The moment I toed the edge of the stair and felt the slick ice I should have known. As I made my way carefully across the patio to the back gate inch by inch, I thought this is ridiculous. When I saw the cars encased in a glacier as if some evil scientist had blasted them with his Deep Freeze Blammo Ray, THE VOICE (you know the one, you might think you don’t, but you do) said “Nope, go back to bed, not worth it.” The neighborhood was silent in the pre-dawn. The streets and sidewalks looked deceptively wet, but they were actually coated with a thin layer of deadly ice. Freezing rain had been falling in the area since about 4 AM, which no one anticipated. And that meant no one had done a damn thing to treat surfaces.
I stood there for a minute sizing up the thickness of the ice on the windows. I just wanted to go to the gym like I do every morning. I’ve come to rely on the morning burst of endorphins to shake off the stress of these precarious times where it feels like each minute brings us one giant step closer to the end of days. Dramatic, I know. True? Maybe.
I squeezed the handle of the car door mightily and yanked until I heard the ice crunch and the metal finally gave way. The door popped open. Success. You could go later, THE VOICE said. I rolled my eyes, arguing with my phantom self: but I was standing here now, I was dressed, I was vertical, functioning now! I didn’t want to go later, I whined like Veruca Salt. I was not going to let a bit of ice stop me.
Two hours later it was a bit of ice along with another car that literally stopped me.
I wasn’t going more than 25 MPH on the side street that I traveled on every day. A row of cars flanked my right, making the already narrow street even more constricted. I wasn’t distracted, but I wasn’t entirely alert. I was a little on auto-pilot, a setting I’ve been defaulting to these days just to cope. A grey car that only seconds ago had been parked on the side nosed out onto the road. I was a decent length behind the car, but I gently pumped the brakes, anticipating the person would be driving slow or might have trouble getting under way. Instead of the gradual yield I expected, a horrible grinding sound filled the car. The anti-lock brakes engaged, taking me into a stutter, but not a stop. I pressed the pedal more firmly to the ground and felt nothing but give as if it were made of warm clay.
“I can’t stop! I can’t stop! I can’t stop!” I repeated out loud to no one, horrified at the outcome I could clearly see.
I saw the woman’s head shudder as I slammed into the back of her car. She pulled to the side. I did the same. I fumbled around in my bag for my wallet, I would need that, right? My phone. Cars continued to make their way gingerly down the slippery street.
We were both out of our cars talking at the same time.
I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry! Are you okay? I couldn’t stop! Are you okay? I’m so sorry! I couldn’t stop!
I AM SO FUCKING PISSED!
She bent over and screamed. For a brief second I wondered if she were going to take a swing at me. The truism that we can’t know what trouble or grief or trauma each of us shoulders on the daily floated across my mind. Maybe she was fighting cancer, maybe she had just broken up with someone, maybe she, like so many of us, was just broken. I would take whatever she had to release, that’s all I knew.
I continued apologizing, asking if she were okay, repeating my lame, obvious statement: I couldn’t stop! I tried! I couldn’t stop! My voice ripping.
She shook her head, saying I know, I know the roads, the roads are bad, I know, it’s…I almost was going to just turn around and head back home and get back into bed and I just…I’m just so pissed!
We started laughing and crying a little, both of us shook up. No one was hurt. Neither of our cars had so much as a dent or scratch. The front license plate of my car had kissed her bumper. She dislodged the black plastic and handed it to me and we laughed harder.
I got it. It wasn’t just the accident, the momentary threat to your well-being, the inconvenience of it all. It was the sense of buying into the illusion that you’re on solid ground when, in reality, you’re simply walking lightly across quick sand. That reminder is hard to deal with, but necessary to get. We’re not in control, but that doesn’t mean we get to sleep walk through our lives. It doesn’t mean that we shirk our responsibility to live with our eyes and hearts wide open. Tune-in, not out. Shut up and hear the message. Connect or collide, the Universe seemed to be saying to the two of us.
I should have stayed home, but I’m glad I didn’t.