The coming storm on 90 west looked a lot like this. (Photo found here.)
A few minutes later, it looked like debris flying horizontally over the Pike, night-like light, bright flashes of lightning, and a downpour that amounted to almost zero visibility.
Then came the hail, and hazard lights, traffic coming to a crawl, me trying to relax my hands rather than grip the steering wheel, carefully maneuvering over to the far right lane and hugely relieved to be able to make out the sign stating that the next rest area was 1/2 mile away. We exited the highway and pulled into a parking spot, hearts pounding. Mani & I have both driven in our share of weather, but today was in the top five in terms of harrowing road conditions.
We’d left Amherst at 8:15am to head to Boston for two doctor’s appointments. There was heavy traffic on the westbound side of the Pike as we got on 90 East at Palmer; I read tonight that two tractor-trailers crashed there this morning. Yikes. And yet, not knowing that this morning, I just sighed with selfish relief that we were driving in the opposite direction.
Fast forward six hours–after a nutrition appointment at the Brigham, the Faulkner hospital in Jamaica Plain for a neurology/pain clinic follow-up, and eleven vials of blood drawn later–and it would be safe to say that Mani was more than ready to get home. Being in the car is not fun for her; the vibration hurts her feet and sitting for that long in one position is painful. I was a little tired of Boston drivers honking at me, enough so that I missed our exit from 95 north onto 90 west and had to swallow back tears for doing so. It delayed us by maybe five minutes.
I had chatted with Aviva while Mani was in the lab; she texted me a picture of how the storm in Amherst looked from her room and said, “Ummmm… you might not want to drive home in this.” I told her it was hot and sunny where we were. Which it was at the time.
But not five minutes after getting on the Pike after the exit-missing moment, the sky grew dark. We felt so lucky that that rest area was so close by. The light was amazing–that intense contrast of dark greys and blues against neon sunlit greens–and when the rain let up, the steam rising from the pavement looked surreal.
We both had to pee, but a woman near the entrance to the rest area told us that the power and the water were out throughout the building, so we hobbled back to the car and decided to forge on. Within moments, traffic was at a standstill. We spent the next 75 minutes or so bumper to bumper, sandwiched between huge trucks as emergency vehicles sped by in the shoulder.
By the time we passed the stretch where the accident–or accidents, we’re not really sure–occurred, the sky had cleared again and rays of light were beaming onto the still-wet trees, making bodies of water as we passed them look mirror-lit and somehow deeper.
I noticed dual impulses: The first was all human. To call my sister, who I thought might be in the Boston area today for work. To talk to my girls, even though as far as they knew we were never almost not fine. And in fact, we were never not fine. But there was that feeling of having been through a thing, or come close to a thing. And then there was the writer impulse, my brain already piecing together unrelated things in an attempt to construct a narrative:
If I hadn’t missed the exit, the storm would’ve started after we passed the rest area, we’d have been stuck on the highway and closer to the accident…
None of this is true, of course. Or at least there’s no way of knowing and it doesn’t really matter; we are home, safe and sound thank God, and that’s that. There was an accident, and I don’t know if anybody died but the license plate of one of the cars with its side bashed in was “ZL” which reminded me of z”l (abbreviation for the Hebrew that means “May his/her memory be a blessing”). This gave me chills and I hope everyone is ok and will never know beyond what I found on Twitter:
Traffic cleared after the site of the accident. We got off near Worcestor to pee (finally!!), and both resisted a very strong but apparently not overwhelming urge to buy a pack of cloves (day #36 for Mani and #27 for me). We got home around 6:30pm. And then, while I was on the phone with my mom, telling her about our day, I looked out our bedroom window and saw the rainbow I’d been waiting for all day. “Mom, I have to go! I’ll call you back!” I practically hung up on her to run outside.
“You are so blessed,” a friend from several of my writing groups wrote in a comment on Facebook. I told her I hadn’t taken it that personally. But maybe it is personal, and the “you” is plural. We are so blessed, to be home safe, to have medical care, family to call, friends to write to and kids to love, faith to rest in and work to feed us body and soul.
No matter the season, the storms can be scary, violent. They come on fast and end as quickly, though during can feel eternal. Rest stops are godsends and near misses leave us shaken and humbled and more connected to loss and human fragility. And the clearings are magnificent, when they come, the rainbow where you can differentiate every single color, stand there on the side porch marveling as it brightens and fades.
And onward we go. So glad to be here. And that you’re here with me, reading, writing, storytelling, breathing, practicing this crazy harrowing beautiful thing called being alive.