Yesterday was Mother's Day, and after opening my presents, the kids and I decided spur-of-the-moment to drive half an hour down the road to a movie theater that was having a special Mother's Day retro-screening of Titanic, a favorite movie for both me and Anna, and one that David might be able to sit through.
It was a gamble, but it turned out great. David sat through the whole movie (all three hours and fifteen minutes!), Anna was completely bowled over by how awesome it was on the big screen. We got back in the car and headed for home up the windy back roads through the farmland and then toward the ridge. Our town sits just on the other side.
Everything was fine, until I glanced in my rearview mirror. About half a mile behind us on the road was a really sleek looking convertible. Don't ask me what kind. I'm not a car person, and I honestly have a hard time telling a Toyota from a Honda unless I'm looking at the symbol on the back. It was silvery-gray and it was sleek, and as they drew closer, I saw a bald, middle aged man and a much younger woman in the seat next to him and my first thought was, "Middle-aged crisis car."
My next thought was about how unkind that thought was. The young girl might have been his daughter, for all I knew. I glanced up at the rearview mirror again, and they had fallen back considerably.
And they were on the wrong side of the road, driving straight at oncoming traffic. This wasn't a momentary swerve, either. This was a full-on sustained cruise in the left lane on a winding road, heading up a ridge. I said, "Oh my God, look at him! He's driving on the wrong side of the road!" Anna turned around to take a gander, and shrieked. "He's swerving all over the place, Mom!'
Luckily, David was playing his DS, and completely oblivious. Anna was right: Convertible guy swerved back into the proper lane, and I rounded a sharp curve, losing sight of him.
"I wish I could speed up," I said to her. "He might be back behind us, but if he's drunk or drugged, he could speed up and that wouldn't be good."
"Why?" Anna asked, glancing back and really worried.
"Because we need to keep as much space as we can between us and him. Remember that for when you drive someday. If you see someone driving like an idiot, get as far away as you can."
Turn on the highway in the mountains photo via Shutterstock.
We'd rounded our curve and were on a straightaway again, heading for yet another hairpin curve. I watched a car go past in the opposite lane and swerve as he entered the curve, narrowly avoiding the convertible which was now much, much closer and still weaving all over the road. I saw the next curve coming up and I knew if he got too close, I'd have nowhere to go except the other lane, and pray neither he nor anyone else was in it.
What happened next probably happened in about two and a half seconds. I saw the oncoming truck. I heard Anna scream that convertible guy was too close. I glanced in the rearview mirror and he was in the exact middle of the road, only an inch or two from my back driver's side and he was either going to swerve to avoid the oncoming truck and slam into me or hit me and send us into the truck.
My brain registered the opening to someone's private drive just off the curve, and the very large tree on the side of it. And in that split-second, it reasoned that slamming the car into a tree might be more survivable than bouncing off of two cars like a pinball. In a total Jason Bourne/James Bond-esque move, I swerved into the driveway, skidding sideways, and slammed on my breaks.
The convertible flew past as the swerving truck clipped the bushes on the other side of road and my little Kia came to a stop with my bumper a few short inches from the tree. Anna and I took a moment to just stare at each other in shock, and David, who was still playing his DS and must've scored big, because as Anna and I sat there shaking, his voice broke in from the back seat with a loud, "Whoo hoo!"
It was just what we needed to break the ice. Anna and I laughed and laughed and laughed; the relief was cathartic.
"I thought we were gonna die!" She said. "He was going to hit us!"
"Yes, he was," I agreed.
"How did you even see the driveway?" She marveled. "It's kind of hidden. I didn't even see it."
"I don't know," I shrugged. "I just did."
She shook her head. "I don't know how you're so calm. I am seriously shaking, Mom. Seriously. How are you not freaking out?"
I didn't have time to freak out, I think. I was too busy thinking about you. And your brother, who is completely oblivious and still playing Super Mario Brothers. God Bless Autism today.
We put the car back on the road, and there was no twisted wreckage on the other side of the ridge, and I heard no sirens. I'm torn between hoping he got home without killing anyone and kind of wishing he hit a tree hard enough to hurt himself and teach him a lesson. Most likely, he pulled into his driveway crooked, laughing about his exhilarating ride and he'll drink and drive again, remembering how he's driven drunk before and it was no big deal.
Well, not to him, anyway. My kids and I beg to differ.
Anna, of course, called her bestie and tweeted and texted and Instagramed and Tumblr'd all about it. Me, I drop a blurb on FB just basically saying I had a brush with an idiot and I was glad to be alive. Then bedtime came, and suddenly, I've got Anna snuggled under my comforter in the bed next to me saying, "Mom? Can you hold me? I'm still scared and I don't know why."
I wasn't about to tell my 13-year-old that I would cheerfully hold her until she's in her 80s, so I just pulled her close and we talked. I told her it's okay to be scared. I was scared too, remembering it. Facing your own mortality is frightening, even if it's only for a split-second.
"What if I had woken up in a wrecked car, and you and David were dead?" she asked. "How awful would that be? Losing my mom on Mother's Day?"
This, I can speak to. This, I understand. I lost my Mom on Christmas, and the holiday will forever be tempered with that loss, to some degree. The circumstances weren't nearly that horrific, but still, I know how she feels.
"Well," I said, smoothing her hair. "It didn't happen that way. Maybe it's luck or divine intervention or my mad driving skills or a little bit of all of it. I'd like to tell you that nothing bad will ever happen in your life, but life doesn't work that way."
"I could have died," she said again. "I could have lost half my family, all because of one jerk."
I nodded, mostly because I didn't think I could speak around the lump in my throat. "I know," I finally whispered. "I know." I squeezed her tight. "But we're all here, and we're all okay, and that scenario is just that. It didn't happen. Not today. And we've all still got each other."
She fell asleep on my arm, and I couldn't feel my fingers. How many times did she do that as a toddler? A pre-schooler? I eased her off of it after the pain got excruciating, and I watched her sleep for awhile before I went in and looked at her brother, sleeping peacefully, unaware or uncaring that this night could have been so very different.
But it wasn't. Thank God, it wasn't. It didn't happen that way.
And I suspect that Anna and I will both be repeating that like a mantra, for a good, long time.
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