At nine, I was used to going places alone. It’s easy to do this in New York City because there’s always a bus or train to take me where I want to go. So, when my mother told me I had to go by myself to see the new dentist, I shrugged and got ready. Since I’d never been there, and didn’t know how to get to his office, my mother gave me directions and money for bus fare.
I got off at the stop that she told me to get off and started to walk, but what she described didn’t correspond to where I was. I asked a couple of people where the dentist’s office was but no one had heard of him.
It started to rain. I kept walking, hoping somehow I would find the right street, but the cold rain soon drenched my sweater and dress. I couldn’t stop shivering. The neighborhood was primarily residential—no storefronts to duck into to avoid the rain which was pouring down.
I kept walking and crying, too wet and cold to think.
Cars and trucks and taxis zoomed past me.
One truck stopped. A man got out and asked if I was lost. I nodded. “Where do you want to go?”
Unable to stop shivering, I told him the name and address of the dentist but he didn’t know where the office was. “It’s too wet and cold for you to be wandering about. Let me drive you home.”
My mother had told me never to get into a stranger’s car but she never said anything about a stranger’s truck. Besides, he had a kind face. When he opened the passenger side of the truck, I could feel the warm air. He told me about his daughter, a little girl about my age, that he’d want someone to help her if she was lost. I climbed in.
He offered me a towel to dry my face, “It’s clean,” he said. I took it and wiped my face. He offered me candy. I took a little piece. He asked for my address. I told him where I lived. He said he thought he knew where it was.
I couldn’t stop shaking so he offered me his jacket to put on. “But I’ll get it all wet,” I told him.
“Doesn’t matter. It will dry. Don’t want you catching pneumonia.”
He turned the heater up, which felt good. As he drove me home me told me about his children, a girl my age and a boy two years younger. That felt good. I didn’t feel like talking; I was worried about my mother’s reaction to missing the appointment and getting into a stranger’s truck. When he saw how anxious I was, he asked what was wrong. I told him my mother got angry when I didn’t do what she said. “I’ll come to your apartment with you and explain the situation.” This didn’t make me feel better. “Your mother will be happy someone helped you.” I wasn’t so sure.
When we got to my street, I told him where our apartment was. He stopped the truck, and helped me out. “Thank you for taking me home,” I said, giving him back his jacket. I started to walk toward the front door of the building. He caught up, opened up an umbrella, and held it over me. “I’ll go with you. I’m sure your mother will be happy you’re home safe.”
He didn’t know my mother. I tried to tell him he didn’t need to come up with me, that I was fine, but he kept walking, holding the umbrella over me. I tried once more to tell him he didn’t need to come up with me. “I just want your mother to know how hard you tried to find the dentist and that you did the right thing by letting me take you home.”
We walked upstairs. Now I was shaking from fear as well as cold. I didn’t have my key so I rang the bell. My mother answered. When she saw how wet and bedraggled I was, she scowled. “Look at you. You’re a mess. What happened?” Before I could answer she saw the truck driver and yelled at him. “Who are you? What did you do to my daughter? “
He tried to tell her what happened but my mother wouldn’t listen. She slapped me and said, “You know better than to ride with someone you don’t know.”
The truck driver attempted to tell her that he had a daughter my age, that he only wanted to help, but she screamed that if he didn’t leave she’d call the cops. I felt terrible for him.
Despite my mother yanking on me to come inside I thanked him again for his kindness. As he left, he whispered “I’m sorry.” He didn’t have anything to be sorry about. I was the one who was sorry my mother was so mean to him.
Would you have gotten into the man’s truck?
Have you ever tried to help someone and had your actions misunderstood?
Life tales from a woman different living in The City Different.