Started off as an answer on Quora…

…but, true to form, I had to turn the feeeeeeeelz into a frickin’ novella. Oh well. This is where my brain-waffles come to die and/or become undead, so let’s do this. Anyway, the question I was answering was – Happiness: What’s the nicest thing anyone has ever done for you?

Let the reminiscent meandering begin.

One of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me was back in my teens, when I was at my most mentally ill (edit: at least in my opinion). I believe I was 16 at the time, although I could be wrong.

I ran away from home following a rather scary incident at my house. The details are a bit painful to recall and they’re not the important part so I’ll get past that.

I ended up being picked up by an acquaintance of mine and her boyfriend, and we were heading out of town within minutes. I was pleased that I was leaving what could be termed a domestic mess, but as the buildings and houses got sparser and there were less pedestrians around, I started to panic.

We pulled up near a service station and just as my acquaintance got out of the car, her boyfriend sped off with me still inside. He had engaged the child-lock, meaning I couldn’t get out from inside; the door had to be opened from the outside. To say I was feeling a mix of panic and regret would be putting it lightly.

After he stopped, we ended up physically fighting and luckily, I was able to put him in a sleeper hold. He lost consciousness and I got out of the drivers’ side to find I was in the middle of almost nowhere, roughly 110km from my hometown. The place I was trying to get away from was suddenly the only place I wanted to get back to. So I ran. I ran and ran.

I made it about 11 or 12km when I got to the point of exhaustion. It was getting dark fast. I was on a state highway and my phone was almost dead. The friend I was trying to call didn’t want to help me because she was scared of getting in trouble with her parents, which was somewhat fair to say, but I don’t think she grasped the urgency of the situation. So I resolved to keep walking because I saw that as my only option. I had to make it back somehow and I was not getting in a stranger’s car. Well, actually…

It was not long after midnight when my phone finally died. I was also wearing dark clothing which isn’t the best when visibility’s low and you’re walking a rural highway. There aren’t exactly many footpaths between the small towns in the South Island of New Zealand, which makes sense but really didn’t help me at the time.

I was starting to hallucinate from dehydration and I was angry at myself beyond belief. My walking pace became something like a zombie shuffle, and I was convinced the cows in an adjacent pasture were conspiring against me. I was irrefutably starting to lose my mind at that point but the panic I was feeling somehow kept me on my feet.

Almost out of nowhere, a car swerved to avoid me. I could have sworn that I was out of the way of any oncoming traffic, but this one came up from behind. As the car slowed and eventually stopped a few metres ahead of me, I thought to myself, “Well, I guess this is it. This is how it ends and I only have myself to blame. This person’s either going to beat me up out of road rage or abduct me and I don’t have the strength to do a single thing about it. If only I could say goodbye to my parents. This is it.”

I passed out, presumably due to a panic attack. When I woke, I was in the car that managed to avoid me, with a man I think was in his fifties, maybe sixties. Still groggy, I reached for my phone only to find it wasn’t in my pocket and realised that it was dead anyway. The driver saw me searching and pointed out that it was attached to one of those universal car chargers that you plug into the cigarette lighter. Before I could argue, he reassured me that he didn’t do anything weird and wasn’t about to. He told me he went through my contacts and saw that I had my mother’s number saved and although I didn’t have enough credit to call her, he did and his phone was at his house. I nodded in agreement and then fell back asleep because I was so tired; I don’t recall ever being so tired since that night.

He put a hand on my shoulder to wake me and as I was waking, I remember him saying, “Sorry to wake you, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable carrying you into the house. I’m sure you understand. I’d do it for my kid, but this is not the same. Or would you like me to bring the phone out here?” I decided I should go inside to use the bathroom, so I went in with him. Surely enough, there were pictures of him lining the hallway with the kid in question who didn’t look much older than me.

The man left me as I sat down in his lounge to call my mother (which cost him extra because it was a toll call) to find the line was busy. I kept trying and trying to no avail and I started crying in my frustration and confusion. Why was she on the phone right now? Why am I even here? Why did I do this? Why’s he doing this? So many questions. After the worst of my crying, he came back in with a bowl of Irish stew and a blanket. I went completely silent because I was nervous, so he started talking about his family and his job and other things in general. My memory of this is hazy, but I remember he was a retired civil servant who had moved somewhere rural and became a representative for the Alliance Party in Waianakarua (such a tiny place, so that’s a real labour of love). He also said something about belonging to a Masonry Lodge. He offered me a place to sleep if I couldn’t get through to my mother that night so I could try again in the morning, otherwise he offered to drive me over an hour back to Dunedin, my home city.

I tried to call my mother again and this time I got through. Turns out she was tying up the line trying to get through to me, which was such a relief. I couldn’t bear the thought of her avoiding my calls or keeping the phone off the hook or something like that. Anyway, she agreed to drive over with my father to where I was, when I realised I didn’t know the address of where I was. So I handed it over to the man and he told my parents where we were and that I seemed very lovely and very sorry. It took somewhere between one and two hours for my parents to arrive and he regaled me with stories about his life growing up and had a lot of advice for me regarding my family and our situation at home. A really smart and nice person.

As much trouble I was in when I got back home, I didn’t worry about it because I felt so lucky to be safe and alive. I have no idea why he did this for me, because there was absolutely nothing in it for him. I think my parents tried to give him money but he wouldn’t take it. After thanking him profusely, I got into the car with my parents and resolved to never do anything so life-threatening and ill-advised again. Roughly nine years later, I don’t think I have, which is good. I don’t recall his name, but I’ll never forget what he did and my family won’t either. He seriously saved my ass.

tl;dr – stupid teen girl puts her life in danger by running away from home and has to be saved by a passer-by on a country road whose name she can’t remember and would really love to talk to again, even though that’s probably a bit much to ask.

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