People have be so kind to follow the last few days of my blog as I unpacked the details of the scariest day of my life. There were a few random details I felt might be interesting to tag on at the end. The lessons one can learn from my mistakes are quite obvious…but I have included random details to tie it all together plus a few thoughts on how you might avoid being in a similar situation in the future!
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,
When one sets out to tell a story her fingers move quickly across the keyboard. One word after the other strings together…especially if the story is familiar. In this case…a true story…lodged in my memory…waiting to be written.
Very few people (even close friends and family) know this story because it takes so long to properly tell. I reserve this story for long cross country car rides, or times when we have lost electricity and are looking to swap scary stories in the dark. It is a story that fills time. I shared this story with a friend I met in Uganda…because we had time…loads of time.
It is also a story that takes time to type. Our family is at Windy Gap…one of the most magical places on earth. My job here is to love my family well, support Chris, and connect and care for college girls serving on the summer staff. I love my job. In my free time I am reading and writing and doing a bit of yoga. This week I have been doing quite a bit of writing.
When I started typing my scary story I had a large chunk of time, but the more I began to put it on paper, the more I remembered this story is one that takes extensive time to tell properly! I have begun the 3rd installment and I have blocked off several hours this afternoon/evening to finish the project.
I have been humbled by your enthusiasm and interest in this story. Be looking for an entry late tonight or early tomorrow morning for the final installment of “The Scariest Day of My Life”…
…it is coming as fast as I can type it.
I was embarking on a simple two mile trip to the Amoco station and back again.
How difficult could this be?
The navy A-Team van was as unimpressive on the inside as it was on the outside. The only two seats in the vehicle were the ones Jim and I were sitting on. The back was filled with tools and my two busted tires. A curtain separated me from fully discovering what was in the furthest parts of the automobile. Steve the trucker’s face popped in to my head. Oh how I wished I had not shut down my trucker friend and his efforts to help me get to the nearest service station. I tried to push his alarming words from my head. I reminded myself it was somewhat miraculous a car had pulled up at the tail end of my prayer for help.
Jim told me he was from Ohio and was on his way to visit his mother in Florida. He said he was ex-military and was divorced from a woman named Virginia. Jim went on to explain he was is no hurry to see his mother and was happy to help me get back on the road and on my way to see Chris in Charleston. He seemed pleasant and only a bit agitated when he spoke about his ex-wife…but most folks I know don’t have excellent relationships with their ex, so I didn’t think too much of it.
The two-mile trip to the Amoco station was short, but the wait was long. Everyone I did not see needing roadside assistance was now patching and servicing their torn tires. My ever-so-favorite silver sedan business man was at the front of the line with his rental. He was ready to speed away at any moment with fresh tires and his self-serving attitude following close behind. Immediately, Jim, who had been in “no rush” set to work barking orders at the Amoco man…telling him we needed service now! His demeanor in the van seemed somewhat easy going but now was clearly impatient. Slightly embarrassed to be associated with this man, but also a bit at his mercy, I explained I was going to make a few phone calls while we waited.
I walked to the nearest pay phone and attempted to call Chris in Charleston. No answer. I tried both of my parents but the phone rang and rang. I finally reached out to a mentor, one of the few phone numbers I had memorized, only to be met by her voicemail. Did I mention I was calling collect? This meant leaving a message was not an option! Please refrain from judging me at this point. Back then, I was young, naive, and poor. The times seemed safer. I trusted my car. The roads were what really messed up my perfect plan to travel 6 hours to visit my husband, paint a house or two, and return to work on Monday morning. I was one week in to my marriage and missing my man…what was so crazy about this plan?
The constant ringing with no answer made me uncomfortable. My palms grew sweaty. Hadn’t God provided Jim and his beat up A-Team van at just the right moment? Yes, he was acting a bit impatient with the mechanic, but I would soon have 2 new tires, we would be headed back to my car, and I would soon be cruising to Charleston toward my new hubby. Everything is awesome.
I walked toward the area where my tires were being attended to. And there was Jim, with furrowed brow, continuing to live in a slightly low level of annoyance. I told him I wasn’t in a rush and would be glad to have two tires that worked whenever they were done.
I decided to see if the man working on my tires (the same one running the cash register)…would be willing to let me borrow his phone. I could at least leave a message?!? The Amoco station had a big national name but was clearly a small southern operation that hadn’t seen this much business in decades. I walked up to the bearded gentleman behind the counter wearing brown carharts and a white t-shirt speckled by oil stains. The mechanic had his hands full thanks to all of the nails littered a few miles back. He was ringing up my favorite person…the impatient business man with the silver sedan. When there was a polite pause in conversation I weakly said, “Excuse me?” The mechanic boomed back in a harsh tone, “Ma’am, we are working as hard and fast as we can on your two tires. I have been made aware of your need to exchange your tires quickly and get back on the road. I will be with you as soon as I can!” I was shocked by his tone and realized my “friend” Jim had clearly been communicating an imagined need to expedite our process and at this point anything associated with Jim was infuriating the small staff at this station. Awesome.
