Friday, January 29, 2021

Lovebird Hitchhikers by Ruth Utnage

When I was 17 and sure of myself I decided to claim my space in adulthood by taking my pregnant 18 year old girlfriend, we'll call her H, soon to be wife, and hitchhiking from Washington to Nebraska. We were a mixed race couple with no real sense about what lie ahead for us. She was Alaskan Native and Black, I was white. All we had was an atlas and a drive to get as far away from our childhoods as possible. Funny how that drive led me right back to the epicenter of my childhood trauma, the Midwest.

It felt good to be trusted by someone, even if that trust was garnered via desperation and ignorance on both our parts. When I first made the decision to hitchhike to Nebraska we were in H's Mom and stepdads minivan supposedly vacationing to Chicago. We began in Bremerton, WA and by Wenatchee we were broke down, on the side of the road with no money and one bitchy, pregnant girlfriend who placed blame everywhere but where it belonged. I just wanted to get out of there and I didn't want to go home. I stole an atlas from a truck stop along with a bag of mixed nuts squirreling them away for later. Within hours H's parents left us, along with H's little brother to go find emergency help. The boy was 14 and full of attitude, so I told H that I was leaving and I wanted her to come with, but if she didn't I was still gone. I only walked about 4 steps before she said "I'll go".

Our first ride was from a military person, he gave us $50 and a warning against the dangers of such a task along with a stern finger wagging at me for allowing a pregnant woman to embark on such an adventure. In our minds he was just attempting to parent us some more and we couldn't get away from him fast enough. Though after that we learned that the State Patrol frowns on hitchhiking on Interstates, we were picked up and the cop was nice enough to take us back to our origin, precisely where the military guy dropped us off, a truck stop. We were thankful he just let us be. We made our rounds to all the parked Semi's and were rejected by the entire lot, save for one but he told us "I have to wait for a trailer to arrive, if I see you on an on-ramp in my rearview I'll stop for you, otherwise, good luck."

I hadn't even thought of the on-ramp. So that's where we headed and for 4 hours we stayed there while H angrily stuffed rocks inside my backpack "One rock for every 15 minutes I have to stand here in this heat!" It wasn't long before my back was aching and I was beginning to get worried. But then we heard an air horn blast on the highway and that trucker came through on his promise! We hightailed it down the long ramp, which are deceptively long, and hopped in the guys cab where we were greeted with a warm smile.

That trucker lined us up with other truckers all the way to Omaha where 18 hours later we arrived safely having never set foot on asphalt or had time to break that $50 dollar bill. At 3 a.m. I was dropped off at a childhood friends home who, luckily, still had a mother who lived there and remembered me from long before.

I never did get the names of the truckers. I suppose I could name them all after Angels, they were certainly guardians. It wasn't until years later I even understood how lucky we were, how generous they were and just how stupid youthfulness can leave us.

Our adventures in adulthood came to a screeching halt just a few short months later when H's mother passed away shortly after our first was born that December. She went home for the funeral and just simply wouldn't come back. Living in rural Nebraska had been too much for her because racism was still very much alive and "status quo". It wasn't the only reason though, our running start to take flight and spread our wings ended with us being dirt poor in the middle of nowhere and her mom dying was the final straw. It didn't help matters any that I was very clearly struggling with my sexuality. As was evidenced by my bringing my best friend J, down with us to live. But J is another story, another tale of ridiculous notions staged by the stupidity of youthfulness.

With Love
Ruth



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