She was still crying, but now her arms were raised, hands grasping the back of her neck with her elbows pointing forward. She just sat there like that, in the seat next to me, crying.
“Just relax?!” she said to me, nearly yelling. “If you were in my position, would you relax?”
I started to say something, then stopped. I had no idea what to say. I had no idea what to do. I didn’t even know who she was. I wanted to do something, but deep down I knew there was nothing I could do.
“I need a drink,” I finally said. “Do you want a drink?”
She dropped her arms and curled up into a little ball. “No,” she said quietly.
I stared at her. “How old are you?” I asked.
“Christ,” I said, shaking my head.
Neither of us said anything for a few moments. Then my cell phone rang. She jumped at it, but it was just a friend of mine. I muted it, then dropped it back onto the seat.
“I’ve never been so scared in my life,” she finally said. Then she told me she wanted to go.
“Look, go if you want,” I said, “but it doesn’t feel right just leaving you out here.”
But she was already getting out of my car. Surrounded by cane fields, she shut the door and started walking nowhere in particular.
I never picked up hitchhikers until I moved to Maui. It just isn’t done in Southern California. Hitchhikers were rare in any case, and those you saw looked like haggard burnouts or serial killers, so it wasn’t exactly a tough call.
But out here, hitchhiking is far more acceptable. Nearly everyone, it seems, has hitched a ride. The risk of something unexpected and dangerous happening is pretty low. Besides, it’s not easy to roar past a young, attractive woman standing by the side of the road.
The first hitchhiker I ever picked up was a woman balancing on crutches trying to thumb a ride as rain poured down. Others were harmless, just looking for short rides from Honokowai into Lahaina. “You’re my hero today,” one girl said as I dropped her off at work.
Even the girl I picked up at the outskirts of town who wanted to go to Kahului and started fidgeting nervously the moment I left the shoulder wasn’t that bad. She was clearly tripping on meth or something, but she didn’t cause any trouble, though the ride would have been more pleasant had she taken a more recent shower.
Then I met the girl I’ll call Sandy. She was in Lahaina, standing on the makai side of the highway opposite the Shell Station at Dickenson. She was very pretty with long, light brown hair. She wore a black, long sleeve shirt and jeans. I was in the left turn lane, wanting first to stop at the gas station before heading to Kahului to mill around. I’d been on the Westside a while, and just wanted to go someplace else.
I watched Sandy for a few moments as she smiled at passing cars. Then the light changed and I headed to the gas station, but thought that if she was still there when I was done, I’d pick her up.
I gassed up the car, headed back to the highway, and was shocked to see her still standing on the side of the road. So I rolled down the passenger side window and pulled over.
“Where’re you headed?” I asked.
“Kahului,” she said.
“Cool. Hop in.”
At first, everything was cool. She wasn’t talkative, so I just relaxed and drove. She put on makeup. I thought it was pretty tough, considering we were doing like 50, but she didn’t miss a beat. When she was done, she turned to me.
“Can I use your cell phone to make long distance calls?”
I had free long distance and free minutes on weekends, so I said sure.
It quickly became apparent that she was trying to call her mother. She made a couple calls to different numbers, but never did get her on the phone.
A few minutes she started sniffling. It was just a little at first, then a lot. She was crying, but muffled. I looked out the window—we were barely in Olowalu, and still had miles to go.
I thought about saying something. But what? “Is something wrong?” was too stupid. “What’s going on?” was too accusatory.
What was going on? I’d been in the car with this chick for, what, 15 minutes and she was already suffering a breakdown?
We reached the Pali. She began playing with the radio. Then she asked to use the phone again. She still didn’t reach anyone.
“Just let me off here,” she said as I drove into Ma’alaea.
“What, here?” I said. “What do you mean here? The side of the road? What’s wrong?”
“Just stop, please,” she said. Her voice was agitated.
I pulled into the Maui Ocean Center parking lot. It was a Sunday night, so it was empty. I parked in a spot and turned to her.
“Okay, what’s going on?”
“I don’t know,” she said, really crying now. “I want to go home. I don’t know what I’m going to do. I don’t have a job, I don’t have any money and the guy I’m staying with is a real creep. I don’t know what I’m doing here. And I don’t want to just blurt out my troubles to a complete stranger.”
I tried to take it all in, but it was impossible. I was a stranger. I had no idea who this person was. I watched her cry for a moment, then I thought about how easily she had smiled at other passing cars when I first saw her. What was going on? Why had I been so stupid and picked her up?
