A Pretty Girl Broke Down, I Stopped to Help — Look What Happened

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jeep family sunset silhouette

It started very innocently, I swear. I changed lanes on the bridge because the traffic in the right lane had totally stopped and I couldn't see why. I shifted into second gear, got ready to stomp the throttle, looked to the right and I saw exactly what the problem was. A minivan. It wasn't moving, and then I noticed the blond girl standing there utterly puzzled and stressed out.

"Oh, I know her." I laughed to myself, pulled over, blocked more traffic, got out and smiled at the girl. I had just come from my last class of the day at Arizona State, an African American lit course, and so had thousands of other students: all stopped in traffic because of the girl blocking traffic with her minivan.

Brooke, this blond I've known for just a while, looked at me and she seemed relieved to see someone she knew, if a little embarrassed. "I ran out of gas," she confessed.

"Well, let's go get you some. Come on."

"We just leave the car here?"

"It sucks, but it's out of gas on a bridge. Don't worry, everything will be fine. There's a gas station on the other side of the bridge."

I drove her down to the gas station and she fought the tears. So I tried to make her feel better by telling her about the countless times I had run out of gas, that it happens all the time and that it's going to be hilarous tomorrow. I wasn't so sure she was buying my effort. So I shut up. We picked up a few gallons, I drove her back and soon she was on the road again headed to work. Before she left, she made sure to tell me, "Thanks for being so nice about this. If my boyfriend was here, he would have made me feel dumb for running out of gas. So, thanks."


Months later, during a certain well-timed vacancy in her relationship status, Brooke and I went on our first real date. She had pulled her hair into a pony tail, wore black shorts and a blue sports bra. We went for a five-mile run, stretched, did some ab workouts in the grass, then went to the grocery store for some fruit. She said she'd like to do that again, so we did. Every Wednesday night we went running together in the late spring and early summer of 2000. She was 19, I was 24.

The first time she went rock climbing with me, Brooke twisted her ankle. It wasn't even on the climb, but on the bush-whack approach hike and it cut the trip short. I carried her to the car, a Land Rover actually, put her in the backseat, propped her foot on the center console and we began the slow drive out on a seven-mile Jeep trail. It seemed like she winced in pain and bit her lip as we bounced over every small boulder. I felt terrible. And her mom, who I saw a week later, was not happy with me.

She healed up quickly, and Brooke still wanted to go running with me on Wednesday nights. When winter came, we planned a week-long ski trip to Whitefish, Montana with a few more friends. When spring came, we planned backpacking in the Grand Canyon. On a routine basis we spent one night a week running, another night at the climbing gym, and on the weekends we were rock climbing or backpacking. That's how it went for a while — climbing, skiing, backpacking. And then one summer I bought my Jeep, a red 2002 manual transmission Wrangler.

Soon after, Brooke and I got engaged. Scientists say correlation doesn't imply causation, but just because it's not implied doesn't mean there's not a kernel of truth in there.

When we left for our honeymoon, we drove the Jeep. Drove it to Yosemite and came home through southern Utah. Then we drove it to Mexico for a kayaking trip on the Sea of Cortés. We drove it to every trail head for the following years. Then in November of 2006 right before bed Brooke stopped me in the kitchen of our house, started to cry, and dropped the news, "You're going to be a dad."

I couldn't sleep for two days. The entire timeline replayed in my head as I lay in bed at night. I stopped to help a pretty girl who was broken down on the side of the road, and now look at us.

Our daughter is now 5 years old, going to kindergarten, learning amazing things like Spanish, subtraction, and the names of the planets — "but don't get tricked by Pluto," she says, "it's just a dwarf planet not a real one." We also now have a 5-month-old baby girl, and I wish like hell she'd stop growing so I can enjoy forever the baby coos, and the way she breathes quickly though her nostrils when she gets excited, and her soft chunky cheeks, and the feel of her little fuzzy head on my shoulder as she finally gives in to exhaustion with a sigh and falls asleep.

Except bedtime around here is, admittedly, nuts. You're a parent, you know. It's downright warfare most nights to get the messes cleaned up, get the teeth brushed, to explain again and again why you don't get a cookie before bed, to deal with an awful lot of crying fits by one or both girls between 7:30 pm and 8:15 pm. It's the most exhausting 45 minutes — and I've endured a lot of canyon switchbacks with a heavy pack on my back. That shit's nothing compared to raising kids.

At the moment, there are no more weekly running dates for me and my wife. Or nights at the climbing gym. It's a brief stage we're in, one that's easy to get through when I pass by her in the kitchen, pat her bottom and tell her I like her hair in a pony tail because it reminds me of our beautiful start.


Happy Valentine's Day, y'all.
— Mark


Tony DeSanto
+3 / 0
# Tony DeSanto 2013-02-14 11:57
Nicely done; I'm sharing this with Kristen.
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Mark Stephens
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# Mark Stephens 2013-02-14 14:51
Gracias, Tony!
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+3 / 0
# Amelia 2013-02-14 13:54
Awww....so cute! And yes, totally agree - that hour or so before bedtime is the WORST! :) And what a great reminder that this is JUST a stage...whew! :)
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+2 / 0
# Jessica 2013-02-14 14:51
Love it! I'm such a sucker for love stories!
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John Soares
+3 / 0
# John Soares 2013-02-14 15:11
Great love story Mark. Thanks for sharing, and I'm sure you scored some points on the domestic front.
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Jenny Stone
+2 / 0
# Jenny Stone 2013-02-14 18:07
I love this, and I love you both. Happy love day! xoxo
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Nicole Maendel
+3 / 0
# Nicole Maendel 2013-02-21 14:52
I love, love, LOVE this! Thank you for sharing your beautiful story :-)
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Robb Eichelberger
+3 / 0
# Robb Eichelberger 2013-02-23 22:40
That's simply awesome.

I totally understand the bedtime now, and ours is only three months. I can't imagine two, I'm sure they tag-team.
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# Tiffany 2013-03-11 10:34
Ahhhh. What a great story y'all have! And I can definitely relate to the bedtime saga. Between dinner and bedtime, it's total chaos at our house. Of course, the mornings are not much better! ;-)
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# Guest 2014-02-20 14:31
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