She reads the Bible every morning. She also smokes off-brand cigarettes. For an old-school Methodist like her, the two go hand in hand.
She’s eighty-four and frail. She digs a cigarette from a carton, her daughter lights it. The doctor says she shouldn’t smoke, but the Good Lord understands.
She tells a story.
“After my husband left us,” she begins, “I was raising my kids, doing all I could to survive. He left me with eighteen bucks in our bank account—no lie.”
Then, the worst happened. One day, she walked into work and her boss fired her.
Instead of crying, she lost her temper. She attacked him. She threw a lunch bucket at him. She landed several good slaps to his face. Her friends pulled her away. This woman, in case you’re wondering, is a regular barrel of gunpowder.
That night, she loaded her children into a station wagon and drove straight for her sister’s in South Carolina. Radio blasting. Cigarettes burning.
“I was crying,” she says. “And worried about everything, I was just sick.”
Her car broke down somewhere outside Athens, Georgia, at two in the morning. An empty highway. Not a soul for miles.
Her station wagon sat in a ditch. Her children were in the backseat, asleep. She leaned against her steering wheel and the tears came freely. This was officially rock bottom.
Her sobbing was interrupted by the sound of transfer truck brakes, when a big rig pulled behind her with its Earth-shaking engine. Headlights blaring.
A man stepped out of the cab and walked toward her.
She recalls: “Here I was, a young woman, in the middle of nowhere, and this man comes walking up. I was pretty scared.”
He was tall. She remembers this very clearly. And older. He asked if she needed help. She told him what had happened with a nervous voice.
His smile put her at ease. He said, “Pop the hood, ma’am. Lemme see what I can do.”
And so it was, beneath the glow of a flashlight, he made clanking noises beneath the hood and the two strangers to know each other.
“You could tell he was such a nice man.”
She offered him a smoke. He thanked her. He tinkered beneath her car with a ratchet—cigarette wedged between his lips. She held the flashlight steady while he performed a veritable automotive miracle.
“Try it now,” he finally said.
Instead of shaking the man’s greasy hand, she hugged him. Then, even though she didn’t mean to, she turned into a puddle and cried all over his shirt.
“Oh, don’t cry,” he said. “You’re gonna be alright, sweetie. Everything’s gonna be alright.”
After she gathered herself, they parted ways. He walked to his truck. She crawled into her car. She remembers taking a few deep breaths, starting her engine, then straightening her hair and glancing into her rear mirror.
But something was wrong.
There were no headlights in the mirror, no rumbling engine. No truck. She stepped out of her vehicle and saw nothing but the empty highway. The big rig had vanished.
“There’s no way he could’ve made a U-turn,” she goes on. “It was too narrow of a road, and I woulda heard if he did. He was just gone.”
This memory makes her laugh. Laughing turns into a coughing fit. Coughing turns into moments of deep reflection.
“Where do you think he came from?” her daughter asks.
The Methodist says she doesn’t know. And how could she? Besides, it was a long time ago. All she knows is that for as long as she lives she’ll never forget that man. Or what he said to her.
Everything’s going to be “alright.”
Because it will, you know.