“I know,” I said. “But I picked you up. I’m here.”
This was insane. Even at this point, I knew there was nothing I could do. She said she’d flown here a couple weeks earlier. She said her mom had been sick and there was no money to fly her back. She wanted a job, but didn’t have a regular address.
“What about where you’re staying?” I asked.
“I was staying with a guy I know,” she said. “But when he found out I wouldn’t have sex with him, he turned into an asshole and passed me off to his creepy friends. I’ve been staying at a different place every night.”
I kept grasping for ideas. Did I know a place where she could stay? Did someone I know have a spare bed? Could she stay with me? How could I help?
It was all bullshit. I shot down every question as I thought it up. There was no way I could help her. But still I tried.
“Don’t you have any friends you can stay with?” I asked. “There’s got to be somebody out here-“
“I exhausted all that already,” she said. “Ten times over. There’s no one.”
“What did you want in Kahului?” I asked.
“To get a refund on a phone card,” she said. “I just want to talk to my mom.”
Oh man. The sensible thing at this point was to let her go.
“Then I’ll take you there,” I said, demolishing whatever sense I had left. “What will you do when you’re done?”
“Get a ride back to Lahaina, I guess,” she said.
I said nothing, but drove out of the parking lot and back onto the highway. We were on the road only a few moments when Sandy began fishing through her purse.
“Are you fucking kidding me?!” she suddenly said. “I can’t believe this!”
She was really crying now as she handed me her phone card receipt. It had faded so much it was completely blank.
A half hour ago I was on my way to Borders to thumb through books and magazines. Now I was alone in my car with a crying woman I didn’t even know.
“Just leave me here,” she said. “I just want to be alone.”
I pulled into the carpool lot at the corner of Honoapi’ilani and North Kihei Roads. She cried more. I fumbled questions. She told me she was 18 and said she just wanted to go again. This time I let her.
I sat in my car after Sandy left. I was completely drained. The engine was still on, but it was dead quiet. I couldn’t think of anything to do. Driving on into Kahului suddenly seemed ridiculous. I looked down, and remembered that my friend had called me a few minutes earlier. I put the phone to my ear and started to retrieve the message.
“Are you calling the cops?”
I spun around. Sandy was standing next to me. Her voice seemed a bit better, but that told me nothing.
She just stood there.
“Look, this is all fucked up,” I said. “But I’m here, right now. There’s nothing I need to do tonight. Do you want help or not?”
I immediately regretted making the offer, but she nodded. I almost hoped she’d say no and walk away again. I’d gone over this already:there was nothing I could do for her. She was in a bad spot, but she was also an adult who’d gotten into this mess because she’d done a series of really stupid things, none of which I could reverse or make better.
I’d known her not quite a half an hour. I still wasn’t sure if she was telling me the truth. What kind of person completely breaks down in front of a complete stranger? But my mouth was no longer connected to my brain.
“Then get in the car,” I said.
Wiping her eyes, she walked around and got back in my car.
“What do you want to do?” I asked.
She thought a moment. “Go to the mall and get a new phone card.”
I drove off. She still cried, but not so much anymore. As we drove through the vast cane fields of Central Maui, then into Kahului, I kept trying to come up with ways to help her. And I kept coming up with nothing.
As we drove into the Queen Ka’ahumanu Center, I wondered what I’d say when I stopped the car. I thought about offering to accompany her. But then what? Take her back to Lahaina when she was done? To where?
I thought about offering to have her stay with me, but quickly dismissed the idea. What if she never left? What if all this was a lie? I wanted to help her, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was in way over my head.
I pulled up in front of Ruby’s. She got her purse and opened the door.
“I can stay with you if you want,” I said. I was just talking, having no idea why I was saying such things.
“I think I just want to be alone right now,” she said.
I fished a business card out of my wallet, handed it to her and said to call me if she got into trouble. She plunged it into her purse without looking at it, thanked me and stepped out of the car.
“If my mom calls your phone,” she said after shutting the door, “Please tell her I’m doing fine.”
I stared at her in disbelief. Her eyes became frantic.
“Please? Say I’m fine, everything’s okay. Please.”
Thinking the odds were pretty low I’d get a call, I nodded.
“Thanks,” she said, and walked off into the mall and out of my sight.
I sat there a few moments, then slowly pulled away from the curb. As I passed the mall entrance I glanced inside.
To my surprise, I saw her in the distance. As she walked in, she suddenly turned and looked back towards me. She was still looking at me as I drove off. MTW