Making good time despite a late start from my brother’s, I was thinking about what I was going to post for New Year’s on Facebook and LiveJournal. I was thinking how much I’d miss my brother and his crazy kids after spending a week with them. I was even thinking about my priorities at work this coming week.
The one thing I wasn’t even remotely considering was a massive doe jumping directly in front of me.
All I can remember is a flash of brown in the headlights, a terrific crunch, and being showered with shredded glass as the driver’s side window shattered. I must have had the presence of mind to immediately pull over onto the shoulder and park the car, since that’s where I found myself.
I sat there, staring at the broken glass and what I could see of the mangled fender, listening to hooves on asphalt somewhere behind me. I actually had to take a deep breath, look at myself in the rearview mirror, and say–as calmly as I could muster–“That just happened.”
All those previous concerns were wiped away, replaced with just two notions: “I’m lucky to be alive” and “What am I going to do now?”
The 911 dispatcher might have been surprised at how calm I sounded, but I think that was just shock talking. While waiting for the police, I found myself focused on the glass. It was everywhere, in bite-sized yet razor-sharp chunks: on my seat, in my clothes, in my shoes, in half-a-dozen tiny cuts on my hands and back. Methodically, I picked the stray pieces up with my gloves and threw them out the window.
Guess I really needed something to focus on, something that I could control in a situation that was otherwise pure chaos.
The night guy at the Knights Inn was bemused but sympathetic when he saw a mangled Honda dragging bits of bumper pull in escorted by a county sheriff’s car. I had to keep telling myself that I could handle this, that I was an adult, that this was just another kind of reference question and as a librarian I had to do was find an answer.
I returned to the Honda and managed to cut away most of the really mangled portions of the bumper and wheel well, which was easier than it sounds due to the car being mostly plastic. Duct tape and a garbage bag served to keep out the wind and the dew until the next morning.
Not knowing how the day would turn out, I went to the motel office for their “continental breakfast”: a loaf of bread and a toaster, a rack of Little Debbie cinnamon buns, two boxes of cereal, and one pitcher each of milk and orange juice in a minifridge–all tucked away in a dark corner of the motel lobby. I took two of everything, and sat in a rickety chair pulled up to a cheap pressboard table, watching the sun rise out the window and friends post jubilant New Year’s photos on Facebook.
It’s been a long time since I felt that pathetic, or that alone.
Lord knows what those people must have thought, seeing me hacking away at a clear plastic storage tub lid with a hacksaw and shears in the Wal-Mart parking lot the next morning at 9am. It took me an hour to get the plastic cut to size and taped in place. It seemed to hold well enough, and the car seemed to run all right.
Then the window came off entirely a few miles down the road.
I was able to grab it in time to hold it on and pull over to the shoulder, but three-quarters of the tape had come off, and freeway traffic was whizzing by at 70-80mph, to say nothing of the chill wind and light rain. Made sitting in the motel lobby seem like paradise, to be honest. Desperately, I reattached the window with latticed strips of duct tape, one over another, and damn if that roadside patch job on I-70 didn’t see me through to Memphis.
I skipped lunch, skipped dinner, and drove the entire ten hours with nothing but snacks, cinnamon rolls, and Red Bull. The stereo still worked; perhaps in the spirit of danger and adventure I keyed in the complete Indiana Jones series to see me home.
Almost kissed the pavement at home when I finally limped in.
Fired up my old Escort to serve as a stopgap, went for a few quick essentials at the store…only to find as I pulled out that the Escort’s brake pedal had gone completely slack. Worse, the emergency brake, which hasn’t worked well for some time, completely failed too.
Luckily traffic was light on the way back, and I was able to coast home at low speed. I refilled the reservoir with fresh brake fluid, only to find that there was still no pressure and that the fluid was leaking out of the line. I immediately set out for the tire and brake place across the street–carefully, using park, my hazard blinkers, and what little braking power there was judiciously.
The mechanic said the problem was irreparable. My Escort’s brake line has rusted through, and with the car now eighteen years old and eligible to vote or be drafted in time of national emergency, the spare parts aren’t made anymore. I drove–well, coasted–the Escort home and took stock. Two cars, both with working engines, both crippled by other problems. It’s such a cruel coincidence I would have laughed if I hadn’t been crying.
Happy New Year indeed…
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