The buzz of people filled the room, the attention of the attendant went back to Mr. Silver Sedan Business Man. A line of at least four others had formed, so I decided to get a breath of fresh air. I left the building and surveyed the parking lot. I immediately spotted a white Ford Mustang convertible–a young African American man was pumping gas. The woman accompanying him appeared to be about 7 months pregnant had clearly gotten out to stretch her legs.. She wore a warm expression on her face. I approached the woman and asked if by some chance she owned a cell phone I could borrow? She said she was sorry but she did not. She must have watched the color wash from my face as I could see in my peripheral vision Jim continuing to bust the chops of the person outside working on my car. She asked if I was okay and I very honestly explained I was not sure. I briefly informed her of my stranded-ness on the side of the road, enduring two tires flat, and hitching a ride with a strange man in an a-team van who had offered to take me to fix them. I also explained he was seemingly in a rush but I was feeling uncomfortable traveling back to my car with him as he was a teensy impatient with the folks working on my car. She motioned to her husband to come over and he listened to my story. The couple in the white mustang volunteered to follow me to my car to ensure my safety. I humbly excepted their offer. I again exhaled assuring her there was likely nothing to worry about, but I very much appreciated their kindness. Safety first!
Before long Jim and I were back in his navy A-Team van and traveling in the general direction of my cute little two-wheeled green Toyota Corolla. Jim appeared more calm with two fresh tires loaded in the back. So far so good. Everything is awesome.
There are a few details I forgot to mention in the first part of this story. I know I mentioned the whole Jesus sign hanging from the rear view mirror. I failed to mention the bumper sticker on the back of Jim’s van. It said something to effect of, “I reserve the right to bear arms and keep them in my home.” It had more sass and patriotism than that…but you get the gist. My dad is a similar type of gun owner so this bumper sticker did not deter me from entering his vehicle. Ironically, while traveling back to my car, I asked Jim where he lived in Ohio. He explained he had recently been released from Ohio State Penitentiary…and had no home…in fact this van was his home. I immediately deduced that he had weapons in the car. The ex-convict driving me around, had reserved the right to bear arms and keep them in his moving home…the navy blue A-Team van, we were traveling in. I tried to quiet the screaming voices in my head. Double awesome.
Side stepping the prison comment and making a conscious decision not to ask why he had served time in jail…I attempted to switch subjects and ask about the Jesus sign hanging from his mirror. He actually went in to an elaborate fantastical story about being in the military and hiking a mountain upon which he felt the presence of God. He was talking in a airy somewhat mystical voice, and talked less about Jesus and more about mountains and spiritual moments. Deep within my core I believe everyone deserves a second chance…I was just not super excited to a be single woman traveling with an impatient former-inmate who had weapons in the back of his car and spoke in a somewhat creepy voice about God and other spiritual things. Triple awesome.
Soon the conversation shifted. While still looking straight ahead at the road before us Jim’s tone changed. He cleared his throat and said, “Virginia, I am so glad to be with you today.” I immediately reminded him my name was JEN-NI not VIR-GIN-IA. He continued unfazed, “No, Virginia I have dinner for us in the back and we will have a lovely time together.” Jim explained he had stopped at Walmart that morning and had purchased fried chicken for us to eat for dinner. I boldly explained I was not hungry, it was 11am and no where near dinner time.
Instantly I knew the simple two mile trip to the Amoco station and back to my car would not be as simple as I had once imagined!?!
Second verse same as the first: This is just getting too long for one blog!
I will share the 3rd and final installment of “The Scariest Day of My Life”…
I was kidnapped. Granted, I chose to enter the car by my own free will. The van whisked me away…the person driving did not intend to return me to my car. Ever.
A few shorts days after we arrived home from our honeymoon, Chris’ job took him to Charleston, SC for the week. He was in charge of a trip for teens and was painting houses and habitat-ing for humanity.
My job kept me home for the week, but I had decided to make a quick weekend trip to join Chris and his team. Early Saturday morning I hopped in the car and made my way down highway 95.
I was enjoying the restful “me” time, the warm sun on my face, REO Speedwagon blaring through my speakers. Quickly, my mood changed as I saw the cars in front of me beginning to swerve. I noticed patches of “something” in the road ahead and I too attempted to miss the “whatevers” strewn across the highway. I realized whatever we were avoiding was unavoidable…and now recognized my tires would be driving directly upon pockets of nails polka dotting the highway. Soon a familiar and dreaded thump came from one of my tires. I moved in to the right lane and then pulled off the side of the road. Not good. This, was in the pre-cell phone stage of my life.
