Billy Phillips, Freeway Stories

I.

Some years ago, on the freeway, I ran myself over with my own car.

I was going south on I-5 from Mount Vernon when I ran out of gas going up a hill. I had the momentum to get to the top of the hill. As I started down I saw I was about to cross a bridge. There was very little time before the shoulder ran out and I would get to the bridge. If I stopped on the shoulder before the bridge, no one would have stopped to pick me up and take me to a gas station. Everyone was going ninety miles an hour.

So, I decided to pull off to the shoulder to let the cars pass and then to pull back on. I could jump out of my car, a Geo Prism, and start to run while it was still rolling along; this way I could keep the momentum going to push the car across the bridge. Stopping on the other side I had a much better chance of flagging down some sympathetic soul to take me to a gas station.

I pulled off and let the cars roar by, and then I pulled back on, and jumped out of the car while it was moving. I intended to push the car by the steering wheel, but I was pulled down when my clutching hands turned the wheel left. As I went under the car, it jerked left and ran over my backside and leg, and then crossed three lanes of traffic, crashing into the other side. Without looking behind me I ran after the car, feeling an intense sense of loss to see it going on without me, without anyone.

After it crashed, my Geo Prism straightened out. I ran up to it and pushed it across the bridge. There were no cars passing me.

When I stopped I found a car had been slowly following me. A woman had seen the whole thing and decided to pull over. The driver went past me, pulled in front, and then came out to ask me if I needed any help. I said yes thank you and took the front seat next to her.

As she was driving she turned several times with her mouth open, as if to ask me something. I was a little disbelieving myself. I could have just told her what had led to her witnessing what she did. But I had no words. There was nothing to say. What happened shouldn’t have happened. It never happens to anyone. There is no way to talk about it; there is no other experience to relate it to. Even now, most of you can’t believe me. You don’t have a choice, you can’t believe it. And yet, my shame remains.

My savior was very kind; she drove me to a gas station, and then drove me around and back to my car. I offered her money for gas and for her time, but she refused. I still didn’t have the right words.

I wonder if my rescuer has words for this event, this occurrence; I wonder if she tells the story of the madman she watched run himself over.

 

II.

Sometime later I was on my way to Mount Vernon when a woman flagged me down. She told me she had run out of gas.

I was immediately very compassionate. I told her I would drive her to a gas station and back to her car. I hadn’t seen a car on the side of the road, but I will forever be sympathetic to anyone who has car trouble.

She smoothed out her skirt and talked about what a hassle it was to run out of gas.

We passed my bridge.

I told her how sorry I was for her predicament. Life moves us around too fast! Sometimes we’re late! Sometimes we are moving through life so quickly we’re not paying attention to what’s happening in the Now.

She leaned over on the console and patted my arm to tell me how grateful she was.

Not a problem.

She sighed, “And gas is so expensive! I still have so far to go. I would do anything for twenty bucks.”

A thought came to me. I said, “Hey I’ve got a twenty!” I pulled out my wallet and handed her the money.

For a moment I was sorry, remembering I wanted to use the money for lunch, food is very important to me, but then it felt good to help someone in need. Especially when they’ve run out of gas.

She looked at the twenty dollar bill in confusion. I thought she was probably amazed at a stranger’s generosity. She opened her mouth as if to ask something, but didn’t. I was going to try and answer her, but we were coming up on the exit.

“Which gas station do you want here?”

She looked around, and shook her head, and then waved her hand, “This one I guess.”

I stayed at the station; when she looked at me questioningly I mentioned driving her back to her car. She said it wasn’t necessary, that she was going to call someone to come out and get her.

I waved good-bye and drove away, glad to have helped someone who had car trouble. The cold, cynical world we live in doesn’t do enough for people in difficult situations.

It wasn’t until later that I thought that maybe something else had happened other than what I had first believed. I wonder if that woman ever thinks of me. And if she does, I wonder if she laughs.

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