Yesterday, I found myself face to face with an angel.
I’m traveling around the western US while Mars holds down the fort at home, and I’m on the tail end of the trip. Before I left, I took my car in and had everything checked. Among other things, I spent $1700 replacing the a.c. compressor and recharging the system. Hey, I’m not driving to Arizona without a great air conditioner!
The a.c. died the day before I was to leave cool, rainy western Washington for dry, hot eastern Washington. It appears to be the compressor — the most expensive part to replace.
Problem is, that compressor is under warranty — in Edmonton. If I take it to my shop, the repair will be free. If I fix it myself before we go, I have to pay for it.
No worries, I told myself. We’ll take it slow and drink lots of liquids. People traveled in the days before air conditioning, I told myself.
Besides, I added to myself, it’s Washington. How hot can it be?! It’s not like I’m in Arizona or anything.
Remind me not to listen when I talk to myself in the future.
As I drove up the Columbia Gorge, I watched the temperature readout on my dash: 85 degrees became 90. 91. 92. 93. When it hit 98 degrees, I texted Mars.
But we stopped a lot. The kids had lots of liquids. We were fine though the temperature continued to climb. 100. 104. 108.
The dog looked a little hot, so I pulled off on a rest area near Umatilla (about 90 minutes short of our goal) to get her some water. When I stopped, both kids piled out and headed for the washroom while I put water in the dog’s dish.
I waited. Both kids took an unreasonably long time. Finally The Animator came back and asked for a bottle of water, which he promptly opened and half emptied.
We waited together. I wondered if I should go check on Girly Girl, but she sometimes just takes a long time. Personally I think she plays in the water. And I had the dog. If I left her, she’d howl like a diva without a bodyguard.
So we waited. After a bit, The Animator went back to the bathroom. Finally Girly Girl came out and flopped onto the grass beside the dog.
And we waited for The Animator.
While we were waiting, a young woman approached us. “Excuse me. Is that your daughter?” I nodded.
She hesitated for a moment, and I tensed up. Uh, oh. Here we go.
“I think you should know … she was lying naked on the floor in a locked bathroom stall.”
My heart sank. Occasionally Girly Girl does completely inappropriate things. Don’t we all?! But when she does them, it makes her look more disabled than she actually is, and it adds to the stereotype. So I work pretty diligently to monitor her behavior. But still, sometimes she does things that make me cringe. In fact — and I am deeply ashamed to admit this — sometimes I am embarrassed by her behavior.
While I was scrambling for a polite response, the woman continued. “She was non-responsive.”
The woman went on to tell the story: locked stall, long wait, peeking under. Calling my daughter with no response. Finally getting a completely garbled, inarticulate muttering. Determining Girly Girl had heat stroke. Leaving the bathroom to find someone to call 911.
I looked at my daughter, lying on the grass beside the dog. Her face was pale, and her cheeks were flushed bright red. The woman was right. Girly Girl was not ok.
Girly Girl handles cold just fine (good thing, eh?!), but she is extremely susceptible to heat. Several years ago, we visited my parents in Phoenix in the summer, and GG did not handle it well at all. She used to twirl the hair on the side of her head when she was stressed, and after a week or so in Phoenix, she was completely bald on both sides.
The angel at the rest area — already pretty, but looking more and more beautiful every moment — moved her vehicle over to the shade next to mine and left it running. It was a brand new Jeep — still had temporary plates — with leather seats. But without the tiniest shred of hesitation, she loaded my daughter, her glass of water colored red with Mio drops to encourage her to drink it, and my long-haired dachshund onto those immaculate leather seats to cool off.
Then … and this is the point where I simply had to bow to superior womanhood … she popped open my hood and began checking my fuses.
Can I just say? There is nothing sexier than a woman with a Leatherman, especially a woman who knows how to use it.
