So I owe you all a blog post and this is one of the hardest posts I’ll ever (hopefully) have to write. I spoke at an event on Saturday that was euphoric, and then drove to my mom’s house in the Midwest the next day. On the drive, ominous storm clouds started to surround our car. I snapped a photo of the funnels and posted it to IG with the caption “A storm is coming”. Forty minutes later, as we sat in my favorite Thai restaurant in Madison, I received a text asking how one of my amazing friends died. I sat there in shock, quickly hopping on Facebook to see if it was true. Sure enough, posts flooded my feed that he had passed away. One Facebook message later,I found out that he was speeding on his motorcycle when it crashed. He died on the scene. This week has been one of the most emotional weeks of my life, as I remember his positive attitude, his incredible advice during college and his greater-than-life persona. It’s been made even more emotional, as he happened to pass away close to the anniversary of my sister’s death, which I memorialized this weekend with my mom while we are together in the Midwest.
So, instead of some fluffy post on social media that I don’t feel like writing this week, you get a post on what happened when I found out my friend died, and how a stranger saved me in the middle of it all.
Here you go:
“Have you thought about what you want to do this week? We definitely need to get out to Cedar Grove cheese. You can bring some back to Florida with you,” Mom said, as we ate at our favorite Thai restaurant in Madison.
“And we have to go to the candy company. I want to bring some chocolates back to work,” I said, as I saw Megan’s name flash across my phone.
As I nonchalantly read my best friend’s text, my smile faded and I immediately began to cry. I then went on to Facebook, muttering that it just couldn’t be true, and it had to be a mistake. My mom continued to ask me what was wrong, becoming more and more concerned that I couldn’t speak to her. I finally looked at her, tears filling my eyes, and told her that my friend from college died. After trying to compose myself a few times, I realized I was too upset to do anything.
Deciding crying in the middle of a restaurant really wasn’t my thing, I quickly ran out to my mom’s truck, locked myself in it, and started hysterically crying. After what seemed like an eternity of alternating between cries and screams, I heard a faint knock on the driver’s side window. Thinking I must have imagined it, I heard it again. I looked over to see a woman just a few years older than me, staring right into the truck at me. “Oh, shit,” I thought, thinking that she saw me crying and now wanted to check to see if I was okay. I motioned for her to come to the passenger’s side and opened my door. When she saw my tear-stained, bright red face she froze.
“I’m so sorry. Are you okay?” she asked.
“My friend just died,” I answered, wiping away more tears.
She froze as still as a statue and just stared at me. “I am so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’ll leave you. I mean, I’m sorry.”
I convinced her I was fine, and asked her what she wanted. She refused to tell me, not wanting to add to my pain. I insisted, telling her I could use a distraction.
She explained to me that she was leaving her abusive husband, and had been living out of her car for the week until a room became available in the shelter. She then nodded towards four tiny children, including a baby, all packed into her car. She needed anything, even a dollar, to make her quota to get a hotel for the night.
I quickly gave her all of the cash I was carrying, as she spoke to me of her faith and that she knew it was going to be okay. I then looked at the restaurant I had just ran out of, and looked back at her. “Are you hungry?”
“Do you like Thai food?”
“I’ve never had it,” she said. “But I am sure I will find something. I just need food for my kids.”
My mom reemerged from the restaurant, surprised to find her heartbroken daughter in the middle of a parking lot with a family of strangers. The woman froze even more when she saw my mom, most likely afraid that my mom would convince me not to help her. Instead, my mom asked if she could carry two of the children into the restaurant for her, and we all went back in.
The woman refused to order anything, saying she had half of a hamburger left in the car. We ordered fried rice and chicken for the children, since she wasn’t sure if they would eat any of the authentic Thai food.
After my mom insisted, the woman told more of her story. Her husband didn’t know where she was, and she had struggled to keep her emotions at bay over the past few days because she didn’t want her children to know anything was wrong. She needed to stay strong for them, and she was confident that she was on the right path, and once a room opened up at the shelter, all would be well.
We had to continue our trek back to my mom’s house, so we quickly said our goodbyes as I paid for their meal. I went over to the woman, who cringed a bit as I physically got closer to her. I flashed back to my own instinct to pull away when people get close, a side effect of being in an abusive marriage. I wanted to hug her and tell her she would never regret leaving her abusive marriage, but I knew at that point in my own escape, I wouldn’t have let someone touch me. So, I left her with this small statement, “I left an abusive marriage a year and a half ago.” I smiled, letting her know that I was okay in my new life, hoping she would take it as a sign she would be okay in hers.
She continued to say ‘thank you’, until we no longer could hear her and were back outside the restaurant. I looked at the Christian bumper stickers flooding the back of her car. “She really is living out of her car, you know,” my mom said, as we hopped back into her truck. “I saw an entire life in there when I was getting the children out. There’s no doubt they’ve been living in that car for quite some time.”
“I just can’t even imagine that,” I said, thinking of my own escape and how lucky I was that I had/have an incredible family that showed up for me.
I flashed back to the moment that I met my mom halfway after leaving my ex-husband, and the tears of happiness that fell down my face when I saw her and finally knew everything was going to be okay. I prayed that the stranger I just met would soon cry those same tears, and feel the rush of God and hope through her.
My mind then shifted back to the friend I lost, and I felt a stabbing pain in my heart. I thought it couldn’t be real, that it must have been a mistake. I thought of the marriage he’ll never have, the words he’ll never say, the children he’ll never meet. I thought of how much he helped me through some dark moments in college. I thought about his bike, and how much he loved it, and how ironic it was that it killed him in the end. I wished so hard that he would come down and say something to me, embrace me. I wished I could feel him close to me, like I felt my sister when she died.
“Taking care of that woman is exactly what Tigran would have wanted you to do,” my mom’s voice broke my unending thoughts.
“She took care of me,” I said, knowing that stranger would never know that she reached into my life and provided me with a much needed distraction and perspective when I felt like the world was ending.
- Marji J. Sherman