Monday, October 15, 2012

She Haunts Me

Occasionally, I make the 100-mile journey down I-29 to Grand Forks, usually to pick up a guest at the airport or to drop myself off. Like most drives in North Dakota, it is long and straight, and with exactly two turns from the farm, largely uneventful. The scenery is flat and even with miles and miles of farmland, the occasional sugar (beet) factory and a handful of billboards. Here is where I thank the gods for the airwaves that deliver the CBC. The Canadian Broadcasting Company saves my sanity up here, repeatedly.

Back in August, I was on this very trek, heading for the airport named for one of my favorite dudes, former NoDak Senator Byron Dorgan. I think I was flying to Denver for the Smile Train shows. I was thinking about the goal of the trip (raising money for cleft surgeries) and looked forward to seeing my Denver friends.

All of a sudden, there she was.

Photo by Rusty Clark
On the right shoulder, a Mennonite girl, in old-school prairie clothing. She was alone with a black suitcase on wheels. She was facing west, away from the highway, and turned toward me and then down, just enough so I could see she was young, maybe late teens, early 20s. She also wore a backpack, a hard modern contrast to her Laura Ingalls-era skirts. Of course, she wore the signature white bonnet as well.

I perked up, saw her, passed her and saw her again in my rear view mirror, my mind racing. What should I do? Should I stop? Is she running away? My cruise control was set at 75 (the speed limit) and I was now long past her. The exits here are few and far between and I was trying to catch a plane - I reasoned - I did not have time to stop for strangers.

Clearly, she was running away - she was packed up and all alone. Did she have money? A plan? What was she thinking?

When I arrived at the airport, I went through the briefest, nicest “security” screening and sat at the gate. My plane didn’t leave for another 1.5 hrs. I felt a flash of guilt - there was plenty of time to stop and see to her well being. I can’t describe how much this nags me to this day.

As women, I believe we have a duty to look out for one another. We are more vulnerable in this world, it’s a fact. Feminism doesn’t change the reality that we are still the preyed-upon gender and it means we have to stick together whether we have actually met or not.

The nicest man in the entire world could have pulled over to help her and she would still have to be fearful and suspicious; it’s ingrained in us. But if a woman like me pulls over and says, “Honey, what are you doing out here? Where can I take you?”, that girl just might fall into my arms crying, telling me everything. This is one thing I love about being a woman, that there are very few walls between us.

She was running away from her family, likely from Mennonite society and she wanted to go somewhere, probably anywhere. She wasn’t hitchhiking. She had no sign. I don’t think she had a plan. She likely came from Manitoba, where the nearest Mennonites live but that means she had a passport, which is unlikely.

It’s been two months and I still see her wind-whipped skirts and scared young face in my mind’s eye.

I should have stopped.

Next time, I will.


Anonymous said...

She likely did have someone stop for her. People still commonly do that in that area if the person looks like they need help. It's an very low ratio of dangerous people vs. good samaritans. Many Mennonites travel to the U.S. side for shopping and would have passports. I hope the best for her and whatever journey she is on. Carol

Heather Clisby said...

I certainly hope so. Just hearing this from you made me feel better. Thanks, Carol.

Anonymous said...

I agree, we woman have to stick together. (Sadly, it is hard to find that ideal in women these days.) That "Sista Code" is one of the many things I love about you.

Maybe your farm could be part of an underground railroad for escape Mennonite something.


Heather Clisby said...

McSchmoinkles - I adore this idea of me being the Harriet Tubman for Mennonite girls. The only problem is, I can't promise them an easier world than the one they left. Civilization is tricky these days.

Anonymous said...

I don't know that Harriet promised anything other than a chance, Ma Sista! I like this idea more and more.

Love you.