In the end, she was unable to fix my a.c. I thought about staying at the rest area until it cooled off, but the weather app said it would never drop below 90, and it was only cooler in the shade, not cool. I thought about calling AAA, but I didn’t want to pay for a repair I’d already paid for.
“Look, I’m camping on the river,” the woman finally said. “It’s on the way to where you’re going.” She hesitated. I was beginning to recognize that as a heads up. “If you’d be comfortable … I know I’m a complete stranger …” She trailed away.
I’m an extremely intuitive and empathetic person, and the hair on the back of my neck is very sensitive. Dangerous people set off my radar in a big way. Heck, people that shouldn’t be dangerous at all often set those hairs a-tingle (though I often learn later that they were dangerous after all). And people I’d expect to be dangerous often don’t. I have come to trust my intuition. And everything in me breathed peace that my children would be safe with this sweet woman.
I couldn’t do it. Mars taught me years ago to balance likelihood against consequence when making decisions that involve risk. Decisions with a low likelihood of bad outcomes and low consequence are easy, as are decisions with high likelihoods and consequences. It’s much tougher when one is high and the other is low. We lived on a very quiet residential street in Arizona, for instance. The likelihood that our toddler would be struck by a vehicle if she wandered into the street was very low. But the potential consequence was losing her completely, so of course we didn’t let her go into the street.
In this case, I knew the likelihood that my daughter would be hurt with this woman was close to zero. But when I pictured myself trying to explain to anyone that I had loaded my daughter into a total stranger’s vehicle and let them drive away … I just couldn’t do it. I knew I could follow her, but I just couldn’t do it.
In the end, I called my son James, and he and his girlfriend said they’d drive the 90 minutes to come and get the children, and I could follow in my hot car.
That wasn’t enough for my sweet angel though. She looked up how far it was to the next town (Umatilla, Oregon), and we found a place where the kids could sit in air conditioning with a cool drink. Girly Girl had totally perked up by this point (within ten minutes, her color was back to normal), but it was still twenty miles away. And still 108 degrees.
The angel offered again to let the children ride with her. While I hesitated, trying to find the words to refuse without offending, she added, “What if I gave you my driver’s license to hold?”
In the end, she gave me her driver’s license. She called my cell phone from hers, so that I had her number — and knew it really was her number. She loaded several thousand dollars of camera equipment into my vehicle to make room — two canvas bags that were just about the size and weight of my children, hence made great hostages.
And I loaded my children into the vehicle of a total stranger and watched them drive away.
Well, actually I pulled out behind her and stuck to her bumper like a horse trailer. But that’s basically the same thing. And I wasn’t worried at all, just deeply, immensely grateful.
Had she not talked to me — I don’t think I would have recognized heat exhaustion in my daughter. I would have gotten back on the road, and we probably would have been dealing with a much more serious medical emergency.
Sometimes it takes new eyes to see what is obvious.
I’m not sure if Girly Girl actually passed out in the restroom at the rest area. She might have just laid down on the tile because it was cool. When strangers suddenly began asking, “Are you all right?” she may have panicked. She’s very quick to realize from the tone of people’s voices that she has done something they consider shocking or inappropriate, but she often cannot understand what she has done or why they are so upset. Her go-to response is often to ignore them. Certainly her unintelligible speech isn’t unusual, especially when she is unsure of herself. So her “non-responsiveness” could have been her self destructive coping mechanism.
Or … she may have passed out in the restroom. We’ll never know. But there is no question — given how quickly she perked up once she cooled off and got some liquid in her — that she was at the edge of a medical problem.
In my mind, there is no question that this lovely young woman was a guardian angel to my little family yesterday.
The story doesn’t end there though. I hugged her before she left Umatilla to find her camping spot, and she dug in her purse looking for a business card to give me.
Our guardian angel was The Capricious Muse, a stunning photographer whose website I have visited many, many times. She has an astonishing eye for extraordinary beauty in the everyday.
And maybe part of the beauty I’ve always loved in her photos comes from her crazy big heart.