One might think my workplace would be eager to curtail operations early as to allow their employees to leave before the snow begins piling up on the roads. Alas, this is not the case. If anything, they seem to keep us longer because they fear the next shift of workers will simply say “screw this” and fail to report.
So, I finally depart, just before 3:00 am. I clear the ice and snow from my trusty minivan and begin the arduous journey home. The first sixteen miles aren’t too bad. Sure, the roads are snow-covered, but I’m on the interstates and they’re passable. The fun begins when I leave the highway, when I leave civilization, and begin trekking through the hinterlands.
Ten miles of backwoods driving. No street lights. No other vehicles around. Nothing but me, the trusty minivan, and a winter wonderland. Surely, the road is plowed, you say. Oh, you silly person. Plowing occurs much later, after the storm has passed — if at all.
The road winds and twists. At times, with the ferocity of the storm, I’m uncertain if I’m actually on the road or driving through a cornfield. But I’ve traveled this road too many times to stray. I know it like I know my own face. I live on this road. Twice a day, five days a week, for eight years, I’ve journeyed this path. I know all her tricks and surprises. I know that even though I’m going downhill, I must accelerate, despite the lack of traction, or I’ll never make it up the next incline. And then, at the top of the next hill, I must immediately slow to a crawl to ensure that I don’t end up sliding sideways or backwards down the next slope. I know you, road. You’re not stopping me.
But the worst part is to come. I must go over the mountain if I want to reach my home. If I ever die out here, die in the thralls of a nor’easter, it will be on this mountain. It rises — I’m just estimating — probably seven hundred feet over the course of a mile or two. I feel like I’m going straight up. And it’s not a “straight” straight- up. It’s a twisty, rambling, insane surge to the top.
At the bottom of the mountain, I begin to accelerate. I’m going about forty miles an hour. This is too fast for the conditions, but any less and I’ll never make it. As it is, I’ll be lucky if the trusty minivan makes it to the summit. I’m barrel-assing up the side of this mountain, fishtailing everywhere, sliding and skidding, trying to keep my speed, hoping no car is coming the other direction because I’m liberally utilizing both lanes. Oh… To my left is a significant drop-off. A cliff. I don’t know how far down it goes, but it’s a long way. Some of the way, there’s a guardrail. Some of the way, there’s not. Did I mention I can barely see? The wind is whipping snow everywhere and my windshield has frozen over. My wipers are useless. Yes, if I ever die out here, die in this frozen wasteland, it will be on this mountain.
A couple hundred yards from the peak, my troubles begin. I’m losing speed. The speedometer shows me going forty-five miles an hour; I doubt I’m going fifteen. I begin the slow, torturous ordeal of coming to a dead stop. I’m stuck. I sit there pondering my options. Go back down and find another route? There is no other route — not one that won’t take me an extra hour. But going back down may be the only thing I can do. I sit there, grab a swig of water, and decide to try again. I floor it. I begin moving, but barely. I have about one hundred yards to go. I spin the steering wheel back and forth, back and forth, searching for the tiniest bit of traction, while simultaneously hoping my tires don’t grab too much and send me shooting off the side of the mountain.
I rock the van to and fro, side to side — I’m inching my way to the top, laboriously, lugubriously, fretfully, fearfully. I’m sweating profusely. My frozen fingers are clutching the steering wheel like a drowning man clinging to a life preserver. I’ll never make it; I will make it; no I won’t; maybe…
Finally, the trusty minivan, the ten year old minivan that has never failed me, drags itself to the summit. I must have no tread left on my tires. They’ve been spinning for ten minutes, solid. But I’m here. I made it. The mountain has been conquered.
The rest of the ride is relatively uneventful. I slide a few times; I scale a few more smaller ridges; I even end up slightly sideways for a moment. But finally, I see the porch light of our home. My home. My babies are in there. My lady is in there. Everything I love is in that house. And I’ve returned.
I see them while I’m driving. I see my kids’ faces. I picture them running to me, laughing, arms extended, leaping at me and dragging me to the floor; I see them at the dining room table, all talking at once, talking nonsense and making-up “knock, knock” jokes that have no punchlines; I see them donning their snowpants and boots, their hats and gloves, their coats and scarves, and recklessly charging into the snowscape. I see them. I really do. They push me on. I must return to them.
I see my lady. The only woman I’ve ever loved. The one who inspires and needles me; the one who cajoles and cuddles me; the one who comforts and kisses me. I picture her taking down her hair; I see her cradling our babies; I see her charging at me, leaping into my arms, smothering me with her kamikaze kisses. I see her while I’m driving through this blizzard. She’s waiting for me there. My best friend. I must return to her.
And I have, at long last. I drop my coat, rip off my boots, and head immediately upstairs. She worries. She doesn’t like that I work nights – she never has nor ever will. She doesn’t rest soundly until she knows I’ve returned safely. Especially on nights like tonight, when Mother Nature is at her worst.
I crack the bedroom door and enter. Quietly, I sit at the foot of the bed and place my hand on her hip. She stirs, just a bit, but she knows I’m home. She grabs my hand, her grip rather strong for a sleeping beauty, and then digs her fingers into my wrist. The most beatific smile washes over her face. “I’m home, baby,” I say. “I’m home. I made it.” She’s content now. She looks at me briefly before snuggling back into her pillow, the slightest sigh escaping her lips. She continues rubbing my wrist and forearm before I pull away. “I love you,” I say. “So very much.”
Now, you can sleep well, my angel.