We drove for seven hours before hitting the rain. Three more to go and it was a downpour.
Lightning cut the sky while silence in place of thunder instilled an eerie anxiety. The clouds were thick, bulging with a vengeance, and the dark was malicious.
Isaiah snored in his car seat while Lindsey sat next to him in the back, cradling him as much as a mother can in a Chevy Equinox. I was hunched over the steering wheel, petrous like a gargoyle, mute and resolute. The wipers struggled to keep up, and the car rattled in the wind. Prime colors of street signs and the piercing lights of other cars bounced off black puddles, puzzling my view. This all accumulated as pain in my neck, competing with the aching in my lower back. If you’ve been stressed behind the wheel before, clinging to it like your final lifeline in a weather storm, you know the feeling.
I adopted the attitude I’d had when I was 18-years-old, driving eight hours to college in southern Illinois. If a cop were to pull me over in the sixth hour, I’d admit to my wrongdoing and simply explain how I’d been on a trek longer than the Israelites were in the wilderness. And I wouldn’t care if he gave me a ticket.
Even though I would.
As I zoomed past apprehensive drivers, I pined to free myself from their company. The left lane was my personal track, and 76mph was my sweet spot. Dodge in the right late. Back to the left. Zig-zag like a game of Frogger, avoiding middle fingers. I thought surely when I have the highway to myself, navigating this Niagra Falls would be less stressful. Easier, somehow.
Hours earlier, from the backseat, Lindsey implored, “Can you talk to me?”
I don’t like to let people down, and I felt like I dropped this guy from a ten-story building. He’d texted me early in the drive and I had no choice but to frustrate him. I just couldn’t make the time for him in the race to get home. I had to cancel our plans. My pregnant and working wife needed to be home. My son needed to be home. As a father and a husband, I had to put them first, but the people-pleaser in me mourned and wallowed. I felt worthless. Stupid. I turned inward, trying to swallow my shame, but instead choking on it.
Unfolding myself in such a time of emotional turmoil feels as difficult as pulling apart baked filo dough one layer at a time. Lindsey could tell I was an internal mess. Though we did talk–and it was good–the damning voice in my head continued to scream.
When, hours later, in the dark rain, I broke free from the trails of other vehicles and achieved my independence, I actually missed the splash of the semis and the snail speed of the taupe Buick. Without them, I could no longer measure myself alongside others to ensure I stayed on track. When the road was empty, I couldn’t anticipate turns as well and the reflections in the road confused me. I slowed to 55mph like the grannies I once cursed, and I let others pass until I concluded it was best to concede to the flow of traffic. I clung to the tail of another car, humbling myself as I followed its lead.
See, I wanted nothing more than to be independent. But when I achieved it, I came face-to-face with my desperate need for others.
A vital lesson learned. Once again.