Once upon a time a very long time ago I was a freshman in college. Like most people that age I believed I was immortal and invincible. Unlike now when I daily feel as though my demise is eminent.
I also still believed that the world was mostly good.
My best friend Lisa and I were high school friends who went away to the same big city college. We were good kids who never got into trouble. Not because we never got caught, but because we never did anything bad. I think the worst thing I remember doing in high school was stealing for sale signs from in front of people's houses and putting them in front of other people's houses. Whoa boy, we were crazy.
We went to college in Boston and the subway system would stop running early, or at least earlier than we wanted to go home. Rather than spend our drinking money on a taxi, or gasp walk, we would hitch hike. I know. I know. It pains me to even admit it. How can supposedly smart girls be so stupid. But we were.
We reasoned that nothing would ever happen to us. We were good judges of character. Just writing this now makes me want to slap my 18-year-old self. Go ahead, you can slap her too.
One night we were hitchhiking and two cute boys pulled over and picked us up. They were probably no older than 21, students themselves somewhere most likely. We jumped in the car and off we drove. The boy in the passenger seat turned around and looked at us.
"You two are the stupidest little girls I have seen in a long time," he said.
Our mouths hung open ready to protest.
"Don't you realize what could happen to you? What if we decided to pull over and rape you? huh? Have you thought about that?" he yelled.
At this point Lisa and I probably laughed nervously. "I am stronger than I look. I could fight you off. I'd jump out of the car and run away." I replied, no stranger to delusions of grandeur. Lisa probably did some fake karate chops in the air for effect.
He looked at me with disgust. "You know what, you are not stronger than me. The two of you together are not stronger than me. And you certainly couldn't fight off both of us if we had bad intentions." He motioned to his friend who was driving and silent. He looked back at us in the rear view mirror.
The atmosphere in the car had changed. We were both a little bit scared.
"What if I had a knife? Or pepper spray? Do you think you would still be able to fight me off, little girls?"
"No," we both mumbled.
"No, you wouldn't." He turned back in his seat, shook his head and muttered, "Stupid, stupid little girls."
Lisa and I sat in the backseat and gave each other looks. We had no idea what to do and the car was silent for the rest of the ride.
We arrived at Kenmore Square, which was where we lived, and they pulled the car over. The boy got out of the car and opened the door for us. As I got out I looked up and realized he was at least twice as big as me. He looked at us.
"I have a little sister who is the same age as you two and she is away at her first year of college. You two remind me of her. I just hope that if she ever does something as stupid as hitchhike that someone like me will pick her up. That someone like me will scare some sense into her. Someone who isn't going to hurt her." He grabbed us each by our elbows.
"Promise me you will never hitchhike again. Promise me." His grip on my elbow was strong and his voice was earnest and pleading.
"I promise," we both answered in unison.
"My good deed for this week is done," he said as he got into the car and they drove off. I never saw him again.
But I never forgot. I never hitchhiked again. I never blindly went off without giving serious thoughts to my safety again.
And now that I have children of my own I hope that my sons will grow up to be like that boy. The sort who will see girls doing something stupid or dangerous and will step in, not drive by. That they will have the depth of character to reach out and protect those who are vulnerable. The sort of boys and men that will see their sister's face on the faces of all the girls they come across and treat them the way that they would want someone to treat her. That they will realize a small deed can have an enormous impact on the life of someone else.
I have often thought of that night and that boy. And the thank you that I owe him.