Wednesday, March 3, 2010


My sister was just in town from Toronto for a few days; it was so wonderful to be able to spend time with her and my dad--our time together after my mom's death was so intense and profound, both painful and beautiful, and we all needed another dose of that communion.

Her last night here, she and Asher and I were driving back from dinner, and my car started to stutter and slow on the freeway. My gas light had been on for a while, so I figured I must have run out of gas (which made me feel like a dodo, especially since my sister had asked if we should stop to get gas at the start of the drive, but I assured her we had enough to get back.) I coasted to the shoulder of the off ramp where the car conked out completely. It was a long off ramp, and we were near the top, so cars were whizzing past us at freeway speeds as they exited, rattling the car, rattling my nerves. Asher was asleep in his car seat in the back, blissfully unaware, while I imagined cars smashing into us.

"We should probably stay in the car where we're strapped in, huh?" I said to my sister, who agreed. A seatbelt might not do a whole lot if a car going 70 hit us while were were parked, but it seemed better than being completely unprotected. I called Michael, who said he'd come get us. Then the hazard lights turned off, and the interior lights started to fade after I turned them on so drivers would be able to see us, and I realized we were dealing with issues beyond an empty tank; I was worried that people wouldn't be able to see the car, so we got out and stood on the edge of the shoulder, which probably made us even less safe. I asked my sister if we should climb down the embankment next to the ramp, but she wisely noted how steep it was, and that it probably wasn't a good idea to pick our way down it in the dark, carrying a baby. Asher had woken up, hysterical, before we got out of the car, but being out in the cool night air calmed him down (of course I worried about him getting too cold after getting over pneumonia--he's doing much better, by the way--but we had a little blanket to cover him up.) We eventually decided it would be safer to just get back in the car and put our seat belts back on, so we did, much to Asher's distress. I sat in the back with him and tried to stretch the seatbelt enough to be able to lean over and nurse him in his car seat, but unfortunately that didn't work.

Michael was taking a lot longer than I expected, and I was getting more and more rattled by the huge trucks barreling past us, so I gave him a call. He had stopped to put gas in a gas can, but something was wrong with the can so he had to get a new one and no one at the gas station was able to open it for quite some time. He was on his way, though, and would be there soon.

It was such a relief to get into his car after he pulled up, but as soon as we started to drive, gas fumes began to choke us. We cracked open the windows, but the smell kept getting stronger. "Do you think it spilled?" I asked; Michael pulled into the driveway of an apartment complex to check. Sure enough, the trunk of the car was full of gas. We got out of the car again and sat on the curb of the driveway as Michael tried to clean the gas out with a towel he happened to have in the trunk. I didn't feel right putting the baby back in the car with the fumes, so we called a cab company, which said they'd have someone pick us up in about twenty minutes. As I huddled on the curb nursing Asher, I imagined I looked like a refugee, but then Michael smiled and reminded me "This is a comedy, not a tragedy" and even though I had been laughing, mostly nervously, throughout the experience, it sunk in that he was right. We would be home soon, safe. This was just a comedy of errors (unless someone walked by with a match near all that spilled gas. I couldn't seem to get my worrying self to quiet down completely).

The cab showed up and my sister and I hooked Asher's car seat into the back and piled in on either side of him while Michael drove the fumy car home. The cab was warm and the driver was nice and my sister and I sunk back into the seats, laughing, and then crying about our mom a little, and soon we were at my house, safe and sound.

I realize how many times I've used the word "safe" above, and how scary it felt to think our safety was compromised. I think about my mom toward the end of her life, when she thought she was being followed, being poisoned, being drugged, being sabotaged, and it breaks my heart to think of how afraid she must have felt. Going through her house afterwards, I found a letter she had written to one of her neighbors when she thought another neighbor had installed some sort of surveillance equipment on their roof to monitor her. "I feel unsafe", she wrote toward the end, and that simple sentence has haunted me. It was awful to feel acutely unsafe for about an hour, but she had started to feel that way all the time. We'll never know exactly why she chose to end her life--her last note to us wasn't suicidal; in fact she was asking for more time to prove her allegations--but I have to take some comfort in the fact that she is no longer afraid.


  1. 失意人前,勿談得意事;得意人前,勿談失意事。........................................

  2. Hi Gayle, Your tale/essay of "feeling unsafe" gives me an excuse to share one of my favorite quotes. I know you live it yourself!

    "Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. Security does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than exposure."
    Helen Keller

  3. I liked this.

    I would say most people are like Asher, blissfully unaware of just how much danger they are really in at any given moment.

    Statistically you were probably in more danger driving towards the freeway, or driving on the freeway, than you were parked on the side of the off ramp, even though intuitively it doesn't feel that way with all those trucks thundering passed.

    I think at most we can hope to have the illusion of safety.

    I liked this. If I didn't say so already. Glad you're ok!