On a fall day in 2002, back when cell phones were still novel and Craig had a much shorter list, my husband did something a little strange.
“What’s going on?” I asked, as he approached my office from the wrong side of the house.
“Well… I brought some people home with me,” he said.
I looked down at my sweat-panted, freelance self with a considerable degree of anxiety about hosting his work colleagues.
But I was panicking for the wrong reason.
He’d brought home a couple hitchhikers.
Before I was born, my parents had once found a man sleeping in their garage.
Back when they lived near I-80, the only place where the Mississippi River begins to meander west on its way down to the Gulf of Mexico. He was hitchhiking across the country and wore a real coon-skin cap. He’d run into their garage to escape the rain.
After poking him awake, they fed him a breakfast of eggs and bacon and sent him on his way.
I’d always loved this story. It sounded exciting.
But they’d been forced into the situation.
They hadn’t let him into their car.
And as a child, my parents told me never to hitchhike. Never to pick one up. It was sort of up there with doing heroin.
People without enough money for a car they’d said, at least in America, were too dangerous. Too desperate. It wasn’t worth the risk.
Amidst a multitude of warnings over the years, this one had stuck.
But my boyfriend was not about rules. He was more of an instincts guy.
My instincts and I have always had a complicated relationship. We’re just such different animals. I’m looking for all this approval while my instincts are always insisting on this pesky independence. It’s a drag.
My head kept them on a very short leash.
And I wasn’t mending that relationship today.
“It was raining,” he said with a shrug. He knew he was testing my risk tolerance. “They looked harmless.”
I was skeptical as I walked through the house.
But I’m also an extrovert. I love meeting new people.
And when I saw those two Native American women with their long black hair and tentative smiles standing on our porch, I softened.
They were no longer hitchhikers. Just strangers I hadn’t met. Strangers that my husband had decided to trust.
They stayed for dinner.
Brenda and Angie were members of the Ojibwe Nation of Minnesota, traveling cross-country toward a vision quest, a traditional ceremony of fasting and ritual, which results in spiritual guidance.
I found them fascinating.
While I’d grown up in a part of the country where landmarks and colleges commemorated their culture—Mississippi is actually derived from the Ojibwe word “misi-ziibi”, meaning “Great River”—I’d never spoken with a Native American myself.
My town was simply too small. Too sheltered.
And perhaps too suspicious of people who hitchhiked.
We ate spaghetti and drank wine on our dingy twenty-something back patio, with the squirrel-eaten cushions and the table that always trapped dirt beneath its glass.
But they didn’t mind.
They were both mothers with grown children. Calm. Kind. Grateful for our hospitality.
We smoked cigarettes and listened to stories about life on a reservation.
Their skin blended into the dark.
When they asked to camp in our backyard, my boyfriend wanted to offer them our guest bedroom.
I’d almost forgotten my anxiety.
“But all my jewelry’s in there,” I protested, crawling back into my comfortable, rule-driven cubby hole.
He looked at me, slightly bewildered, certainly annoyed.
And I knew why.
Wasn’t I paying attention?
Didn’t I see these women were harmless?
Hadn’t I enjoyed the last few hours?
Couldn’t I trust my own intuition instead of defaulting to society’s predisposed rules?
Just because they hitchhiked…didn’t make them bad…or dangerous.
I knew he was right.
I relented, but said nothing.
Back then, I wasn’t good at swallowing my pride. I didn’t know how.
The hitchhikers slept atop my Laura Ashley duvet—the one with the purple flowers—politely refusing to slide between the sheets.
The next morning, my husband drove them to the highway.
In our house, nothing was missing.
All was quiet.
Except my instincts.
They were whispering to each other, glimpsing their chance at freedom.
Author: Andrea Enright
Editor: Sara Kärpänen
Photo: David Marcu / Unsplash