– short story # 1: drive –

After a night of disappointment and displeasure with loved ones, I took a lovely, yet lazy drive some time before 11:00 P.M. In my discomforted state, I roamed lands I had explored one too many times before. The lame logic in my head stated that I could find enticing truth in the celebratory district of a kingdom forever painted in black and yellow. After an uncommonly quick jaunt down the river bend, I made it to the neighborhood in one piece. However, an unfortunate moment came when all the cars, all the bars, and the strange natives overwhelmed my urge to feel free. It was then that my oldest friend arrived and hacked my soul into pieces without mercy. I drove around a corner… then another corner… then another corner, until I was back on the freeway to the common household I had become accustomed to. The sirens of Saturday night party mixes on the radio drowned out the trumpets of everyday shame and embarrassment, for my journey was all for nothing it seemed.

 

Some time after 2:00 A.M., I noticed the “GAS TANK IS EMPTY” light on the dashboard. From my perspective, some higher power had quite the sense of humor. An empty gas tank in a car driven by a man who fills empty and unfulfilled seems too cliché. When the driving continued following a gas refill, the radio mixes played on, and shame and embarrassment blared softer and softer with each passing mile marker. The lame logic in my mind was ceasing to exist, and there was no time to concern myself with my typical cowardice under a classically calm Ohio sky. Getting off of the freeway, I drove up Gypsy Lane, a lane quite synonymous with a number of streets on my side of town. Belmont, Fifth, Logan, Elm – they defined the north side to me, so as hazardous as home can be to me, there was a sense of contentment to be so close to it. Then, at the corner of Gypsy and Belmont, under the eerie radiance of streetlamps and red traffic lights… he appeared, a complete stranger with his arms out, signaling for help. It was 3:00 A.M.

 

Ignorance got the best of me in this particular moment. To be honest, it was fear and ignorance nagging at me. Who is both brave and gracious enough to help out an unfamiliar person at 3:00 A.M., especially in a wild midwestern city like mine? The fear of what the man might do to me if I rolled down my window felt justified. I signaled to him through my window my apologies for not being able to be of assistance, and then turned right onto Belmont without hesitation. Coming to another traffic light and turning left on Granada, shame and embarrassment sprang right back up, but this time, they both exposed real justification. The chill in the early morning air did not compare to the chill in my bones from shunning someone in need. It was even more disgraceful to me because I had just recently signed up to volunteer at the local rescue mission. Did I prove myself to be a phony in terms of being a servant to the helpless? That was the question that motivated me to grow some balls, take a deep breath, and turn the car around. Returning to the corner of Gypsy and Belmont, I drove into the parking lot of Rite Aid and parked my car. I honked the horn to get the man’s attention. After he walked up to the driver’s side, I rolled down my window, and simply asked him, “What’s the problem?”

 

The stranger, wearing a simple jacket, shirt, jeans, and boots, then more or less wearily recited to me his life story. He was from Tennessee, had served jail time, and was on probation. The man moved up here after his father passed away and was supposed to be living with his mother, but because of shady and unsavory attitudes from her and other relatives in town, he had been sleeping on the streets on-and-off for several months. He had just recently found a job, but was not able to start work until the following week, so not only did he need a place to stay for the night, but he also needed cash to buy some food for nourishment. I told him to hop in my car, and he directed me to drive to his mother’s house so that he could see if he could spend the morning sleeping (it was a quarter after 3:00 A.M. at this point). What happened next was an hour of disappointment and displeasure for both me and the stranger, as he knocked on people’s doors and used my semi-worthless cell phone to call anyone he knew in the neighborhood that would give him a place to crash, while I drove him back and forth across the north side. Most people probably would have left him at this house or that apartment building and drove home. Patience, however, just might be my best and worst quality. Throughout our time together, I noticed more and more traits of the stranger. He had a similar dark cocoa skin tone to mine. He was wearing glasses just like me. Meanwhile, he observed that I had dreadlocks just like he had. When I told him I was 25 years old, he stated he had just turned 25 back in December. We were quite comparable in physical appearance… almost too comparable.

 

Some time after 4:00 A.M., we had arrived at a house on Alameda owned by another relative who supposedly would let him get some sleep there. Pulling up to the house, he thanked me and stepped out of the car. I asked him for his name, to which he replied, “Eric.” I shook his hand, told him my name was D.J., and said that I would pray for him. He said he appreciated it, closed the car door, and walked down the driveway of his relative’s house to what I believed was the back door. I finally drove home and arrived to the common household I had become accustomed to. Walking through the front door and turning off the alarm, I cautiously reflected upon what all just happened. One thought that would not fly out of my mind was the feeling that Eric was, as ridiculous as it would sound if said out loud, God in human form. Yes – I believed my whole encounter with Eric was a spiritual journey. There is some kind of saying that humans were made in God’s likeness. Did God appear in the form of a man who looked quite similar to me as a part of some sort of test of my compassion? Was this whole night part of a strange scheme from a higher power to fulfill something that has been missing in my life for a while? Was I just sleep-deprived and once again making significant fuss over a random incident? The only thing I absolutely knew was that a night of disappointment and displeasure with loved ones became a morning of thought and thanks because of a stranger.

 

 

D.J. Whisenant

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