When we first moved to back to the States, we rented a house on the quiet outskirts of town. And one evening, after an unusual midweek movie with my sons, I was driving home. It was winter and pitch black out.
Our drive took several twists and turns on country roads. And I couldn’t help but notice a big Jeep had followed us all the way from town.
Each turn I made, the Jeep made, too. He was also flashing his brights at me occasionally.
Well, okay, at the time I really truly thought he was flashing his brights at me. I later learned that sometimes trucks and off-road vehicles have these fancy, super-bright headlights. When they drive over a bump or pothole, the lights bob up and down. So, if one of these guys is behind you, from your rear view mirror, it can give the appearance of someone flashing their brights.
But at the time, we had just moved to Small Town, Cornfield USA, after living in Europe for three years where I didn’t even have a car. I wasn’t familiar with this headlight phenomenon. The result: this Jeep’s lights were freaking me out in a major way.
As he followed me around one more turn, I pointed this out to my teen. Even though he’s not yet 14, I’ve started narrating my driving experiences when he’s riding shotgun, explaining what to watch for when turning left without an arrow or pointing out drivers who don’t use turn signals.
I’m always talking about being aware of your surroundings, and this Jeep tailing me was a great example.
I don’t know if it’s too many adventure movies, video games, or that news report we watch every morning, but both of our minds went to a very dark place.
“Mom, we can’t let him track us all the way home!” my teen warned.
I knew I had to be the adult in the car, the voice of reason. I rationalized, “There’s no way he’s going to turn into our neighborhood. This has to be a coincidence!”
However, my voice betrayed my building panic.
I told my kids that, while this was probably nothing, it was still a good idea to have a plan. Just in case.
“If he follows us into the neighborhood,” I suggested, “I won’t go to our street. I’ll take the first right turn, and we’ll wait in the cul-de-sac until he’s gone.”
As we approached the neighborhood turn-off, I put on my blinker. He didn’t. I breathed a sigh of relief.
“Okay guys, we’re fine,” I said as much to myself as to them.
But. Oh. No.
I turned. And he followed anyway!
The boys screamed.
Thankfully, I’d made a plan. I followed through without a second thought and turned right and pulled over. My stomach sank.
I wanted to fish out my cell phone, but there wasn’t time — he pulled in right behind me! Then, in what felt like slow motion, I saw the outline of the driver reach his right hand up to his sun visor.
I held my breath.
Then we watched as the garage to the house next to my parked car went up. And the Jeep pulled around me into his very own driveway.
The kids screamed again, and I shook my head in embarrassed laughter.
It didn’t take us long to realize that we were the creeps. Accidental stalkers! As it turns out, this guy was our neighbor, and we were the weirdos who pulled up to his driveway and sat there, screaming in the dark, on a total fluke.
In retrospect, I’m glad my soon-to-be driver was with me. When we debriefed the situation later, we decided that it would have been better to have just driven around our block. And that stopping on a dark, secluded street wasn’t such a great plan. A well lit, public place with people around (like the gas station up the street) would have been a much smarter place to park if we thought we may be in danger.
In the end, my teen saw firsthand the importance of being aware of his surroundings, making a plan and erring on the side of caution, and that prioritizing his safety outweighs feeling embarrassed for a couple of minutes.