And every stranger’s face I see
Reminds me that I long to be homeward bound
I wish I was homeward bound
Home, where my thought’s escaping,
Home, where my music’s playing,
Home, where my love lies waiting silently for me.
“Homeward Bound”, Simon & Garfunkel
And there I sat, the driver of an undriveable car, on the side of a major highway with hundreds of other drivers whizzing by. I knew something was wrong with the minivan by the grinding and nails-on-a-blackboard skreeeeech! skreeeeeeech! skreeeech! sounds I heard coming from underneath the hood.
It’s just the cold wind or something, I rationalized. I’d just gotten a full tank of gas and vaguely remembered something about the cold and new gas, or maybe I was inventing this plausible reason for what looked like a potential problem looming. Yes, in hindsight, I should have turned around and gone back to my office or to a nearby mechanic. Instead, I thought my fervent prayers of “just let me make it home, just let me make it home” would miraculously fix the skreeeeeech!ing. It sounds like I was slamming on the brakes, only I was going 60 miles an hour while strategically placing my hand on the steering wheel in a position where I couldn’t see the engine light a-glow.
And then I didn’t need to see the engine light a-glow, because everything flickered and the only thing glowing was the sun as it slowly set into the 10 degree evening. And there I sat, frantically trying to find the AAA card (not in my wallet) and then calling The Dean, who arranged for AAA to send a tow truck. I moved over to the passenger side, the vibrations from the other cars going by at 70, 80 and 85 mphs doing a great job of unnerving my already shot nerves.
The tow truck would be about a half hour, and almost precisely at that mark, orange flashing lights appeared behind me. Sputtering, my engine attempted a feeble sign of life with a flick of the windshield wipers. I got out of the car, trudged through the gravel on the shoulder, and stared into the headlights of a Department of Transportation truck.
“You have a tow truck on the way?” asked the driver. I replied that yes, I did, but it might be a little while.
“I’ll wait with you here until it comes,” he replied, explaining that he had been finishing up his shift but decided to take another run down the highway in case anyone needed help, beings that it was such a cold night. I told him I was most appreciative. Perhaps noticing the Autism Awareness magnet on the back of my car, he asked if I had any kids in the car at the moment.
No, I didn’t – and thought back to saying goodbye this morning to Betty who returned the sentiment by yelling that she absolutely did not need a hug and could I please leave her alone right now? I restrained the urge to tell her to give me a freaking hug, dammit, because how would she feel if I wound up in a ditch and she didn’t see her mother again? Instead, I calmly – in Beyond Time-Out language, told her that I needed a hug and when she refused, told her to have a nice day and that I loved her.
No, I said to the Department of Transportation driver, my kids aren’t in the car tonight.
And then the tow truck arrived with chains strong enough to drag my pathetic, unwashed minivan up, up, up onto the bed of the truck. I hopped in the front seat and as we discussed logistics, noticed a glow of a cell phone behind me. Another passenger – or as she later identified herself on the phone, “Hey, it’s Lexi, Bobby’s girl.”
Lexi … the name of my cousin who died as a baby, who had she survived her open-heart surgery and whatever other medical trials would undoubtedly come her way would have just turned 29. Which was probably close to the age of Bobby’s Girl accompanying him and me and my mommy van rattling behind us.
An impromptu trio, we traversed half the state en route to my mechanic of choice where we “dropped” the minivan, in tow-truck-ease, Bobby and his Girl on their cell phones the whole time, texting, calling each other’s phones when they were within a hair’s breath of each other in the cab of the tow truck, making plans with 23 of their closest friends to go bowling tomorrow night to celebrate Bobby’s birthday. Two kids, they seemed to be. I wondered about them, how long he had been Lexi’s Boy and she Bobby’s Girl, if they’d always lived in this state that I now called home (yes, they were natives), how many more birthdays they’d celebrate together, if they had plans for the future together. I listened to the affection in his voice as we stopped for diesel fuel, him wondering if she was taking too long in the convenience store because she was striking up a conversation with someone.
And then finally, finally, my key turning in the lock, the warmth of a fireplace aglow, the running of Betty to the door.
“Where were you?” she said, wrapping her arms around me and giving me a big hug.
I’m right here now, I answered.