Breathing a sigh of relief, I looked in my rear view mirror, grateful for the distance I was putting between my car and that of the drunk driver, as he weaved all over the road. At the same time, I felt guilty.
"I can't just drive away. I have to get him off the road!" my conscience nagged at me.
"There's nothing I can do. I can't be responsible for his actions." I countered.
"I'm going to be looking in this mirror and see some poor unsuspecting family killed because I did nothing." My thoughts hammered at me.
"I'm not my brother's keeper", I said out loud, but without conviction and as the words reverberated, the meaning hit me and I knew I was it. There wasn't anyone else, so the job was mine. I eased up on the gas, realizing I needed to be back behind the drunk. Even then, as I wrestled with the dilemma of getting him off the road I never paused to think about repercussions. I never thought he might be dangerous.
I had just wanted to get home. I'd been away in the mountains for a few days on an assignment and was excited about seeing my family.
When I'd first noticed the erratic driving of the car in front of me, I had become concerned. He was traveling under the speed limit but wandering too much. I worried about whether the driver was falling asleep, suffering a heart attack, or drunk at the wheel. I stopped wondering. The driver had crossed the centre line into the oncoming traffic lane and as he swerved back I saw him toss the brown beer bottle out onto the highway.
"Oh balderdash, this guys smashed " I thought as I watched the bottle explode. My only thought then was to get "safely past him." That done, I thought things would be fine when my conscience kicked in.
Now as the drunk approached again and passed me the beginning of a plan took root. If I pulled abreast of him I could honk and motion for him to pull over. That was the theory but when I put it into practice he just looked confused and decelerated. After I repeated this two more times he slowed to the legal speed on a city street, but I was still no closer to getting him to stop. Perplexed and worried that we'd soon have to contend with more traffic, I once again pulled alongside of him, with a silent prayer for this to work. Not comprehending, the drunk responded by slowing more and pulling over onto the shoulder. Then I watched in horror as he lost control of his car. The ditches in the area were roomy with gentle slopes. A good driver could drive in and out without mishap. The drunk drove in and stopped but made no move to get out.
Was he hurt? Frantic with worry I pulled over and ran down to his vehicle. Whether or not I would encounter a mean enraged drunk had not crossed my mind. He sat slumped, looking as spent as the litter of bags and bottles throughout his car. I rapped on the window, "Are you all right?"
He nodded, as he rolled down the window.
"Give me your car keys. I can't allow you to drive." My words, crisp and authoritative, hung in the air.
He stared the briefest of moments, reached for his keys and placed them in my outstretched hand.
"If I allowed you to drive in your condition, you could cause an accident." I spoke of how devastated he would be if his actions caused a death. "It would haunt you and walk with you throughout your life."
He seemed to feel an explanation was called for. "I've been up all night. I worked late then there was a farewell party. We never stopped. I never thought… I needed to get home... I didn't realize…" he groped for words then stopped, wilting against the seat realizing there was no defense.
I opened the door. "Come up to my car and I'll drive yours out of the ditch."
Minutes later, after getting him settled, I started his car. The impact of the situation hit me. I had a very inebriated man on my hands and my plan had not gone further than this point. What do I do with him? If I took him with me, that would leave his car stranded an hour from the city. Ideas were examined and tossed.
It was while I was back up on the highway, listening for a second time to the man explain how he had ended up driving in an unsafe condition that phase two of a plan established itself in my mind. We were on a long flat stretch of road. That it was not busy had been a blessing up until this point but now to carry out my plan, I needed traffic. As if on schedule a car appeared on the horizon. I told the stranger to stay with my car. He offered no arguments as he leaned using my car to steady and support his body. Like an obedient child he stood motionless (well almost) and waited. Placing myself in the pathway of the oncoming car I began waving my arms like a traffic controller on a runway. The car slowed to show four men looking at me open-mouthed.
"I need one of you to drive this man's car into the city. He is drunk and I can not allow him to drive." I explained and even as I spoke the passenger in the front was putting on his shoes and nodding "yes".
A single slight female, still in her thirties, I stood there in command with a voice that said, "No arguments!"
I gave the men an explanation of the situation and told them to drive the man home. There were no questions. Everyone nodded and said "okay."
Returning to my car I told the drunk of the arrangements, assuring him that both he and his car would arrive home safely. That's when he reached out. He took my hand with one hand and placed his other hand on my arm. I felt no apprehension. He smiled at me and said, " I want to thank you for caring. No one has ever done something like this for me. I just…thank you. You are so… unbelievable."
I took my hand away and squeezed his shoulder. To this day, more than twenty years later, I have no recollection of what I said to him in response. I remember the wetness in the corners of his eyes. I remember walking him to the car of the good Samaritans who would take him safely home and I remember thinking, "good, now I can go home."
I believe the encounter with the drunk was one of those times when God sends his angels to watch over everyone concerned. Everyone involved knew what had to be done and we did it. I still worry about people who drink and then drive. It's like playing with a loaded gun.
Used With Permission
All Rights Reserved By Author
Ellie is an author and motivational speaker who has a number of books and short stories published. She has written for Chicken Soup for the Soul, Heartwarmers of Spirit, 2the Heart and others.