I wasn’t expecting the weather to wake me up before my 3:45 alarm. It wasn’t the sounds of pouring storms. It was instead the soft, pitter patter of rain like from a white noise machine. I shrugged and got out of bed. Was today going to be a good day because I didn’t hit snooze three times?
It was 4:15 a.m. when I headed out for work. Starbucks has to be open for the early bird who needs caffeine to catch the worm.
When I started work again at the beginning of the pandemic, the highway made me anxious. It had been months since the last time I drove more than forty miles per hour, and I didn’t want to crash my car again. During winter break, I made a left turn and a pickup truck ran the light to smack right into me. If that truck hit me a split second sooner, he would have T-boned me and totaled my car. Luckily, only my rear bumper was dented. It took months to work out all the insurance paperwork and repairs.
Now it was August. I’d been driving on this road every other day for five months. I’d thoroughly overcome my fear. After all, only truckers drive in the middle of the night, and they always stay out of the left lane. Spotify assumed today was a Jim Croce day. Folk music is perfect driving music because it sparks the memory of long family road trips.
You know the rain may blow
The snow may snow
And the turnpikes they may freeze
But they don’t bother ol’ Speedball
He goin’ any damn way he please
I was so accustomed to this route, I knew every twist and turn in the road. I didn’t have to watch the signs because I had read them so many times before. I leaned back in my seat, loosened my grip on the wheel, and pressed the gas.
It was still pitch black out and the light from the lamp post was hazy from the rain. The eerie mist was perfect for an indie film or a watercolor, but I sped by too quickly to savor. The highway at night has this lawlessness to it. Traffic doesn’t exist. No policeman would be awake at this hour to patrol the empty lanes. Most of the truckers are making overnight deliveries; you feel slow when you’re going only ten over.
Wait. I turned my wheel to the left, but the car didn’t yield. Suddenly, I was about to hit the median. Turning my wheel to the right only steered me straight toward the side of an 18-wheeler. My brakes weren’t working. All the trucks around me were honking and I knew it was definitely my fault. My car continued to lose control on the slick asphalt.
My mind was racing. What would Mom and Dad think? I don’t want to crash the car again and I don’t have the money to pay for the repairs and our car insurance already went up because of my recklessness and how am I supposed to explain this to them?
I tried turning the wheel, slamming the brakes and even the gas. Nothing I did had any effect on the car’s steering. There wasn’t anything left to do, so I froze. I sat straight up. My hands gripped the wheel for dear life. I held my breath. The tires lost their friction, but the radio was still working fine.
One day I looked into my rear view mirror
And a-comin’ up from behind
There was a Georgia State policeman
And a hundred dollar fine
Well he looked me in the eye as he was writin’ me up
And said “Driver, you been flyin'”
And “Ninety-five is the route you were on
It was not the speed limit sign”
Just as suddenly as it had lost control, my car swerved into the left lane and drove like nothing had happened. I drove under the speed limit for the rest of the five minutes it took to get to my destination. I shuffled into work, shaking off the loose raindrops and the butterflies. After all, “mental breakdown” isn’t in the dress code.
Work that day wasn’t special. I made drinks for cranky, uncaffeinated adults and whiny little kids. I smiled through my mask and went on with my day. I took the side streets home.
The next day I went to work, drove on the highway, sped, didn’t hydroplane, pretended nothing happened.
I carried this weight with me for about a week. Strangely enough, my anxiety came from my realization that I wasn’t scared about dying in a car crash. In the moment, I was too hung up on the burden of potential car repairs, rather than about potential hospital bills, or worse—funeral bills. I’ve been struggling with my anxiety for years now, but this indication that I cared about this car more than my own life really scared me. Was this a sign my mental health was taking a nosedive? I don’t think it was, but this evidence said otherwise. It can’t be good that these were my priorities.
When I finally opened up about this experience to my parents, I got the usual “you should have been more careful” spiel. More importantly, though, I learned that every driver swerves on wet roads from time to time.