrow I am going to share other random follow up details from this story you may be curious about…like did I get the Jim’s license plate number, and were there any more connections with the couple in the convertible? Also thought I would add a few other thoughts on what to do and what not to do in a situation like this…(if that wasn’t obvious enough)! Feel free to ask questions if I left anything out you would like to hear more details about…I will fill in the blanks tomorrow!
May You Be a Blessing and May You Be Safe,