66: Destined to Detour

66: Destined to Detour

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Dreams and the Unexplainable

Destined to Detour

Sometimes I think things happen for a reason . . . And I think if we’re meant to run into each other again, fate will make it happen.

~Lauren Blakely

Growing up in Florida was amazing, but not as amazing as my best friend, Denise. We were two kids trying to get through life, apparently in the hardest way possible. From puberty through high school, then marriage, babies, and divorce, we had a lot in common — likes, dislikes, dreams and fears, dark secrets, silly stuff, and lots of memories, both good and bad. We shared everything with each other for twenty years.

When my parents divorced, I moved to Texas, creating a thousand-mile gap between us. This was before Skype, cell phones, and Facebook, but landline phones connected her heart to mine. When phone calls and letters weren’t enough, I managed vacation visits, even if just for a long weekend. Our visits were filled with hugs and laughter, but always ended in tears. The saddest part of a short visit to see a long-distance friend is the leaving part. I left a lot. We cried a lot. We were such passionate friends. Connected at the heart, I couldn’t have loved her more if we had shared the same DNA.

Sadly, a drunk driver changed everything. My lifelong friend lost her husband and children in that flaming inferno. She was thrown from their car with third-degree burns over eighty percent of her body. I wasn’t allowed to visit her in the burn unit, but I stayed in touch with her father, Joe, for long distance updates. Denise struggled to live for five grueling months until her heart simply stopped. She was thirty-two.

I never got to say “goodbye” and was unable to attend her funeral. I had no closure, and my heart grieved, not just for her, but also for her parents.

Even though Joe and I promised to stay in touch, we eventually got busy with living and lost contact with one another.

Five years later, I moved back to Florida. Driving on Interstate 10, I passed an exit sign outside Tallahassee that pointed toward Monticello. I wondered if Joe still lived there, but since I no longer had his address or phone number, I decided to drive on to my new home.

A few miles beyond that exit, my car engine literally stopped. It was as if someone had reached into the car and turned the key. I pumped the gas, but nothing happened. I struggled with the dead power steering to ease the car onto the shoulder and sat there wondering what to do next. When I turned the key, I was surprised to hear the engine start again. However, when I tried to give it gas, it just lurched and chugged. It ran in fits and starts on the shoulder until it finally picked up speed and I felt safe enough to pull back into traffic.

Was it coincidence that it stopped at the first sign of Monticello only to start again after it was obvious I wanted to go home more than I wanted to find Joe? I could only wonder.

It wasn’t long before the car repeated this performance. It had over 68,000 miles on it, but nothing like this had ever happened before. Again, I pulled onto the shoulder of the highway and stopped. I could see another sign in the distance, but couldn’t read it. When I turned the key, it started like the last time, but continued to balk when I gave it more gas. I drove on the shoulder and finally saw that the next exit went to the main highway into Monticello. I thought about exiting, but then the engine roared to life again and I decided to take my chances on the highway. I still had a long trip ahead of me.

I passed several more exits without event and ended up in rural Florida, a luscious land of hills, forest, and overgrown vegetation. It was as beautiful as I remembered. Suddenly, my car pulled its dying act again. I decided if it would just start one more time, even if it ran perfectly, I would take whatever exit came next, find a station, and buy some gas treatment. I hoped the problem was only bad gas.

I prayed there was another exit soon. There was, but it was desolate. There was a crusty, old, rundown station on the opposite side of the Interstate, but first I had to get there. This time, there was no hesitation, but rather a sense of urgency. The car chugged down the exit ramp, and it tried to die again at the stop sign. I made a rolling stop past the stop sign, turned left onto the two-lane country road and headed over the overpass. At the top of that overpass, my car finally died. Thanks to gravity, I managed to coast down the other side. The car rolled slowly into the station and came to a soft stop at the first gas pump with absolutely no momentum remaining. The decision to stop had been made for me.

I stormed inside, frantically scanning the sparse shelves for some gas treatment when an elderly gentleman with a large, bushy moustache approached. He said with a slow drawl, “Can I help you find something, young lady?”

My heart nearly stopped. I didn’t really recognize the man, but I could never forget that voice. “I’m l-looking for some gas treatment. D-do you have any?” My heart was in my throat. Everything felt surreal, and I still wasn’t certain, until . . .

He answered with a grin, “Well, let’s just have a looky-see.”

In that very instant, I knew for a fact I had found Denise’s father Joe, years later and miles away in the middle of nowhere. “Looky-see” was a term I had heard him use many times when I was growing up.

We hugged a long while, caught up in the moment. Neither of us wanted to let go. I told him I was moving back to Florida and relayed the events that had led me to this place at this exact time. He didn’t seem surprised.

Joe grinned and said, “Well, you certainly are one lucky lady. This is my brother’s station. He called and asked me to watch the place so he could go to the post office. A little bit earlier or later, I wouldn’t be here.” He winked, and the twinkle in his eye told me he didn’t believe in coincidence any more than I did.

That car never acted like that again. An unseen force far greater than just bad gas orchestrated my reunion with Joe at that specific time and place.

~Ferna Lary Mills

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