I only need to close my eyes, and I am in the car with two weary young men who have been driving for twelve hours. Snow surrounds them, a wicked, whirling blanket shrouding their windshield. The wind raises great wafts of the stuff, a fierce wall which their headlights barely dent. The two inch along, not daring to stop, unable to discern the surface of the road, shivering in their seatbelts, speaking only when necessary and in clipped, brief sentences.
Ahead, two lights seem to guide them. The road must be to the right of those lights, they reason, and the driver turns his wheel. Too late: the dark figure looms so close. A sharp jerk, the figure leaps to one side, and the little car glides forward, carried by its own weight, compelled by this undeniable principle of physics: A body in motion stays in motion until it slams into a stalled car hidden in the depths of a blizzard. Eye meet horrified eyes seconds before the two vehicles collide.
The passenger in the crumpled car texted his mother late Wednesday night. "This is kinda funny, but I got in another accident. I wasn't driving and nobody got hurt." Exhausted, medicated, curled in her bed with the electronics switched to silent, his mother does not see the text until Thursday morning when she rises from a fretful sleep. On waking, she thinks first of her failure to buy coffee, of the empty silver canister with its few little shards of broken coffee beans. She paces around the bedroom, walking off the effect of a desperately ingested painkiller,listening for the sounds of her husband moving around on the first floor.
Only when she has come fully awake does she reach for the cell phone and hit the power key. By that time, she has been out of bed for ten or fifteen useless minutes, while far to the north, those young men have collapsed from exhaustion a handful of hours after their eventual rescue. "Even the dog in the other car is okay," says the text, which she reads while standing by her wobbly antique writing desk, her face frozen in its grimace of shock. The prior history of their virtual exchange mocks her: She scrolls back to re-read her son's account of a blown tire, his fruitless struggle to stay out of the ditch, his reassuring conversation with the tow truck driver, the ride in a police cruiser back to school. That was less than a week ago! she thinks, before raising her voice to call her husband. "Jim, my God, Patrick was in another car accident."
The Upper Peninsula shudders under the brutal weight of winter. Nearly as far north as it is possible to go without a passport, it takes the brunt of a February storm and huddles deeper down into the rough land surrounding the lakes. The two travelers find themselves stranded. The nearest rental car sits useless in a parking lot hours away. To the south, a mother helplessly watches the drama unfold in short bursts of half-formed script scrolling through the little window of her cell phone's screen. We're okay, comes the next line, while she sits at her office desk. I've got beautiful pictures of the ice-carving festival. . . I talked to the AmFam agent. Act III, Scene 1: 11:30 p.m. Friday night, two students, eager to leave the daunting beauty of the Upper Peninsula, throw their backpacks in ahead of them and board a Greyhound bus for the first leg of a twenty-one hour odyssey back to Indiana.
February 9th, marks the thirty-first anniversary of the evening that I was struck by a dubiously documented Iranian driving a silver VW. In the last eight days, two of my children have been in a total of three accidents. I am not sure if they have made it possible for me to feel safe on Sunday, my personal jinx broken; or if instead, they have completely dashed any hope that I will survive parenthood with my last shred of sanity intact. Astoundingly, of the seven or eight people (and one canine) involved in the three incidents, not one sentient being sustained so much as a scratch. Three cars totaled or nearly so; one small Kia in need of two new tires and a replacement bumper; one tow truck driver still shaking from his frantic dive out of the path of that body in motion. But nobody hurt. Nobody killed. Where do you stand now, on the question of divine intervention?
I open a weather widget and see that the eastern seaboard cowers under a relentless onslaught of winter. I pull up a web page with a map of Michigan, and stare for a few shivering moments at the town towards which my only son-by-birth had been riding when that car succumbed to inevitability in a long, slow terrifying slide. I shake my head a little, then close the web page. The heady fragrance of coffee fills the house. I shut the computer, and head downstairs.
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