Stories and thoughts about family and life

On a dark forest highway

on July 29, 2015

We went on a wonderful trip with our boys last weekend.  We met some friends in Jasper (in northwest Arkansas), and floated the Buffalo River.  I had never been before, and it was a really fun experience.

It’s always good to do something physical, for me.  I love to be outside doing something that uses muscles and exposes me to sunshine.  Sometimes it’s playing in the flowerbed.  Sometimes it’s mowing the lawn.  On a hot summer Arkansas day, though, you really can’t beat getting to be on the water.  We stopped frequently and swam, relaxed, ate, and visited with our friends and their family.

Heat also makes one tired, especially when that one made sure to put sunscreen liberally on her entire family, but managed to miss some herself.  So, we finished our day, had a great float, had dinner with our friends, and left Jasper around 9:30 p.m.  I was going to drive about half way home and then switch out with my husband.  I was tired, and I could feel the need for sleep creeping up on me more and more with each passing minute.

We drove through the Ozarks, and the curves and hills on the highway kept me pretty focused.  About 20 miles into the nearly 50 I was driving, I remarked to my husband that I wasn’t sure I could drive much more.  He said he was wide awake and encouraged me to find a place to pull over.  I found myself behind a car which not only wasn’t speeding, he wasn’t even going anywhere close to the speed limit.  As the miles continued to drag on, with us not being able to find a safe place to pull over in the dark I followed along behind this car, not able to use my high beams because we were too close to him but also trying not to ride too close and blind him with my headlights.  After what seemed to be forever, I spotted a park with a rest area coming up.  I signaled and pulled in, resolved to kill two birds with one stone and get us back on the road.

As I brought the vehicle to a stop and asked the boys if anyone needed to use the facilities, I was distracted by a set of headlights coming the other direction and straight at us.  I paused for a moment and thought about the approaching car.  It was roughly the same size as the car we were following, and as it approached us, it slowed more and more.

A million thoughts flooded my mind within just a few seconds.  I’ve never been afraid to be on the road, despite many late nights of travel for work.  I’ve never been afraid to stop somewhere, although I have changed some of my patterns at my husband’s request and now I tend to stop at busy truck stops if I’m alone.   In that moment, I imagined every danger this car could bring to us.  Had I irritated them following them down the highway?  Did they have a gun?  Were they slowing down to contemplate shooting us?  Would they wait for us to get out of the car and attack us?

I reached for the seat belt I had just removed and remarked to my husband “we’re not stopping here.”  He could hear it in my voice–that tone that said “don’t mess with me, just do what I ask.”  With the boys in the car I didn’t want to sound like I was scared, but I surely was.  I pulled away and watched the car in my rear view mirror–no one ever exited the vehicle.  It was a good 100 yards to the stop sign to get back onto the highway, and I never lost sight of that car.  It never moved.

Now, my more logical mind tells me that they were not the car we were following.  They were people heading north on the highway as we were heading south.  They saw the sign from the other entrance and had the same thought I did.  They were tired or gathering trash, or waking up loved ones to make use of the facilities just as we had intended to do.  It wasn’t even the same type of vehicle.  Yeah.  All that makes perfect sense.  I was being silly.

It was a good mile before I said anything to my husband.  I apologized for having such an abrupt reaction and not really leaving the conversation open for discussion.  Turns out he agreed with me.  We were both sizing that vehicle up and having similar thoughts about the intentions.  We discussed how a place that was so beautiful and peaceful and quiet during the day was a whole other scary place at night as you’re driving home with your two sleeping babies in the back seat.

I guess Daddies have intuition too.  My children were none the wiser, and for that I’m thankful.  It’s sad the number of things we have to explain to them that I never had to consider as a kid.  I felt a little silly with my response, but I’m not at all sorry I did it.  I hope the intention of that car we passed was not malicious, but I guess you never know anymore.


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