Spring Blizzards and Dire Thoughts

“But there are dreams that cannot be

And there are storms we cannot weather.”I Dreamed a Dream, Les Miserables


Mack had a rough night of basketball, not finishing the last game until nearly 11 p.m. and so I thought I’d let him sleep in at the hotel a bit.  I watched him sleep and surfed the news on my laptop and  listened to the rain pound on the window, learning that a winter storm was brewing on our route to Chicago from Southern Illinois.  Rain didn’t seem so ominous for a winter storm nor enough to take away our  lazy morning.  We started back to Chicago about 10:30 a.m.  That timing proved pivotal.

Rain turned to snow quickly and before we knew it the three lanes of I-55 North compressed into one, whipped by high winds and fast-accumulating snow.  Before we knew it, we were driving on chunky patches of ice.  Having grown up in Wisconsin, I knew the dangers of black ice — treacherous and unseen zones — and began to feel fear build up inside me.  One wrong movement with the wheel and the car could spin-out.  It had happened to me years ago, driving from Green Bay to Chicago in a frigid Wisconsin January and the car landed in the ditch.  My hands clenched the wheel.

“Mom, why don’t we just get off the road at one of these exits,” Mack suggested.  He had seemed nonplussed thus far.  While I appreciated the thought, I also knew that the off-ramps weren’t plowed or salted yet and would be as dangerous if not more than the road we were on.  With cars in front of us and behind us, it seemed best to drive on slowly and see if the storm would break.

Then without warning, white-out.  No visibility.

I turned the radio off to concentrate on the road and whispered to Mack, “Let’s pray.”  Intuitively I began to pray the rosary, aloud.  My mother used to make us kids pray the rosary when we drove from Green Bay to visit her parents in Milwaukee.  I did it grudgingly and with a lot of eye rolling.  But now, it was like a meditation, keeping negative thoughts and perhaps weather conditions at bay.

Given those conditions, I mentally gave us about a 10% chance of survival.  Before the white-out, we had passed maybe 25 cars in ditches along I-55,even  including a tow truck, which presented an ominous example.  We had about a quarter tank of gas left, enough I hoped to get us past the eye of the storm.  Though I wasn’t sure I could maneuver the car well enough to stay on the road that long, particularly without being able to see a car in front or behind us as a guide.

In between the Hail Mary’s, I seriously began to wonder if we would make it.  When your number is up, your number is up but I looked at the 15-year old boy beside me and thought, “That’s not fair, he has a whole life in front of him so focus yourself and drive him out of this.”  My stomach clenched and I slowed the car’s speed to about 20 miles per hour.

If it all ended today, would I have done all the things I wanted to do?

Certainly that was a question old people considered but was hardly ripe for my demographic.  And yet, I thought it and thought about it.  I felt anxious.  Would anyone get a perfect score on that report card?

The whiteness lifted and I could see the car in front of me again.  I breathed a deep breath and looked at Mack.

“It was never as bad as you thought,” he said, then smiled.  We both knew it was as bad as we had thought.

When we pulled over for gas in Springfield, a thick piece of ice covered the entire front of the car.  We hacked it off, then went for coffee and food.  What should have been a five-hour drive home took eight hours.  It wasn’t the ride we anticipated; simply the ride we were meant to have.