LETTER TO A STRANGER
TO THE GUY WHO SAVED US FROM SLEEPING IN OUR CAR
BY REBECCA AGIEWICH
It’s 11pm, and we are driving through a Robert Frost poem. Ahead of us, moonlight illuminates the snowy road. We drive past one lone house (yours), and on either side of us, pines hang heavy with snow. A few fat flakes dust our windshield. Inside the car, I’m drowsy from the blasting heater and the five-hour journey. I’m also worried we might be lost. A minute later, the car jerks to a halt. My husband restarts it, but the wheels only spin with a high-pitched whine.
“Shit!” he says.
“What happened?” Suddenly I’m awake.
“We’re stuck!” His voice is shrill. He swings open the car door and the cold rushes in. I take a moment to brace myself—against his anger, against the night. Then I take a deep breath and step outside.
This cross-country ski trip was my idea. They always are. Once upon a time, my husband happily followed me anywhere. Now, eight years into our relationship, our adventures go something like this: I come up with the ideas because ideas are my forte. Then I handle all planning and logistics because I’m the one who wants to go. Details, however, are not my forte. So, we often end up lost or showing up somewhere on the wrong day.
My husband’s resulting ire is proportionate to how bad my fuck-up is. And in this case, the fuck-up is pretty bad. I’ve printed detailed directions to our ski cabin in Winthrop, Washington, but stuck them in the glove box and forgotten about them. Meanwhile we’ve followed our failing Internet signal into the unforgiving snow.
“Forget it! This isn’t gonna work!” he says, after we’ve floundered around for half an hour trying to dig the car out with an ice scraper.
Then my husband gets in the driver’s seat, slams the door, and stares straight ahead.
I look over at your house, with its porch light still burning.
“Can we go to that house and ask for help?” I say in a high-pitched voice, opening the passenger door. I’m afraid my husband’s going to say no, like he already has twice before.
This time he doesn’t even respond.
“Please, will you go with me?” My voice goes up still higher.
“Nope,” he says, not looking at me, jaw clenched.
My eyes widen. I laugh in disbelief, the way you might laugh when someone slaps you.
Then, uncharacteristically, I suck it up. As a spoiled daddy’s girl, I’m not beyond crying to get the sympathy of men. But I really don’t want to sleep in the car. So I shake the snow off my wet gloves, pull the hood of my down jacket over my head, and march towards your house.
At least, I think, as my feet get even more soaked, my husband will feel guilty if I get murdered.
You open the door, sporting a brushy gray mustache and a red baseball cap, looking surprisingly unsurprised to see me.
“Hello,” I say, my stomach in knots. “I’m really sorry to bother you late at night but we’re stuck in the snow just a few yards down there, and were wondering if we could use your phone to call someone.” The words tumble out.
“I saw you guys drive by,” you say in an unhurried way, your voice raspy around the edges. Thank God you sound amused rather than annoyed. “I guess you didn’t realize this road was closed in the winter.”
“No,” I say, with an apologetic smile.
“Well you’re not the first ones it’s happened to.”
My stomach unclenches when you say that.
Then you pull open the door to reveal a cluttered, brightly lit living room. It smells of cigarettes and cooking. “Come on in.”
Forty-five minutes later, we’ve tried everything with your expert help (because, no one, of course, answered at the tow place in town). Even with your manpower and tools, we are failing. And with every failed attempt, I steel myself further against a night in the Subaru. The car will be mercilessly cold and so will my husband. There will be no “we’re in this together” camaraderie. Instead he will punish me with his silence, and though I will not die of cold, I might wish I were dead.
Or at least divorced.
Which is why I hold onto the ever-so-faint hope that you might offer to let us sleep in your living room.
Finally, you give up. “This thing is stuck for the night,” you say, wiping your brow. “I have a friend who can help pull you out in the morning.”
My heart drops into my feet. I feel so heavy and so tired standing there in the snow, as if I’ve already passed a sleepless night in the car.
“Well, thanks for trying,” I say. “We really appreciate it.”
Then you say, “We have an empty guesthouse. Would you like to sleep in that?”
Back at your place, you’re gathering supplies for us while my husband unpacks the car. Giddy with relief, I want to connect with you but I’m not sure how. Then you give me an opening.
“I need to be quiet, so I don’t wake up my wife,” you say, rummaging through a plastic bin.
My ears perk up. A wife? I’m searching for the right response to this when you say something even more surprising.
“I’ve been married for 40 years. It’s a lot of work.” You pull a stack of folded towels out of the bin. “But I think people today give up too early on their marriages.”
Then you look at me. Hold up the towels for me to take them. I start. My heart speeds up. I hadn’t expected you to say something so personal. Or so pointed. Is it that obvious that my marriage is in trouble?
“Yeah, definitely,” I mutter, as I take the towels from you. My hands tremble slightly.
It’s only later, as I drift off to sleep under soft fleece blankets, snuggled up with my husband, who is my best friend again, that I have this realization: Not only did you save our sorry asses from sleeping in the car in the snow, you gave our marriage a second chance.
And I’m not going to waste it, Leonard!
The morning dawns bright and sunny with a bluebird sky. The world is a snow globe with mountains, pines, and a stuck green Subaru right in the center. Your friend arrives as promised, at 9am. He’s in a pickup pushing a snowplow and has plowed the road for us up ahead.
We shake hands with you and your wife, who is blondish and bustling, a friendly person used to things like snowplows and hard work. I want to tell you how you saved us from what would have been the most miserable night of our already semi-miserable marriage, and how I’m determined we’re going to improve our teamwork after your words of wisdom.
Instead I say only, “Thank you so much. You saved us from a really bad night.”
We get into our car, my husband at the wheel. He turns it on.
“I hope this works,” I say.
“It’ll work,” he says.
Your friend starts his pickup and pulls forward. Our car jerks, creaks, and then suddenly, within seconds, we’re freed from the snowdrift that imprisoned us last night.
“You guys are good to go,” says your friend, unhooking us.
We thank him. We wave at you and your wife. Thank you, thank you, I say to you again silently.
My husband pulls forward and we begin driving under our own power. We look at each other and smile.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rebecca Agiewich is the author of BreakupBabe: A Novel, which was a finalist for the 2007 Lulu Blooker Prize, a literary prize for books based on blogs. Her travel articles and essays have been published in Lonely Planet, MSN, The Globe and Mail, and elsewhere. She splits her time between central Mexico and the Pacific Northwest, where she teaches creative writing at Richard Hugo House in Seattle. You can find her on Instagram at @rebecca_agiewich.
Header image by Todd Diemer.