The Stranger Who Changed My Life: A Short Love Story

In this true short love story, a party girl meets her match as she passes through Montana with a traveling show.

by Joni Rodgers | from Reader's Digest Magazine

Joni RodgersI took in a deep, startled breath—winter, Irish wool, coffee, and fresh-baked bread—and then pushed away with a jittery half-joke. Something like, “Watch it. I have pepper spray.”

“OK,” he said with a broad baritone laugh. “Come for a walk, then. It’ll be nice.”

I shook my head. Alarm and skepticism warred with spreading, unsteady warmth behind my collarbone. “Walking around in the freezing dark with a total stranger is not nice,” I said. I tipped a glance to the well-worn gaiters. “Planning to do some cross-country skiing?”

“Riding my bike,” he said, and then added without apology, “I’m between vehicles.”

He held the heavy door open expectantly. I moved the pepper spray from my purse to my coat pocket and followed my heart out under the clear, cold stars.

“What are you reading?” I asked, because that question always opens doors of its own. I was in the habit of asking the nuns at the bus stop, a barber who paid me to scrub his floor once a week, elderly ladies and children at the park. To this day, I ask people who sit beside me on airplanes, baristas at Starbucks, exchange students standing in line with me. Over the years, “What are you reading?” has introduced me to many of my favorite books and favorite people.

The bear had a good answer: “Chesapeake. Have you read it?”

“No, but I love James Michener,” I said. “When I was 12, I fell in love with Hawaii and vowed that if I ever had a daughter, I’d name her Jerusha after the heroine.”

“Big book for a 12-year-old.”

“We didn’t have a TV. And I was a dork.”

He laughed that broad baritone laugh again. “Literature: last refuge of the tragically uncool.”

“Same could be said of bicycling in your ski gaiters.”

The conversation ranged organically from books and theater to politics and our personal histories.

Having embraced the life of an artsy party girl, I was the black sheep of my conservative Midwestern family, thoroughly enjoying my freedom and a steady diet of wild oats. He’d spent a dysfunctional childhood on the East Coast. A troubled path of drug and alcohol abuse had brought him to one of those legendary moments of clarity at which he made a hard right turn to an almost monkish existence in a tiny mountain cabin. He’d built an ascetic life that was solitary but substantive, baking bread at a local restaurant, splitting wood for his heating stove, staying out of trouble.

“That probably sounds pretty dull to you,” he said.

“Agonizingly dull, but don’t worry,” I said, and then patted his arm. “Maybe someday you’ll remember how to have fun.”

He shrugged. “Maybe someday you’ll forget.”

We talked about the things people tend to avoid when they’re trying to make a good impression: hopes subverted by mistakes, relationships sabotaged by shortcomings. My bus was leaving in the morning, and we would never see each other again, so there was no need to posture.

Fingers and chins numb with cold, we found refuge in a Four B’s Restaurant and sat across from each other in a red vinyl booth. We had enough money between us for a short stack of buckwheat pancakes. A few morning papers were delivered to the front door, and we worked our way through the crossword puzzle, coffee cups between our hands.

  • Your Comments

    • maria pitbull jen big l

      i dont want to put my family anymore problems than what we already have

    • maria pitbull jen big l

      i just had to tell my story true story thats all period couse no one will listen and belive me even help me its how it is not how u want it to be

    • maria pitbull jen big l

      hi this is a true love story i meet brian deegan founder of metal mulisha throught a good friend named the late jeremy lusk my name is maria its a long story so i make it short when jeremy lusk died my nickname became pitbull that was jeremys lusk nickname it passed it on to me it is what it is not always what u want but its for the better anyway i feel in love with brian deegan i did meet him talked to him some it just happend me falling in love with him i new i coudint tell him this in person because of who he was what he did all that plus he was married and i dont brake marreges up not that way so thought about it and finaly went to his website brian deegan metal mulisha website told him i new his best frien jeremy lusk and about me and other things just wanted him to know how iam couse i am honest dont lie thought nothing bad could happen to me couse i just told the truth that i have never told no one until i went to brian website i didint think nothing of it so before i new it i was arrested handcuffs they even took my comp away old one my dauhter was handcuffed to they scared everyone even my dog took me to jail i was in jail for 6 months gout out but now court made me take meds, have to see my parol officer, take therapy classes among other classes even go to court i turned 52 in jail my nerves , emotions physical is not the same i have been throught alot i could have died my now but becuse i have responsabilytys like been a mother i cant go so i deal with it its hard i cry alot stil confuded were did i go wrong what did i do wrong. i have problems now emotional and paranoid not to mention close afobic were i never had it before this happend even low self estem somtimes i wish i was with my mother in heaven but i cant. told my brother in chile about the case he told me this americans are stuped paranoid and dont know how to communicate i think its true. all this would have never happend if brian deegan would have comunicated with me but no i went to jail for falllling in love with him and i thiought he was my best friend at least i know the truth now hes not my best friend and i no longer in love with him i cant go to his website nothing with him couse i can end up in jail again even this i can go to jail again i came hear this website couse i cant go to his website i must tell my true love story so others can know be carful out there specialy falling in love with famouse pople what can happen now toorrow i have to go to court again who knows what will happen its spooky to me couse i never know if they will put u back in jail or come to your home and take u to jail my nerves are so bad i am not the person i use to be dont even have as much as energy like i use to this is my true love story all because i was in love with him and i thought he was my best friend i know he will never read this couse its not in his websites so he cant see it but at least i said what i had to say couse i have no one to tell who would listen to me and my ex well hes just my ex

    • Travis Woodhouse

      Great story and very well written.

    • j.k. lerroty

      It’s a wonderful story .

    • rehana

      super offer but i need door delivery