I’ve worried obsessively about two things each day for the past month, and that one month has seemed to last forever. I worry that I’m going to fall down and break something, and I worry that I’m going to crash my car. It’s damn cold. It’s so cold that I have been wrapping my scarf around my face and wearing the hood up on my coat. I’ve worn tights under my slacks, and layers of shirts and sweaters. I crave fleece, hot coffee, and my space heater. I can’t get my bath water hot enough to relieve the cold that has crept into my bones. At night we all cuddle together under blankets. We eat foods that warm us and add to our bulk. We’ve become slow and deliberate as we move around the house wrapped in blankets.
It is dark and cold when the alarm clock rings in the morning. It’s hard to haul myself out of bed knowing that the cold will be waiting to batter me all day long. My car doesn’t ever really get warm on the half hour drive to the office. It wouldn’t be so bad if I could drive to my office and stay there all day, but my schedule this week has had me here, there, and everywhere. I can’t seem to stay in one place long enough to get warmed up.
Yesterday, I was still handling it. The cold wasn’t bothering me. I love all kinds of weather. I’m a weather geek. I love the Midwest, and extremes in weather are one of my favorite things about living here. Yesterday, I was awed by the forces of nature. The sun dogs were beautiful as I drove to work. The mist rising from the river intrigued me enough to lure me across the frozen tundra to stand for a moment and gaze upon the beauty before me. Last night, I admired the patterns of frost on the inside of our kitchen windows. Last night, I hadn’t been pushed to my limits. Today was another story altogether.
Today sucked. Utterly and completely sucked. I had four meetings outside of my office. That meant that I had to walk to the parking deck and climb four flights of stairs each time I left the office. There is ice on the stairs, ice on the street, and ice on the sidewalk. I live in fear of slipping. I imagine a broken hip, or maybe a broken wrist as I reach out to break my fall. Without fail, I imagine the next moment will bind me falling, losing my footing and crashing to the ground. There is always a close call, a moment when I almost slip, just to drive home my fear of falling on the ice.
Each day on the drive to work, I see more and more cars that are battered. It looks like a war zone for the vehicles and their weary drivers. Where it was once unusual to see a broken, dented car, it has become commonplace to see bashed in bumpers or cars missing large hunks of fender. Road crews haven’t been able to fight back the wind that blows the snow across the roads as soon as it has been cleared. Black ice and ruts of snow are followed by dry patches. There is no rhyme or reason. The salt doesn’t work when the temperatures remain below zero. Driver beware. No matter the weather, business continues. Schools may close, but work marches on and on. For some, it seems to be a source of pride that they show up for work no matter how strongly worded the warning from the National Weather Service may be. I guess I am one of those die-hard people.
Late this afternoon, I lost track of time. I was intent on work. The space heater was finally thawing out my toes. A delicious cup of coffee was steaming in front of me. I had been able to stay put for a couple of hours and attack the pile of papers that had multiplied on my desk. The building maintenance man came in around 4:30 to change the fluorescent light above my desk. I asked him to come back at 5:00. At 5:00, I asked him to come back around 5:30. When he came back a half hour later, he looked ticked off to see me still sitting at my desk. Everyone else had already gone home, so I gathered up my things and bundled up to go out into the cold night.
I felt rushed and distracted as I gathered up my stuff to leave my office. I felt like I was forgetting something as I walked outside, but I didn’t know what. I carefully navigated my way across the snow to the parking deck. I trudged up the stairs, worrying the entire time that I would slip on ice. I wasn’t quite sure where I had parked my car the last time in, so I grabbed my keys to make my horn honk. I saw the tail lights flashing on my filthy car. Oh, how I wish I could wash it, but it’s too cold. I usually keep my car clean. The car washes aren’t even open in this weather. The grime and salt will stay until the temperatures rise. I wedged my way into the seat, careful not to touch anything so the grime didn’t get on my clothes, careful to wedge myself and my bags into the car without slipping on the ice. By the time I started my car, I was freezing, and my fingers were already stiff.
I drove down the ramp to exit the garage. As I came around a corner, a car began to back out on my left side. I tried to stop, but my car kept on sliding. I cranked the wheel to the right and stepped on the gas. The other car just kept on coming. Time seemed to slow down as I watched the black car backing toward me. I kept my eyes of the rear of my car. The other car just missed me by inches. I ended up sliding sideways and backwards into an empty (thankfully!) parking space. The other driver didn’t appear to have seen me at all. I accelerated out of the space I was now backed into, and headed for the exit. The parking attendant had seen it all. He said, “She almost hit you! Boy, you didn’t need that. I’m going to give her a piece of my mind when she gets up here.”
I simply thanked him and told him to have a good night. As I drove along on my way home, I was shaking. I had trouble catching my breath. I was so angry that I hadn’t honked my horn. Why hadn’t I honked the horn? Where were my instincts? All I could think about was my car. What if something had happened to my sweet car? Then I was upset for having such foolish pride over a car. I love my car. There, I’ve said it. I LOVE MY CAR. I am dreadfully afraid of my car being damaged. “Damn,” I thought. “Damn me, and my foolish pride.” I was so upset for being upset over my CAR. Why in the world do I care so much about a stupid car? I was shaken as I drove the rest of the way home. Eventually, the stress of my day, the cold, the near-miss of my car, got the best of me, and I broke down in tears. I felt foolish as tears streamed down my face in the cold darkness of the car. I felt alone, lonely, displaced, and dejected.
It wasn’t just the cold or the near accident that had upset me. The pressure and stress of work, the dead of winter, the changes, the many, many changes of the past months have left me vulnerable. It doesn’t take much to tip the scales in the wrong direction. It is in the darkness and solitude of my car that my guard can finally be let down, and the tears can flow. I don’t have to be a professional. I don’t have to be a Mom or a wife. I can just be ME. Maybe that is one of the reasons why I love my car so much. It is there, in that place, in my car, that no one can see me, no one expects anything from me. I can just simple be. Me.