The third blizzard of the season was blowing in. The first two had kept me at home during the birth of my sister Barbara’s first baby, and six whole weeks had gone by without my being able to meet my new niece, the first baby born into our family in about 9 years, and the first on the East Coast in 24. I was foolishly determined, in spite of the hazardous driving conditions, to make it to our parents’ house, where Barbara had agreed to meet me, bringing the new baby with her.
Even the Interstate highway was clogged with snow. Traffic was moving along at top speeds of 45 miles per hour. I wasn’t as worried as I ought to have been; I had driven on snow often enough before.
I had almost reached Fredericksburg when my car skidded. I struggled to regain control, but after wobbling all over the road, smashed into the guard rail and spun around, facing the oncoming traffic.
Specifically, what was coming was an eighteen-wheeler. It was so close I could see the alarm on the driver’s face and the grim set of his jaw. There was no time to unbuckle my seatbelt and scoot over to the other side of the car, no time to do anything. I was going to be squashed like an ant when you step on it. I closed my eyes and prayed, “Thank You for granting me a quick death, and thank You for showing me true joy first.” And I waited. After a moment or two, I opened my eyes again.
The monster truck, instead of filling up my windshield, was now filling up my whole side window. It slid past my mirror, missing it by an inch, no more.
But it had missed! Suddenly, I was in first grade again, and I had walked to my father’s office from school to wait for him to drive us home.
Flashback: My father is showing a training film to his R.O.T.C. cadets, and I am watching it. The trainees in the film fire a cannon at an old Jeep. The cannonball falls a little short of the target. Dad stops the film to ask, “Was that a hit or a miss?” Some poor cadet answers, “That was a near hit.”
“No!” roars my father. “That was a miss! If you miss your target even by an inch, you may as well have missed it by a mile!”
The truck had missed me by an inch. That was as good as a mile. My knee caps began jerking up and down as the realization sank in that I was alive and unhurt. I was shaking all over, and then I burst into tears.
Nobody stopped to help me; nobody dared, in the worsening weather. So after several minutes, when no traffic was coming, I simply pulled into the road and turned around and, still sobbing, resumed driving.
This time I kept the speed to 30 miles an hour, keeping a careful, if tearful, eye on the speedometer. Another car right beside me was going the same speed. After a few minutes, I noticed a little girl in that car, about four years old, staring at me. She had probably never before seen an adult wracked with sobs; her big eyes were full of infinite sympathy as she struggled to comprehend. Well, nothing I could do about that. I tried smiling at her, but then fresh tears gushed forth. She kept silently staring.
Presently, it occurred to me that I hadn’t even gotten out of my car to inspect it. Was it even roadworthy? Might it explode at any moment?
I pulled off at the nearest exit, and into a gas station. Inside was a young attendant, a kid, who weighed something well over 300 pounds. “May I help you, ma’am?” he asked, with some alarm when he saw my red, swollen face.
“Yes,” I said, “You can. I really, really, need a big hug…”
I had come to the right place! He put his massive arms around my heaving shoulders.
“Coffee?” he asked.
“I-I don’t d-drink it, thanks…”
“Oh, that — that sounds – wonderful!” So he poured me some and I sat there drinking it while he went out to inspect my car.
“Nothing wrong with it except a long scratch down the side,” he reported. “You’re lucky it’s built like a ship.”
He wouldn’t accept any money, so I finished my hot chocolate and drove away. The sun had come out and as if on cue, as if by some miracle, the highway had become perfectly clear. I couldn’t believe it. There was no snow at all. I drove the rest of the way to my parents’ house at normal speed.
But the crying just refused to stop until Barbara walked in the door half an hour later and laid little Madison in my arms, and Maddy and I snuggled down together on Mom's sofa and slept, deeply, for two blissful hours.
That was exactly 12 years ago today.
(Sorry, I'm just not photogenic even when I haven't been crying; and I don't know why my hair looks that color, either...)
Sunday, February 10, 2008