The cars were flying by at about 75 miles per hour seemingly unharmed by the mine field of nails I had recently traversed. Yes I did have a spare. Yes I did take driver’s education and had a decent idea how to change a tire. But I was feeling very unsure of myself and my ability in the present moment. Soon a silver sedan pulled in front of me…and an irritated and uptight business man exited the vehicle. I approached him and he gruffly explained he had hit the patch of nails and he was driving a rental. He offered no assistance nor sympathy and as quickly as he arrived, he left.
I popped my trunk, pushed up my proverbial sleeves and decided I would get to work. Seconds later a large semi-truck pulled on to the side of the road, and a 30 something driver jumped out of his truck. He introduced himself as “Steve” and offered me a hand. He wore mirrored sunglasses and a big smile. I couldn’t see his eyes…but he had a bright personality and more experience with tires than me. I accepted his help. He explained he had been chasing me since Fayetteville, and was afraid he was going to lose me at the next weigh-in station. Slightly uncomfortable with his flirty familiarity, yet completely relieved that I was not changing this tire alone…I allowed the conversation to continue in whatever direction he wanted it to go. He told me the truckers have been talking about me up and down highway 95. He wished the ring on my finger didn’t mean what he thought it meant. He asked if I wanted to grab coffee, “as friends.” I politely declined. I think he made reference to the fact he would never leave his new bride on the side of the road defenseless and wondered if I was sure I might not join him for an early lunch, but again I politely declined.
Quickly he shifted subjects and began to scold me for my guliable nature. Clarifying how trusting I was and how careful I had to be accepting help from strangers. He expounded upon a personal story of a man he had worked with for years within his company. A man who recently was arrested for multiple rapes and murders of women he had “collected” on the side of the road. In great detail he told of the specific body parts found in baggies in the mans’ refrigerator. He laughed and said, “he had the cleanest truck in the fleet!” I smile uncomfortably. I scanned my trunk and found a random kitchen knife. (No idea why it was there.) I picked it up and placed it on the side of the car near me. Did I actually believe I might “over take” the man with this knife if he his intentions proved less good Samaritan-like? Steve chattered on and on about abductions and stranger danger and made a chivalrous offer to follow me as far as I needed to go to get my tire fixed before joining my husband in Charleston. I politely agreed. The moment I climbed in to my car I pressed the gas pedal to the floor, attempting to get as far away from Steve as I possibly could. I felt safer inside my car, but could not get the images of truckers abducting women and keeping their breasts for souvenirs out of my head. It was enough to make my skin crawl…I wasn’t going to take any chances with Mr. Steve “catching me” again.
Moments later the sound I had recently heard and immediately recognized was back. My bobbing and weaving through pockets of nails had not endured one flat tire but two. Though my spare was snuggly fitting in place of the first injured tire…I had no hope for my second tire. Who would take his place?
I pulled once again in to the right lane sucked in a deep breath and said a little prayer. Please help. What now? This is NOT good. I opened my eyes and watched Steve my “flirty trucker friend” fly by…probably very much trying to catch me. Only he passed too quickly. The traffic was thicker than my last stop, and the speeds were exceeding 80mph. He would have been happy to help, but wasn’t going to pull off another exit, turn around, and come to my rescue.
Surveying my surroundings I saw a sign for an Amoco station 2 miles away. Walkable. Definitely an option. I began to pray for a police officer to drive by. One did but kept driving. Minutes later a second state trooper drove by…and did not stop. I realized walking was likely my best option. I closed my eyes and said another prayer…a little longer one this time…when I opened my eyes a navy A-Team type van pulled off the side of the road and backed up directly in front of my car. Was this the answer to my prayer? Hanging from the rear-view mirror was one word, Jesus.
A dark-haired disheveled looking man approached my window. He had thick horn rimed glasses and eyes that were not kind, and a crooked smile with teeth begging for braces. Was this a test of faith? Trusting a man that looked far more creepy than the more attractive truck driver, who had been flirting with me but telling me stories of rapists and murderers happening roadside? Or were those words of warning? Should I hoof it and polietly decline this man’s offer to help?
I would have sold my wedding ring for a cell phone in that moment.
I had no real “gut” feeling except that I was in a particularly helpless situation. The van had driven up just as I said, “Amen.” A sign? It is difficult to make a split decision on a person’s character and motives in matter of moments. My mind raced.
I accepted the help of my new “friend” Jim. I told him I need to go to the Amoco station two miles away. He took BOTH my tires off my car and we hopped in to his A-Team van and away we went.
Me, with the intention of it being a quick two mile trip down highway 95, Jim with very different intentions.
Too much to write in one day…more tomorrow!