When I first started driving alone in a car my father told me some basic things to always remember. Never drive on an empty tank. Get your oil checked regularly. Be sure your tires have air in them. Don’t fiddle with the radio or air conditioning while you are driving. Don’t drive through bad sections of town alone by yourself. If you ever think you are being followed, drive to a place with a lot of people like a grocery store or restaurant parking lot, or better yet, drive straight to the police station. But, under no circumstances should you drive to your house, especially if you live alone!
But, just like General MacArthur in Agatha Christie’s murder mystery masterpiece And Then There Were None, who went and sat alone by the sea when everyone knew there was a killer on the loose, I forgot absolutely everything my father had told me one night a long time ago when I had first graduated from college.
After graduating from college in 1978, with the offer from a sorority sister to share an apartment, I decided to remain in my college town. After working with Kelly Girls temp agency for just a few days I had a permanent job as a receptionist for a busy law firm. I worked hard and was soon promoted to legal secretary, moving from the front lobby to office space shared with the legal secretary of the managing partner. Eventually, upon the discovery by my bosses that I had been trained to do title work, I was moved again, to a private “office” which had been created by enlarging a closet into part of the office’s kitchen area.
I wore many hats in this law firm. Part of my day was spent driving to the local courthouses, researching property titles for mortgages and real estate transactions. Upon my return to the office, I would transcribe Dictaphone tapes left on my desk by one of the three attorneys in the firm. I also maintained the law library by shelving books after the attorneys were finished using them as well as updating the law books with the latest “pocket parts”, a task I am sure is obsolete with the internet and online law library databases. Occasionally I would be asked to sit in on meetings with clients to take notes, and sometimes, I would be asked to do an initial draft of a brief or legal pleading.
About a year later, I was called in to the managing partner’s office one afternoon where he and another attorney were waiting to meet with me. They told me about a political campaign in which the firm was going to be heavily involved; the brother of one of the attorneys was running for sheriff. Would I be part of the steering committee for the campaign? Help with record-keeping of supporters and donations, schedule appearances for the candidate, etc.? It sounded very exciting to me, and since I was single with no serious obligations outside of work, I said yes.
One night I had worked late at the campaign headquarters. There were only a few of us in the building. We all walked out together to our cars, for safety purposes, and left at the same time, but since none of us lived near each other, we all headed off in different directions. As I was driving home, I noticed a car behind me. At a red light, the car pulled up next to me in the other lane. The driver “tooted” his horn at me. I did not look over; it was very late and dark, and I was alone in my car. When the light turned green, I quickly pulled away. He pulled in behind me. Each time I turned, he turned as well. I started to get a little scared and worried that this car was following me. I even turned once when I didn’t need to, and sure enough, the other car turned, too. I went around the block and got back on my path home.
As I pulled into the neighborhood of my apartment complex, the other car pulled in as well. I started to panic. I finally remembered what my father had told me: under no circumstances should you drive to your house, especially if you live alone. I passed my apartment complex and went further into the neighborhood. I only knew one person who lived in that neighborhood, one of the advisors from my college sorority. I hadn’t been in touch with her since graduation, but I knew where she lived. I drove to her house, not really sure what I would do next. I turned on to her street, closely followed by the other car. By now, I was in full-blown hysteria, crying and shaking all over. I decided I would pretend like I lived there and pulled into the driveway. The other car pulled in behind me, in the driveway, blocking me from pulling back out. I was trapped and scared to death. Naturally, at such a late hour, the house was in complete darkness. This was long before cellphones so I had no way to call for help. I heard a car door slam—whoever it was behind me had gotten out of his car. I glanced in my rearview mirror to see a man walking toward my car. I was about to start blowing my car horn to try to alert the occupants of the house or a neighbor when the man started banging on my car window.
Too terrified to look up, I buried my head in my hands, saying a Hail Mary out loud, when I heard “Michelle, Michelle, it’s me, David. It’s me, David, from the bike shop.”
I had recently bought a bicycle at the local bike shop and the owner had put it together for me. Since I had a small car, and the bike wouldn’t fit in it, he had dropped it off at my apartment. It was a small town and I had seen him several times at various shops and restaurants. He pulled in behind me on the highway when I left the campaign headquarters and recognized my car. Apparently, he had pulled up next to me to wave to me. When I didn’t look over at him, he suspected, rightfully so, that I was scared, that I thought he was a stranger following me. He continued following me, trying to get my attention, to let me know that it was him, not a serial killer, following me. When I didn’t pull into my apartment building, he knew I had panicked.
After I calmed down enough to speak coherently to him, he got back in his car and followed me to my apartment. We got out of our cars and he told me everything I had done wrong, if he had been a stranger really following me. Why had I pulled into a driveway where he could block my escape? Why had I gone to the house of someone with whom I rarely had contact, in the middle of the night, when she would surely be asleep? Why hadn’t I gone straight to the police station, or to the all-night grocery store, where there would have been people walking around?
Standing in the parking lot of my apartment complex, I had no answers for him. Even with everything my father had told me, I panicked and made all the wrong choices. If the car behind me had been someone with criminal intent, and not my friend from the bike shop, I hate to think what may have happened that night. In the end, this scary encounter with my friend David, driving home late at night on almost deserted roads, believing I was being followed, taught me the lesson I had not learned from my father. Thanks, David, for the scariest drive home ever.